Dan Patrick Says He Can ‘Create’ Special Session if Priorities Are Killed in House
“If we don’t get some major priorities that the people want us to pass because [the House] acted very slowly during the session, then I think we ought to finish the job,” said Patrick.
Brandon Waltens | April 18, 2023
Rhetoric is ramping up about the potential for overtime as the clock ticks on Texas’ legislative session. Now, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is fanning the flames.
Recently, Patrick has ramped up his criticism of the Texas House’s slow pace and failure to address conservative priorities. While the Legislature has been in session for 99 days, they have still failed to consider a single priority of the Republican Party of Texas—instead electing to take multiple five-day weekends during the first months of the session.
In an interview with Spectrum News, Patrick says the House’s failure to pass priority bills, such as school choice, could result in lawmakers being called back for a special session. And while only the governor has the power to call 30-day special sessions on issues he chooses, Patrick says he can force the issue.
“I can’t call a special session, but I can create one by not passing a key bill that has to pass,” said Patrick.
In 2017 Patrick did just that after the Texas House similarly failed to pass a number of conservative priorities. In response, Patrick did not bring up a “must-pass” bill to continue the functions of a number of state agencies, which forced Abbott to call lawmakers back in July.
Patrick says a situation like that could happen again.
“If we don’t get some major priorities that the people want us to pass because [the House] acted very slowly during the session, then I think we ought to finish the job,” said Patrick.
In addition to the bills that I have signed on to and the bills we have been hearing in the committees, I have had the opportunity to author several meaningful pieces of legislation.
House Bill 1368: Deputy Constable Omar Ursin Memorial Highway
House Bill 3803: Student Course & Class Repeat
House Bill 5341: Creating the Lake Houston Dredging and Maintenance District
Speaker Phelan’s Priority Legislation
HB 3: Improving school safety standards and enforcement
HB 4: Providing Texans with safety and security online
HB 5: Texas Jobs and Security Act
HB 6: Combatting the fentanyl crisis
HB 7: Securing the border; creates the legislative border safety oversight committee
HB 8: Strengthening Texas community colleges to prepare the workforce of tomorrow
HB 10: Improving Texas water development and infrastructure projects
HB 11: Enhancing teacher recruitment, preparation & retention policies
|Property Tax Relief|
|House Bill 2, also known as the Property Tax Relief Act, reduces the limit on annual appraisal increases to 5% for all types of property in the state, shielding homeowners, small business owners and other property owners from sudden increases in values to their property.
In combination with HB 1, HB 2 would result in the largest property tax cut in Texas history. HB 1 was passed to engrossment on April 6th, and HB 2 on April 14th.
Texas Lawmakers Push for Weaker School Bond Ballot Transparency
School district officials and bond beneficiaries lobbied to change ballot language that warns voters that “THIS IS A PROPERTY TAX INCREASE.”
Erin Anderson | April 18, 2023
Republican lawmakers in the Texas House and Senate are pushing measures this week that weaken ballot transparency requirements for school bonds, making it easier for school districts to win voter approval for new property taxes to pay for new debt.
When voters approve school bonds, they also approve property taxes “sufficient, without limit as to rate or amount,” to repay the bond debt plus interest—imposing new 20- to 40-year tax burdens on local property owners.
In 2019, school finance reform legislation added a rule requiring school bond ballot propositions to include the statement, “THIS IS A PROPERTY TAX INCREASE.”
Over the next few election cycles, the pass rate for school bond propositions dropped to an all-time low of 61 percent.
School district officials, as well as vendors who benefit financially from school bonds, blamed the new ballot language and lobbied lawmakers to change it.
State Rep. J.M. Lozano (R–Kingsville) filed House Bill 4522, which changes the required school bond ballot language to “THIS IS A PROPERTY TAX RATE INCREASE” (emphasis added).
But the ballot language is required only if the district thinks the bonds will require an increase in the district’s debt service tax rate for the first tax year following issuance of the bonds in order to pay that year’s principal and interest.
School officials regularly argue that new bond debt does not represent a property tax increase if the district doesn’t immediately increase its tax rate—disregarding how much local tax bills go up due to rising property values even if the rate stays the same, or how much more tax money homeowners pay over the life of the bonds.
