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Week in Review: A Digest of What Happened This Past Week at the Capitol

Many bills on the House Calendar died on Thursday, the deadline for the House to consider House bills on second reading. With just over two weeks left in the legislative session, time is running short and legislators are working diligently to move their bills to final passage and on to the governor.

Here’s a recap of what happened in both the House and Senate this past week on some significant county-related bills:

Water Wars, Chapter 2. There was no movement on the water front this week. SJR 1 — the proposed constitutional amendment that would give voters the decision to spend $5.7 billion of rainy day fund money on water, transportation and a lesser amount on public education — remains unreferred in the House. HB 11 by Rep. Ritter, which would have transferred $2 billion from the rainy day fund, was sent back to committee following a point of order and now, like other House bills in their committee of origin, is procedurally dead. Sen. Williams, the author of SJR 1, has circulated a letter from Attorney General Greg Abbott to Appropriations Chairman Pitts stating that if lawmakers vote to spend rainy day fund money, it would count toward busting the state’s spending cap. However, spending money from the rainy day fund would not count against the spending cap if it’s accomplished by voters approving SJR 1, Abbott said. Speaker Straus and Rep. Pitts remain committed to a House vote to pay for the water plan rather than a plebiscite. Stay tuned. 

The Breakfast Club — Appraisal Cap Bills Considered and Left Pending. The House Committee on Ways & Means met early last Saturday morning, May 4, to hear bills that would lower or modify the current appraisal cap, including HB 1943 and accompanying constitutional amendment HJR 102 by Rep. Bohac, which lowers the residential homestead appraisal cap from the current 10 percent to 5 percent. Testifying in opposition were County Judges & Commissioners Association General Counsel Jim Allison and Calhoun County Commissioner Neil Fritsch, president of the South Texas County Judges & Commissioners Association. Both noted that the appraisal cap legislation creates inequities by reducing the fairness and uniformity of the property tax system, shifting the burden of the property tax to low income families. In addition, lowering the existing appraisal cap results in a declining tax base and hampers the ability of counties to provide their local services. The bills were left pending in committee.

Putting the ‘Parent’ in Transparent. SB 14 by Sen. Williams passed the Senate as substituted in committee. The changes in the substitute allow certain counties the option of sending financial information to the comptroller to post on the comptroller’s website in lieu of posting on the county’s website. The substitute has also ameliorated some of the financial reporting required by the original bill. The bill now heads to a House committee for a hearing.

Special Session? Really? House Chamber says NO to motor vehicle registration fee increase. On Thursday, the House debated HB 3664 by Rep. Darby, a bill that raises the motor vehicle registration by an average of $30 a year to fund transportation projects. Due to opposition during the floor debate, Darby ended up killing the bill by postponing it until May 28, the day after the legislative session ends.  He told his fellow legislators that they may take it back up during a special session. An update on other transportation related legislation is available here .

Juvenile Justice. The House Corrections Committee voted SB 511 by Sen. Whitmire favorably from committee. This is the bill that allows counties with a population of 335,000 or more to keep their felony juvenile offenders at the local juvenile secure post adjudication facility instead of sending them to a facility run by the Texas Juvenile Justice Department. Also by Whitmire, SB 1839 has been referred to House Corrections and is intended to relieve some of the unintended consequences of legislation passed last session that required sight/sound/staffing separation of juveniles certified as adults and being held in county jails.

Blue Warrant Relief. SB 1522 by Sen. Hegar, a.k.a. the Blue Warrant Relief bill, passed the Senate and has been referred to the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence. Sheriffs are hoping it will pass this time and alleviate used bed space for certain state parole violators so that more room for high level local offenders will be available. The bill would allow summons hearings to be held at parole departments instead of at the jail, would not allow warrants to be issued for administrative violations and would require the parole board to make a final decision to revoke parole before issuing a warrant.

Truancy Reforms. The House Committee on Corrections considered SB 1234 by Sen. Whitmire. The bill, which already passed the Senate, requires a county court, justice court, municipal court, school district or juvenile probation department to employ a juvenile case manager or agree with another appropriate governmental entity to jointly employ a case manager. The case manager would provide services in cases involving a juvenile offender or in cases involving a student who is referred to the case manager by a school administrator for intervention services before the student is referred to a court for a truancy violation. The bill also stipulates certain truancy prevention measures a school may implement and creates a graduated scale of maximum fines that may be assessed for a truancy violation based on prior offenses. The bill now heads to the full House for consideration.

Asset Forfeiture Funds. The House passed SB 878 by Sen. Patrick, a bill that specifies the expenditures that qualify as a law enforcement purpose or an official purpose of an attorney's office with respect to criminal asset forfeiture funds. The bill, having already passed the Senate, now heads to the Office of the Governor.

A Closer Look at Costs and Fees. The Senate passed SB 1908 by Sen. West, a bill that directs the Office of Court Administration (OCA) to conduct a study on court costs and fees that identifies each statutory provision that imposes a cost or fee for filing a paper document with a court in this state and determines whether each identified fee or cost is necessary to accomplish the stated statutory purpose. In conducting the study, OCA is required to consult with local government representatives. The bill also requires the Texas Legislative Council to prepare a revision of statutes as necessary to reflect the costs and fees identified by the study as not necessary for consideration by the 84th Legislature. The bill is now in the House Committee on Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence, where it has been scheduled for a hearing.

Waive P&I on Taxes Bye, Bye. HB 1913 by Rep. Bohac has been reported favorably from the Senate Finance Subcommittee on Fiscal Matters. The bill allows a governing body to waive delinquent property tax penalties and interest if the delinquency is the result of taxes imposed on omitted property, erroneously exempted property, or property added to the appraisal roll under a different account number or parcel. Newly added language to the bill allows the governing body to waive delinquent taxes if sufficient evidence is provided showing that the taxes are delinquent as a result of a mistake by the post office or private carrier.

Taxes Now or Taxes Later. HB 1597 by Rep. Gonzalez passed the House. The bill requires a county tax assessor-collector to enter into an installment payment agreement with a person who owes delinquent taxes on a residential homestead if requested to do so and the person has not entered into an installment agreement in the preceding 24 months. Notice must also be given that an installment agreement is an option to those who are delinquent on their taxes. The bill is now in the Senate, where it has been referred to the Senate Committee on Intergovernmental Relations.