As we near the end of April, legislative deadlines begin to assume more importance and become the focus of all legislation that hasn’t yet made it out of the first house. At this point in the Session, there are 678 bills in House Calendars, and hundreds on the Senate Calendars. The first deadline is May 6th for bills to be voted out of House committees, and they must be on the House Calendar by May 9th or they are technically dead. Therefore, rumors abounded earlier in the week that a Saturday Texas House calendar was in the cards. And there will be weekend meetings-not this week, but probably next Saturday.
The fact that a Saturday House calendar is coming signals that the end is nearing and has actually already arrived for many bills that might hope to still have a chance of survival. “Your bills are dead, but thanks for coming,” wisecracked one staffer observing a late night hearing this week.
House Bill 2, the property tax reform bill, was set for debate in the full House last Wednesday. The House again postponed the floor debate-this time until Tuesday, April 30th. The House Chairman of Ways & Means told members the committee had received the Senate’s version of the proposal, SB 2, and would substitute House language into the bill during the committee process. And that is exactly what happened Thursday evening in committee, after a long day on the House floor. The House committee substitute to SB 2 was voted out of committee by an 8-3 vote. Now called “Texas Taxpayer Transparency Act of 2019,” the House put school districts back in in their version, like the Senate bill, but put the rollback rate at 2.0%, not 2.5% as in the Senate bill. The House committee substitute kept the Senate’s 3.5% rollback rate for cities and counties, but left public hospitals and community colleges at 8%. The $15M carve-out for entities with small budgets is out, and the bill will allow a carry forward provision for 5 years when the increase is less than 3.5%. The certificate of obligation language is out of the House bill, and property tax homestead exemptions given locally will not count against M&O. Chairman Burrows announced at the hearing that the CSSB 2 would also link these bills–SB 2 only becomes law if HB 3, the school finance proposal, passes.
This will force SB 2 to run alongside House Bill 3, the House’s school finance bill, which was considered before a Senate committee on Thursday. On Thursday the Senate Education Committee took up both the House and Senate school finance proposals. There’s quite a bit of difference between House Bill 3 and Senate Bill 4. Sen. Taylor explained the proposal in the Senate Education Committee on Thursday, but said the committee he chairs would not vote on it until next week. The bill includes a few strategies for lowering school district taxes, contingent on a controversial proposal to increase the sales tax 1 cent to raise money for the future. Those strategies include expanding an exemption homeowners receive on the value of their homes for school district taxes from $25,000 to $40,000. By 2021, schools would be obliged to cut 15 cents per $100 valuation off school property taxes. Under the House-passed plan, it would go down only by a minimum 4 cents per $100 valuation.
This is where they are with 4 weeks to go in the Session, and the question remains whether the legislature can meaningfully modify the school finance system, increase the revenue of school districts, and deliver teachers and staff the pay raises they have been promised, all while upholding equity. This is the one prevailing issue of this session, and if it happens it would mark the first time it has been done without a court order in modern Texas history.
Bills Set on the House Calendar for Monday, April 29th—
HB 354 Herrero, Relating to exemption of certain firefighters and police officers from jury service.
HB 1895 Nevarez, Relating to the investigation of fire fighters employed by certain municipalities and districts.
HB 2439 Phelan, Relating to certain regulations adopted by governmental entities for the building products, materials, or methods used in the construction of residential or commercial structures.
Other legislation from last week
On Tuesday, the Texas House approved a bill would allow farmers to grow hemp as an industrial crop in Texas. House Bill 1325 would also legalize certain hemp-derived products, such as many CBD products with low levels of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the psychoactive compound that gives marijuana users a high. The House is set to debate a bill Thursday that would institute a civil penalty for low-level marijuana possession
The House on Wednesday also approved a bill to allow Texans to vote on daylight saving time. This legislation could end the twice-a-year time change and ask voters to decide the future of “Texas Time.” Under the bill, the people of Texas will get a vote for either standard time, or daylight savings time, but won’t be able to keep both.
The Transportation Committees heard several bills that might derail a proposed bullet train between Dallas and Houston. High-speed rail developers have pushed for years to build it, but a coalition of rural landowners have said they won’t give up their private property without a battle. These bills over the multibillion dollar project are pending in committee.
Thursday the House gave the approval to a proposal that would make the Teacher Retirement System pension fund financially healthy and give one-time checks to retired teachers.
And on Friday, the House voted emphatically in favor of a measure letting retail stores sell beer and wine starting at 10 a.m. Sundays, rather than noon. The House also voted to allow craft brewers to sell more beer “to-go” than they are currently allowed to.