Lawmakers return to Austin with call for Unity

Under a stark-blue sky the 85th legislative session got underway Tuesday with a unity prayer from interfaith leaders.

"Love is what we witness to this day, and love is what we call our elected representatives to manifest,” said Rev. Becky Lange of Houston.

Bother Chambers gaveled in with a call for unity by Governor Greg Abbott.

"We may be from different political parties, but we unite under one capitol dome,” said Governor Abbott.

Despite the governor's speech heated debates are expected during the 140 days of the session. Controversial bills filed so far include, regulating bathrooms, outlawing sanctuary city policies, and tightening abortion regulations.

In recent years, the controversy started with deciding who would be speaker of the house. Not this year.  After Joe Straus was re-elected, without a single no vote recorded, he said his priorities for the house included, reforming mental health, child protective services and funding education.

"We can show that elected officials still know how to solve problems, and we can show when necessary, principled leaders still have the courage to compromise. Compromise has become a dirty word in politics but in reality it is how we find common ground, to achieve the common good, and it is a good word in this house,” said Speaker Straus.

For Straus and Abbott the call for unity is easy considering their party controls both chambers. Senior Democratic Party leaders were optimistic, but did not seem totally convinced.

"What I’m hoping, as an optimist and somebody who has been around for a while, that this session will be known as not becoming Washington D.C.” said State Senator Carlos Uresti ( D ) San Antonio.

"We generally always end up at the right place, when some of these difficult issues show up, I’m hoping that is going to happen this session."

The call for unity appeared to be tested when Speaker Straus seemed to take a swing at Lt. Governor Dan Patrick’s bathroom Bill. Gay rights advocates say the Bill will hurt transgender children and could also result in a boycott of special events and concerts by promotors.  Speaker Straus, during his acceptance speech said, “This state should invite economic activity, not turn it away."

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