District officials are also free to raise the debt service tax rate as needed, without additional voter approval.
Lozano’s bill is scheduled for a public hearing Thursday in the House Public Education Committee.
An identical measure, Senate Bill 2205 by State Sen. Tan Parker (R–Flower Mound), is scheduled for a public hearing Wednesday in the Senate Education Committee.
Similar legislation, Senate Bill 2117 by State Sen. Brandon Creighton (R–Conroe), is also on Wednesday’s committee agenda.
Creighton’s bill would change the required school bond ballot language to read, “THIS AUTHORIZES THE DISTRICT TO TAKE ON ADDITIONAL DEBT,” without highlighting that the debt plus interest must be repaid by local property taxpayers.
Last year, Huckabee, Inc., an architecture firm that specializes in designing bond-financed school projects, participated in a panel discussion at the SXSW EDU education conference on how school districts can successfully promote their bond proposals.
Huckabee CEO Chris Huckabee and two school superintendents lamented the property-tax ballot language and discussed strategies for convincing voters that bonds would not cost them more tax money.
One of those superintendents was Tomball ISD’s Martha Salazar-Zamora. This year, she and her school board are advocating for lawmakers to undo the ballot transparency rule, which they claim “misleads” voters by labeling an increase in property tax burdens as a property tax increase.
The Texas Association of School Boards (TASB), a taxpayer-funded lobbying group representing the interests of school officials, is promoting a broader anti-taxpayer agenda, opposing any legislation that “increases ballot language requirements, limits dates upon which elections may be held, or creates additional requirements for voter-approved tax rate elections and bond elections, such as voter turnout thresholds.”
Texas House Rejects Effort to Ban Psychological Transgender Grooming of Minors
The effort was the first vote the House has taken this session to address child gender mutilation.
2 min read
Brandon Waltens | April 18, 2023
A proposal that would have prevented state funds from being awarded to hospitals that sexually groom children with psychological counseling as part of the gender mutilation process was voted down in the Texas House.
The amendment by State Rep. Tony Tinderholt (R–Arlington) was proposed to be added to legislation that would create a new taxpayer-funded grant program for mental and behavioral health services at children’s hospitals.
Tinderholt had attempted to propose a similar amendment to the same bill on Monday, which would have prevented funds going to any hospital that performs gender mutilation procedures. Ultimately, the effort was struck down by Speaker Dade Phelan after State Rep. Charlie Geren (R–Fort Worth) argued the amendment violated the rules by being non-germane to the bill.
As bills require two separate votes in the House, Tinderholt’s second effort was written more narrowly to apply to the psychological counseling, stating none of the funds awarded by the program could be used to “provide mental health services affirming the child’s perception of the child’s sex if that perception is inconsistent with the child’s biological sex.”
State Rep. Jacey Jetton (R–Richmond), the author of the bill creating the grant program, urged members to vote against the amendment. Jetton said that as a member of the Public Health Committee, he believed the time to discuss so-called “gender affirming care” was when a bill fully addressing the subject reached the floor.
While the amendment required two-thirds of the body for approval, it failed to reach even a simple majority, being voted down 52-90.
Donald Trump Parachutes Into Texas Legislature’s Appraisal Reform Debate
The appraisal dispute enters its third calendar month as sine die adjournment inches closer and closer.
BRAD JOHNSONMAY 1, 2023
The festering feud over property tax appraisal reform within the Texas Legislature received the input of former President Donald Trump this weekend, siding with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.
On Sunday, Trump posted on his Truth Social website that the Senate’s plan should be adopted, and not the House’s.
In calling on the lower chamber’s members to approve the Senate’s plan, Trump deployed Patrick’s newly minted moniker for his counterpart in the House: “California Dade.”
Patrick rolled out the nickname in a television interview with Spectrum News 1 two weeks ago and has deployed it frequently since. It drew a response from Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) and then a response to the response from Patrick.
