State Leaders Stress Unity on Opening Day Amid Hints of Legislative Battles to Come

AUSTIN — State lawmakers returned to work at the Texas Capitol on Tuesday, prepared to usher in a legislative session in which partisan squabbling could overwhelm discussions of key issues.Although the Legislature is facing a less-than-stellar budget and many Texans are anxious for the state to address a slew of bills, lawmakers at the Capitol on Tuesday were largely collegial and gave no indication of the bitter battles that might lay ahead.In a day filled with handshakes and general niceties, with hints of tension beneath the surface, lawmakers invited their family members into both chambers as state leaders praised the Lone Star State and called for unity across party lines. Gov. Greg Abbott called on lawmakers to remember that what makes Texas exceptional is "the extraordinary people we have the privilege to represent.""The people of all walks of life, people of varied backgrounds, some of whom may live almost thousands [of miles apart]," Abbott said in the Texas Senate. "People of both political parties can come together to ensure that Texas retains its extraordinary brand of opportunity. We may bring different political perspectives, but we unite under one Capitol dome." State Rep. Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, made a similar pledge for unity after he was unanimously elected to his fifth term as House speaker. He took some jabs at the so-called bathroom bill in the Senate and said the state should not turn away economic activity. Economies in states with similar laws have suffered as a result."When necessary principled leaders still have the courage to compromise, it is a good word in this House," Straus said.In the Senate, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick's message was similar but did not include pleas for teamwork across the aisle or between the chambers. "Our state faces many challenges this session, but I have great confidence in the commitment of the hard-working senators of this state and the people of Texas who elected them," Patrick said in a prepared statement. "In all our deliberations, maintaining our conservative principles and protecting Texas values will be our top priority." Newly appointed Secretary of State Rolando Pablos took a stab at defining Texas values during his address in the House, saying the state is "so much more than cowboy hats, oil wells and pickup trucks," and is home to technology, the arts and hot restaurants. And of course, he said to chuckles in the chamber, "We welcome more Californians to their new home than any other state."As the ceremonious first day unfolded in the chambers upstairs, protesters with Millions March Texas arrived at the Capitol to ask lawmakers to address racial inequality in the state. The march was organized by the Next Generation Action Network and the Austin Justice Coalition. "We definitely have to get people to understand that this is the process that changes a lot of laws," Dominique Alexander, the Dallas-based founder of the Next Generation Action Network, said at the Capitol on Tuesday. "These laws and the stuff that happens in the state legislature is stuff we talk about daily and all the time locally. We want our voices to be heard." Lawmakers' office doors at the Capitol are open to the public, and protesters dropped off lists of legislative priorities for various representatives and senators.   Continue reading...

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