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

​TAC on the Lege — Weekly Video Series​

​​We've launched a new video podcast as another tool to help you navigate the twists and turns of this special legislative session.

​TAC on the Lege — It’s the end of the second week of the first called session and the Senate rushed a horde of restrictive measures through that aim to consolidate power in Austin. On the other side of the pink dome, the House continues its steady, deliberative process. Today we’ll look at some of the problematic property tax proposals moving in both chambers, including the carveouts and amendments SB 1 collected as it fell from the ugly tree and the unworkable-at-best spending cap in SB 18. We’ll also cover caps in HB 4, and we’ll check in on some joint resolutions that offer the possibility of property taxpayer protection from unfunded mandates.​

Note: After taping this episode, HB 4, a revenue cap bill, was voted out of House Ways and Means. ​​​
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 Legislature concluded the second week of the first called special session and it was a busy one. Two revenue cap bills are moving — one on the Senate side (SB 1) and one on the House side (HB 4).

On the east side of the capitol, Senate committees met through the weekend and sent bills addressing issues on Gov. Abbott’s 20-item agenda to the floor for final passage. In total, the Senate has passed 18 of the 20 measures on the special session call, including: SB 1, which lowers the current revenue cap; SB 5, relating to mail-in ballot fraud; SB 13, relating to expedited permitting; and SB 3, also known as the “bathroom bill.”

Many of the bills passed are aimed directly at centralizing more authority at the state level and preempting local government. The remaining two items, including SB 18, a local government spending cap, will likely receive a Senate vote next week.

Meanwhile, on the west side of the capitol, the House has proceeded at a much more deliberative pace. It passed HB 1, the sunset legislation necessary to keep some state agencies running.

House committees are also meeting and voting out bills. House Ways and Means voted out a substitute for HB 4, which, in its current form, lowers the revenue cap for some counties, and HB 32, a broad property tax bill that does not currently affect the rollback rate. Of course, no one can predict how HB 4 might later be amended to expand its scope or make it more restrictive.

The House State Affairs committee also met to consider a proposed constitutional amendment, HJR 31, which would prevent future unfunded mandates on counties. That bill is pending.

County officials are encouraged to stay engaged. Contact your legislators and ask them to oppose efforts to concentrate more power in Austin and weaken the ability of local governments to govern and to fund services. Lower revenue caps do not address the real pressure on taxpayers: school property taxes. Additionally, ask for their support in passing HJR 31 and preventing future unfunded mandates, which will also ease pressure on local property taxes.

Things are moving quickly. The Texas Tribune has developed a helpful site that details where the various items on the governor’s special session agenda currently stand. And TAC staff will continue to update county officials as the special session continues.

“Down Bound Train” – Earlier this week, the Senate passed SB 1 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), which lowers the rollback rate from 8 percent to 4 percent for some counties, with a mandatory election if those counties exceed the 4 percent rollback rate. The bill was heard in the Select Committee on Government Reform​ over the weekend, and many county officials traveled to Austin to testify against the legislation. It picked up nine floor amendments, many of which target small taxing units (defined to include those that collect property and sales taxes totaling $20 million or less per year). One amendment by Sen. Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury) requires an automatic election if a tax rate greater than the rollback rate is adopted by a taxing unit of any size. Additionally, an amendment by Sen. Dawn Buckingham (R-Lakeway) requires all small taxing units to hold an election in May 2018 for voters to determine whether the unit’s rollback rate should continue to be 8 percent or if the rollback rate should be permanently reduced to 4 percent. The bill now heads to the House.

“Turn! Turn! Turn!” – House Ways and Means also met a few times this week and voted out several bills. One of those bills, HB 4 by Rep. Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton), splits counties into two groups: small taxing units (less than $25 million in total property taxes) and everyone else. In the committee substitute bill that was passed, small taxing units retain the 8 percent rollback rate. But, everyone else falls to a 6 percent rollback rate and must also hold a rollback election if they go over 6 percent. Additionally, the committee voted out HB 32, also by the chairman, relating to the administration of the property tax system. As passed out of committee, the bill contains no change to the rollback rate or to the petition requirements for the rollback election. Both bills now head to the House Calendars Committee.

“Don't Fence Me In” – SB 18 by Sen. Craig Estes (R-Wichita Falls), limiting the growth of a county’s annual expenditures to a rate equal to statewide population growth plus inflation as determined by the Comptroller, was heard by the Senate Select Committee on Government Reform on July 22 and was voted out favorably the next day. The Senate is scheduled to consider the bill on the floor on Monday, July 31.

“Lyin' Eyes” – On July 26, the Senate passed SB 5 by Sen. Kelly Hancock (R-Richland Hills), which creates criminal offenses and enhances penalties for mail-in ballot fraud. Amendments adopted on the Senate floor include provisions: directing election authorities to preserve all precinct election records distributed, no matter what type of election, for at least 22 months after election day; and extending the reporting deadline by the presiding judge in delivering written notice to the attorney general of rejected ballots from 10 days to 30 days after election day. The bill is now on its way to the House. The House Elections Committee was scheduled to consider similar bills on Friday.

“Better than I Used to Be” – Finally, House State Affairs took up HJR 31 by Rep. Hugh Shine (R-Temple) on Thursday, July 27. This bill proposes a constitutional amendment to limit the state’s ability to force future unfunded mandates on local governments. The committee left the bill pending.

Helpful Tracking Links for Legislation
  • 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. ​​​​​​​​​​  ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​ ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​ ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​ ​​​​​​​​​​