Patrick reacted to Trump’s comment on Monday, saying, “President Trump joins realtors & business leaders agreeing SB 3, by Sen. Paul Bettencourt, cuts billions more for homeowners than the House’s 5 percent appraisal cap plan that will destroy the real estate market.”
This isn’t the first time that Trump — who’s got a close relationship with Patrick, the previous and current chair of his Texas campaign — has criticized Phelan. After the Legislature’s 2021 election reform bill was amended in the House to reduce the penalty for illegal voting from a felony to a misdemeanor, Trump tried to put the screws on Phelan to change it back.
He even threatened to back a primary challenge against Phelan — a threat that did not materialize, as Phelan had neither a primary nor a general election challenger.
The two chambers have been locked in a stalemate on the issue; both have passed their own plans and sent them across the Capitol rotunda, but neither has moved in their opposing chamber. Phelan continuously goes against the Republican Voters Desires and the Governor’s and LT Governors Priorities.
The Senate’s plan — encompassed by Senate Bills (SB) 3, 4, and 5 — provides for $11.5 billion in new and continued school district rate compression, but also focuses on exemptions. The standard homestead exemption would increase to $70,000 and the elderly and disabled exemption to $30,000. On the business side, the Senate’s plan would create a $1.05 billion inventory tax credit and raise the tangible personal property tax exemption from $2,500 to $25,000.
In total, its plan amounts to $16.5 billion.
The House’s plan — consolidated into House Bill (HB) 2 — provides for $12 billion in new rate compression on top of $5.3 billion in its draft budget for continuing past compression. But the point of contention from the upper chamber is its appraisal cap reduction and extension.
Under the House’s plan, the current 10 percent year-to-year cap on increases to a homestead’s taxable value would be halved; that new 5 percent cap would then be extended to all properties, including businesses. The taxable value would reset to the market value upon the property’s purchase by a new owner.
The two plans are largely similar in their approaches to compression — though the House’s total compression fiscal note is $5.5 billion more than the Senate’s — but the sticking point is the very different strategies for appraisal reform.
Patrick has said the House’s plan is dead on arrival in his chamber, claiming it would wreak havoc on the state’s economy, specifically its housing market, by increasingly untying properties’ taxable value from their market value. To illustrate this, he has pointed to California, which has had a 2 percent cap since 1978.
The counterexample that House leadership has provided is Florida, which has a 3 percent cap on homesteads and a 10 percent cap on all other property.
While both examples have seen wildly different effects, they also differ from the Texas House’s blueprint.
Last week, the House’s plan gained an unexpected backer in former state Sen. Don Huffines — the third-place finisher in the 2022 GOP gubernatorial primary — who wrote in the Houston Chronicle, “The House plan, for its part, at least has the virtue of putting a 5 percent cap on appraisal increases for all properties. This policy applies to all taxpayers, including homeowners, businesses and renters.”
“For the moment, the House’s approach to property tax relief is the best way forward this legislative session. But it’s not the best approach, nor are the Senate or House plans economically feasible in the long run,” he added, gesturing toward a plan to buy down the school district Maintenance & Operations rate to elimination.
The Senate’s slate of bills has been referred to the House Ways & Means Committee – chaired by Rep. Morgan Meyer (R-Dallas), author of HB 2 — but hasn’t been given a hearing. Here lies our problem with giving important Committee Chairs to Democrats. Phelan uses the Democrat Chairs to kill bills THAT HE DOES NOT LIKE. The House’s plan hasn’t yet been referred to a committee.
Only five House members voted against HB 2, and the Senate’s plan passed the upper chamber unanimously. Trump’s call to action means a national voice is now involved in the state’s dispute over a lesser portion of the overall plan for property tax reform this session.
Legislation to ban child gender mutilation has already been passed by the Texas Senate, and only recently has it been approved by the Public Health Committee in the Texas House. That legislation must be approved and scheduled by the Calendars Committee before the full House can vote on it.
Texas COVID-19 Vaccine Freedom Act Approved by Senate
The measure codifies portions of Gov. Greg Abbott’s ongoing emergency executive order recognizing an individual’s right to “informed consent.”
Darrell Frost | April 18, 2023
A measure that would protect individuals from coerced COVID-19 vaccination has passed the Texas Senate.
