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

​TAC on the Lege — Weekly Video Series​

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​TAC on the Lege —  With just days left in the session, let’s pour one out for all the dead bills and air some grievances. On the docket today, we’ve got a gubernatorial pose from the lieutenant governor, who is calling for a special session on bathrooms and property taxes while SB 669, an appraisal and property tax transparency bill, sits waiting in the Senate; a late crack at voter ID legislation, the elimination of straight ticket voting and a slate of CPS bills headed to conference committee. We also bow our heads for the numerous bills, like one restricting unfunded mandates and another reforming the plain bad Driver Responsibility Program, as they pass from one chamber to the next only to needlessly pass to the great beyond.

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

The Week Behind Us and the Week(s) Ahead of Us – The 85th regular legislative session is drawing to a close with the Legislature scheduled to adjourn sine die on Monday, May 29. It’s the time of concurring with amendments, appointment of conferees, conference committee reports and the often-suspicious motions for permission to go outside the bounds. All this is occurring while the lieutenant governor threatens to blow up the agreed-upon budget in order to get his version of SB 2 and the bathroom bill, SB 6, in a special session. Meantime, we have a report on the budget, the current state of property tax reform, voter ID, and obituaries on some of our favorite bills.

“Family Affair” – After a month of negotiation, Senate and House conferees finally reached a general consensus on the state budget, SB 1 by Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound). The budget conferees deliberated into the late hours this past weekend, while the Legislative Budget Board (LBB) laid out the Issue Dockets for each budget article. Highlighted text within the Issue Dockets indicate the budget amounts the conferees have adopted.

The budget conferees agreed on using $1 billion of the state’s Rainy Day Fund, which the Senate had opposed — even though the fund is expected to reach close to $10 billion next year.

The anticipated $2 billion payment to the state highway fund will be delayed in order to free up funds for other needs for the upcoming budget cycle (2018-19). In addition, Medicaid will not be fully funded — the $1 billion cut in state spending will forfeit $1.4 billion in federal funding.

The Conference Committee Report to SB 1 was published on May 25.

A follow-up report on how the state budget impacts counties will be available on the TAC website soon.

“You're Not the One (I Was Looking For)” – This past Saturday, May 20, Rep. Dennis Bonnen laid out SB 669 by Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) relating to the system of protesting or appealing certain ad valorem tax determinations. He offered up an amendment that added the version of SB 2 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) that the Ways & Means committee voted out: in essence, a transparency and voter information bill. The amendment was adopted without opposition, then the bill passed to third reading, again without any opposition. The next day, the bill passed, again without opposition.

The bill was returned to the Senate, which refused to concur in the House amendments. On May 25, the Senate appointed the following conferees: Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound), Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), Sen. Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury), Sen. Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe) and Sen. Chuy Hinojosa (D-McAllen). We are all watching the bill closely and we encourage county officials to contact their House member and Senator and urge them to oppose any efforts to add a rollback provision to the bill.

“Fotos y Recuerdos”– On May 23, the House laid out SB 5 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston), which modifies voter identification requirements and includes criminal penalties. The bill had not moved in the legislative process since April 21, but the governor recently declared it an emergency item.

Members submitted 30 amendments for consideration of which seven were adopted. Adopted amendments include: an election officer may not refuse to accept documentation because the address does not match the address on the list of registered voters; the offense of a false statement on a declaration of reasonable impediment is reduced from a third-degree felony to a Class A misdemeanor; and certain forms of photo identification remain valid as proof of identification up to four years after the date of expiration. The House passed the bill, but the Senate refused to concur with the House amendments; a conference committee has been appointed. 

“Garden Party” – Another election-related bill, HB 25 by Rep. Ron Simmons (R-Carrollton), which eliminates straight-party voting beginning in 2020, recently passed and was sent to the governor.

In memoriam:
“Alone and Forsaken” – HJR 73 by Rep. DeWayne Burns (R-Cleburne), a proposed constitutional amendment prohibiting unfunded mandates on cities and counties, met its doom in the Senate. For a body that proclaims to be the defender of the taxpayer and has made every attempt to push revenue restrictions onto cities and counties, the Senate made absolutely NO attempt at passing this local property tax payer protection bill.

After passing the House 127-18, the bill was received by Lt. Gov. Patrick on May 5 and sat on his desk for six crucial days as time ran out during the session. The lieutenant governor finally referred the bill to a committee that had no plans to meet again (Business and Commerce did suspend the rules to hear one more bill) only after receiving a letter co-authored by the County Judges and Commissioners’ Association of Texas, the Texas Association of Counties and the Texas Conference of Urban Counties asking for a chance to give the tax payers the opportunity to vote on state mandated property tax increases.

Moving forward, county officials should use this proposed constitutional amendment as a conversation starter about property taxes with the media, citizens’ groups and political forums. For more information and assistance, please contact at (800) 456-5974.

“Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” –  HB 2068 by Rep. Larry Phillips (R-Sherman) never made it onto the Senate floor, dying in the process and ensuring that 1.4 million Texans remain mired in the Driver Responsibility Program. The bill would have eliminated the program while continuing critical state funding for Texas trauma hospitals. The bill was voted out of the House 133-4, voted out by the Senate Committee on Transportation 7-0 and was put on the Senate Intent Calendar the next day and died.

“Outlaw Blues” – Efforts to significantly reform bail bond practices failed this session. SB 1338 by Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston), which would have required magistrates to consider the results of a pretrial risk assessment before setting bail for a defendant, passed the Senate but did not make it to the House floor.

“Smells Like Teen Spirit” – HB 122 by Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston), a bill that would have raised the age of criminal responsibility from 17 to 18, also didn’t pass this session.

“Puff the Magic Dragon” – Additionally, efforts to decriminalize or reduce penalties for marijuana and other controlled substances failed.

Helpful Tracking Links for Legislation

  • County Bills by Office as tracked by the Texas Association of Counties.
  • Senate and House committee postings are available on Texas Legislature Online.
  • MyTLO​ section of Texas Legislature Online — ​use it to create customized alerts for specific committee meetings or to track specific bills. ​​​​​​​​​​  ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​ ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​ ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​