Abbott signs bill giving boost to Texas pre-K, but gun rights, other conflicts still remain



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AUSTIN, Texas — Republican Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law a pre-K boost on Thursday that delivers one promise and appears close to making good on another over gun rights before Texas lawmakers go home next week.

In the home stretch of the first legislative session under Abbott, which ends Monday, there has been last-minute discord over allowing openly carried handguns on Texas streets and tuition breaks for veterans. There's also a shift in tone from Republicans over tax cuts that won't be big as suggested and an anti-gay marriage bill that fizzled.

Even as Abbott signed the pre-K legislation at an early education school in Austin, there seemed to be recognition that a largely uncontroversial priority of a new governor didn't come easy, even with a dominant Republican majority.

The bill gives more money to Texas schools that implement higher pre-K standards. Abbott had to twist arms of tea party lawmakers — some far-right groups slammed the idea as "Godless" and socialist — and overcome disappointment from educators who say the $130 million boost will only nudge the status quo.

As Abbott scribbled his signature, Democratic state Sen. Judith Zaffirini told Abbott it was a tribute to his "muscle."

"This was a team effort," Abbott said.

Unfinished business is ahead. A bill that would legalize open carry is still awaiting a signature after a once-clear path to Abbott's desk was blocked this week when law enforcement groups called for a veto if police can't ask gun owners for their license.

Abbott would not take a stand on that provision, but lawmakers Thursday acquiesced to law enforcement, stripping out the language in a deal that sets up a likely vote Friday.

The House and Senate are also split on scaling back tuition breaks for military veterans, which Senate Republicans say isn't financially sustainable under current eligibility rules.

Abbott said he believed lawmakers would finish the biggest issues on time. One already squared away is tax cuts, although the break to homeowners will be about $1 billion less than what Abbott first proposed amid the economic slowdown in the oil and gas industry.

The average homeowner is projected to save roughly $120. Abbott and Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who promised significant tax relief, have sought to increase attention on how local officials will now need to clear a higher hurdle before making future property tax hikes.

On Wednesday night, a Republican bill that sought to potentially defy the U.S. Supreme Court if same-sex marriage is legalized fell after being pulled down in the Senate. Patrick said Democrats "cut us off at the pass" with the threat of a filibuster.

As Senate Republicans settled for a resolution stating they believed that marriage was between a man and a woman, they argued the reality was that no bill would have more impact than the state banning gay marriage in a 2005 constitutional amendment anyway.

"You can't pass statute that's bigger than the constitution," Patrick said.


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