Senate Bill 177 by State Sen. Mayes Middleton (R–Galveston) would require a person or entity to obtain an individual’s “informed consent” before administering a vaccination for COVID-19. It would also prohibit any action intended to “compel or coerce” an individual into giving such consent, as well as prohibit taking an “adverse action” against someone for refusing to receive a vaccination for COVID-19.
The legislation authorizes the attorney general to issue an injunction to protect an individual’s right of informed consent if it is being threatened, and it requires anyone found guilty of violating this right to pay at least $5,000 in restitution.
The bill passed Monday by a vote of 20-11, with Democrat César Blanco (El Paso) breaking from his caucus to join every Republican in supporting the measure. It is identical to House Bill 81 by State Rep. Brian Harrison (R–Midlothian), which received the approval of the House Public Health Committee the same day.
When he introduced the measure, Middleton said, “This bill ensures medical freedom,” arguing that “no Texan should have to choose between their sincerely held beliefs on the COVID vaccine and their right to make a living and feed their family.”
He added that the COVID-19 vaccine “does not make epidemiological or medical sense.”
State Sen. José Menéndez (D–San Antonio), however, said he couldn’t recall any instances of people being forced to take the vaccine, and he articulated the belief that one’s individual liberties are restricted by those of others.
“I think our personal freedom ends where it might impact someone else’s freedoms. And so, I think if I choose not to take a vaccine, I could be choosing to infect other people by getting myself sick,” Menéndez said.
In response, Middleton recounted hearing from “a lot” of constituents who reported feeling coerced into receiving the COVID vaccine. He also pointed out that the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for private companies and explained his bill would codify the protections for individuals in Abbott’s executive order, which “will allow him to eventually terminate [it].”
State Sen. Bob Hall (R–Edgewood) argued that “the proper role of government is to protect and defend our God-granted freedom,” noting that the Constitution does not contain any exceptions to that responsibility. He compared the mandatory vaccination orders from businesses and governments over the last few years to the forcible medical experimentation on Jews in Nazi Germany, and he remarked that those who participated in these crimes were executed.
“You have individual rights. I have those, and my rights end where yours begin, and yours end where mine begin,” said Hall. “To coerce someone into accepting [a vaccine] is a blatant violation of individual rights.”
Before the vote on the bill, Hall said he thought “it’s one of the most important bills we will pass this session to reaffirm our individual rights and the right to not be coerced.”
Michelle Evans, the legislative director of Texans for Vaccine Choice, shared the following statement with Texas Scorecard:
TFVC is excited to see Texans’ right to informed consent recognized and strengthened in the passage of SB 177: The Texas COVID Vaccine Freedom Act. Once signed into law, all citizens in our great state will no longer be at risk of being coerced into getting a COVID jab in order to participate in society.
The Senate must approve the legislation once more before sending it to the House
Texas House Approves Local Government ‘Field Preemption’ Bill With 8 Democrats in Support
Two preemption bills aimed at municipal employment regulations died in the House last session.
BRAD JOHNSON2 HOURS AGO
A broad local government preemption bill passed the Texas House after hours of debate on the floor Tuesday and a swifter discussion Wednesday.
House Bill (HB) 2127 by Rep. Dustin Burrows (R-Lubbock) lays out nine different sections of code within which municipalities may not establish regulations above what the state permits. This strategy is called “field preemption,” preempting local actions in whole sections of code proactively rather than responding to individual instances of municipal regulations reactively.
“HB 2127 provides the regulatory stability and certainty that enables business owners to expand their businesses to other cities within Texas with more consistency,” Burrows said after final passage. “Texas thrives and jobs are created when onerous, burdensome regulations are lifted from the shoulders of small business owners.”
Under the bill, individuals or associations may sue localities and their officials for abridging the lines set by state code — the private cause of action enforcement mechanism that has become increasingly popular among the state’s Republicans after 2021’s Texas Heartbeat Act passed.
The bill passed by a vote of 92 to 55 with eight Democratic members in support: Reps. Terry Canales (D-Edinburg), Harold Dutton (D-Houston), Bobby Guerra (D-Mission), Tracy King (D-Uvalde), Oscar Longoria (D-Mission), Eddie Morales (D-Eagle Pass), Sergio Muñoz, Jr. (D-Palmview), and Richard Peña Raymond (D-Laredo).
Rep. Shawn Thierry’s (D-Houston) vote did not register but she clarified in the journal that she intended to vote against the bill.
The rest of the House Democratic Caucus spent five hours trying to amend, delay, and kill the bill.
In all, Democrats proposed 36 amendments, none of which passed. The first, offered by Rep. Chris Turner (D-Grand Prairie), tried to strike the bill’s enacting clause, a maneuver that would have neutered the bill entirely.
The following 35 were a medley of carve-outs for various kinds of policies enacted by municipalities such as soil and water conservation policies, lunch and water break mandates, and prohibitions against “wage theft.”
Another by Rep. Erin Zwiener (D-Driftwood) attempted to eliminate the liability of elected officials under the proposal.
During the debate over most of these amendments, Democrats peppered Burrows with questions about what the bill would preempt and what it would permit, alleging that various local regulations already in place could be nixed by the state.
Burrows responded to most of those questions by citing sections of code that already permit local regulation; the bill would prohibit localities from exceeding the regulation allowed in those sections.
Two amendments did get adopted, both of which were offered by Republicans.
Burrows’ amendment reduced the venue scope in which an offending locality may be sued under the bill. The first version of the bill allowed for a suit to be brought in any county in the state, which was then narrowed to the county of origin or an adjacent county in committee, which has now been narrowed to just the county of origin.
A second amendment by Rep. Kronda Thimesch (R-Denton) added language to stipulate that massage establishment regulations would not be affected by the bill’s preemption measures.
Democrats also called four points of orders — procedural maneuvers intended to kill a bill by pointing out some language or process deficiency — none of which landed.
Abbott weighed in on the issue shortly after HB 2127 passed.
“Predictable — Leave it to Unions with an assist by the [Houston] Chronicle, to label reducing regulations as a ‘Death Star,’” Abbott tweeted. “Fact is reducing regulations makes it easier for small businesses to succeed. This law will KEEP Texas #1 for business & create more jobs.”
Abbott endorsed Burrows’ bill at a National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) event in February.
NFIB’s Texas State Director Annie Spillman, whose organization has been lobbying in support of the bill profusely, said in a statement, “Our small businesses’ entrepreneurial spirit and resiliency has provided good-paying jobs for Texas families and hardworking men and women across our state.”
“But the current patchwork of regulations threatens to undermine our economic might. Mandates — no matter how well intended — make it harder to do business in our state.”
Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa criticized the bill this week, saying, “The millions of voters in counties like Dallas, Harris, Travis, and Bexar did not vote to have Republicans’ arch-conservative ideologies forced upon them.”
“But we disagree with this bill on more than just the devastating substantive impacts it would have on some of Texas’ most economically industrious municipalities — we disagree with it on the principle as well.”
Burrows frequently said his intention behind the bill was to prevent the Legislature from continuing its “game of Whac-A-Mole,” slapping down individual instances of “excessive regulations” passed by municipalities.
Localities, unions, and progressive activists opposed the bill on the grounds that it would prohibit many of the contentious local regulations that big blue cities have passed in recent years — exactly the intent of the bill as expressed by Burrows.
The bill will now move to the Senate, having passed the chamber where similar, more tailored preemption bills died twice last session at the hands of Democrats.
School District Threatens ‘Disastrous Cuts’ Unless Legislature Increases Basic Allotment Per Student
The Spring Branch ISD superintendent said Texas must increase the basic student allotment by $1,000, but lawmakers say the cost would exceed $14 billion.
HOLLY HANSENAPRIL 18, 2023
As the Texas Legislature begins to finalize details of the biennial budget, some public school leaders are invoking the specter of drastic cuts to leverage more funding for traditional public schools.
Last week, Spring Branch Independent School District (SBISD) Superintendent Jennifer Blaine sent a letter to parents warning that without a significant increase to one portion of the state’s complicated formula, the affluent Houston-area district would encounter a significant budget shortfall that could lead to school closures, cuts to security and mental health services, and a 20 percent reduction in staff.
In her April 12 letter, Blaine warned that without a $1,000 per pupil increase to the state’s basic allotment, she would have to pursue “disastrous budget cuts.”
“The state has the largest budget surplus in its history ($33 billion),” wrote Blaine. “SBISD supports property tax relief. However, our legislators are prioritizing property tax relief ($17 billion proposed) over public schools ($5 billion proposed). Without the needed funding -public school districts like SBISD are being set up to fail.”
Texas Sens. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) and Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) responded in a press release calling Blaine’s statements “misleading,” and argued that the Senate’s proposed budget would add $5 billion for education reforms and another $2.4 billion to increase the amount of local tax revenue kept in the district.
Along with $5.2 billion for teacher healthcare costs and retirement, Huffman and Bettencourt said that “these investments amount to a 31 percent increase in funding for the Foundation School Program and constitute the largest increase of public education spending in state history, while reducing recapture paid by districts.”
Furthermore, Huffman and Bettencourt asserted that raising the basic allotment by $1,000 as requested by Blaine would amount to $14.3 billion in addition to the amounts already allocated.
“Committing to this amount would result in the Legislature having to cut other critical needs such as property tax relief, retired teacher benefits, public safety enhancements, improving mental health care, and would potentially result in future reductions to education when revenue forecasts are less favorable.”
Texas school districts are funded by both local property tax and state consumption tax collections, but to ensure that districts with lower property values receive minimum funding, property-wealthy districts pay more to the state in a process known as “recapture” — also known as “Robin Hood” — which is then reallocated. With the reallocation, the state guarantees a basic allotment of $6,160 per student to each district, although the amount may be adjusted upward for districts with more low-income students, disabled students, or other factors.
Encompassing affluent neighborhoods such as Hedwig Village, where the median home value exceeds $1.2 million, Blaine says SBISD will send $88 million in revenue to the state under the recapture formula for funding lower-wealth schools. Despite high property values, according to the Texas Education Agency (TEA), 57 percent of SBISD students are economically disadvantaged.
Under pressure to provide both property tax relief and increases to public education funding, lawmakers in both chambers of the Legislature have approved plans to increase the state’s share of education funding and reduce local property taxes through a process known as compression. A House tax relief plan would expend $12 billion for new compression, while the Senate would allocate $5.4 billion.
According to Bettencourt, the Senate plan will reduce SBISD’s recapture payment by $25.67 million.
Huffman’s general appropriations bill received unanimous bipartisan approval in the Senate on Monday, with Sen. Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe) noting that over 53 percent of the state budget is dedicated to public education.
The Texas chapter of the American Federation of Teachers argues that the basic allotment has not kept up with inflation and that a $50 increase would only provide for a $455 raise for teachers. However, the Senate has also allocated funds to provide a $2,000 pay increase for teachers with an additional $4,000 for those in rural districts.
The House version of the budget, House Bill (HB) 1, will increase the basic allotment to at least $6,210. Other legislation, HB 100, would create an automatic increase every biennium to adjust for inflation.
Although the $6,160 basic allotment is part of the formula for funding public schools, districts typically spend far more per pupil when all expenses are considered. According to an analysis from the TEA, in the 2022-23 school year, SBISD spent $14,241 per student.
Blaine and SBISD trustees have also criticized Senate Bill 8, which would create education savings accounts of $8,000 per pupil for a limited number of parents to apply toward private or homeschool expenses.
Located on the west side of Houston, SBISD’s enrollment has declined from 35,233 in 2020 to 33,862 in 2023. Over the same period, the district’s general fund expenditures increased from $331.8 million to $357.5 million in 2023; the base salary for first-year teachers is $62,000.
SBISD is considered a “highly performing” district with an overall rating of A- from the TEA, and last year voters overwhelmingly approved a $381.6 million bond package for technology, infrastructure, and facilities upgrades. Total debt for the district is $1.1 billion, and last year’s budget included debt service payments of $117.4 million.
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