Biggest news of the week
Property tax revenue cap
Long-awaited votes on the property tax bills did not materialize on Thursday. The belief at the Capitol on Thursday morning was that the Senate had reached a deal, the revenue cap might be raised from 2.% to around 4%, some exemptions to public safety costs might be granted, and that would allow the Senate to garner enough votes to suspend the rules and take up SB 2. The House recessed to wait on Senate action, which never occurred. Then it was up to the House to take up their property tax bill, HB 2. Eventually the House postponed the discussion until Monday. On Friday it was learned that the Lt Governor was threatening to take what is known as the “nuclear option,” meaning that the 3/5’s vote to suspend the rules would be reduced to majority vote to in order to bring un SB 2 to the floor. Reports are that Senators will be working through the weekend to come up with a compromise that will get the bill to the floor without the Lt Governor taking that action. Both HB 2 & SB 2 are scheduled to be taken up in the House and Senate on Monday’s calendars.
State’s Sales Tax
As the Texas House was set to debate property taxes on Thursday, Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and Speaker Dennis Bonnen announced that they support an increase in the state’s sales taxes if the additional revenue is used to decrease property taxes. They now back raising the state’s sales tax from 6.25% to 7.25% through a constitutional amendment when either SB2 or HB2 is passed. In a joint statement posted on the governor’s website, the three said, “Texans are fed up with skyrocketing property taxes. At the beginning of the legislative session, the Governor, Lt. Governor and Speaker laid out an agenda for property tax relief through the passage of Senate Bill 2 and House Bill 2 to limit property tax growth. In addition to that effort, today we are introducing a sales tax proposal to buy down property tax rates for all Texas homeowners and businesses, once Senate Bill 2 or House Bill 2 is agreed to and passed by both Chambers. If the one-cent increase in the sales tax passes, it will result in billions of dollars in revenue to help drive down property taxes in the short and long term.” The sales tax increase would be executed through a constitutional amendment, which of course would require two-thirds support of both chambers then a vote of the people.
HB 1 State Appropriations Bill
The differences between the House and Senate over the Texas budget became clearer Tuesday as the State Senate passed a $248 billion budget, 31-0, that all but assures a breakthrough increase in funding for public schools and lifts spending on some state employees, Medicaid, and Child Protective Services.
Two weeks ago, the Texas House passed its $251 billion budget 149-0 that makes many of the same pledges, but many specifics are still to be worked out before an ultimate spending plan can become final. But there is growing confidence that the two houses can come to a deal to pass an agreed to bill as required by the Texas Constitution. The biggest hurdles to surmount: How to spend $9 billion more in education funding during the next two years, and how to confront rising property taxes in Texas. The House and Senate are not in agreement on possible pay increases for teachers and other school personnel. They also differ over how much to send to school districts to achieve a reduction in property taxes. The House appointed its budget conferees: Zerwas-chair, Bonnen of Galveston, Davis of Harris, Longoria and Walle, while the Senate will do so next week.
Cable telecom franchise bill
SB 1152 By Hancock, Kelly. Relating to the payment of certain fees to municipalities by entities that provide telecommunications and cable or video services. This bill is speeding through the Legislature. It passed the Senate by a vote of Y: 26/N: 5 on April 4th. It was received in the House on 4-5, referred to House Committee on House State Affairs on 4-8, and voted favorably from House State Affairs committee as substituted on 4-10-19. It will be in Calendars soon.
The Chapter 312 and 313 sunset date extension bills were passed out of the House on Monday. There was the expectation that the anti-renewables crowds would attempt to amend the bills on the floor, but in reality there was little discussion and the bills passed Tuesday on third reading with large majorities. Both bills are now in the Senate, but have not been referred to committee yet. It is believed that the sponsor of the Senate companion bills, Senator West, may pick up these bills in the Senate.
HB 3143 By Murphy. Relating to the Property Redevelopment and Tax Abatement Act. This bill has some “transparency” improvements for Ch 313 – Reported from committee as substituted House Ways and Means
Senate passes bill to restore Open Meetings Act
A united Texas Senate on Tuesday approved a bill to restore a key provision of the Open Meetings Act that had been struck down by a state court. SB 1640 by Sen. Watson, would reinstate a provision that prevented elected officials from meeting in small groups to discuss public business privately, thereby avoiding a quorum that would activate the Open Meetings Act. The Court of Criminal Appeals struck down the “walking quorum” language in February, ruling that it was too vague and did not give elected officials proper warning about what actions violated the law. SB 1640, developed with lawyers from the Texas attorney general’s office, makes clear that the walking quorum ban applies only to issues within a government body’s jurisdiction and that discussions can take place in verbal or written interactions. To violate SB 1640, officials would have to knowingly participate in a series of contacts outside of a public meeting that would ultimately involve a quorum.
A bill to get rid of red-light cameras in numerous Texas cities has hit the ropes. Rep. Canales, who chairs the Texas House Committee on Transportation, said Monday that he’s stopping the effort because of concerns that outlawing traffic cameras could result in an increase in deadly crashes. Canales’ decision means the legislation is essentially dead unless he decides differently. “Passing the bill out without further tailoring would be tantamount to me voting something out and later having blood on my own hands,” Canales told The Dallas Morning News. Last week, the author of the red light camera bill grabbed headlines when another of his bills was declared dead after a gun rights activist showed up at the home of the House Speaker in order to pressure him to give his support. Canales said this incident did not affect his decision to hold up the red-light camera bill: “At this point, it’s not anything related to the apology or his behavior that’s holding his bill. I am. I am holding the bill because I’ve got policy concerns.”
Senate votes to raise legal age for tobacco to 21
A split Texas Senate voted Tuesday to raise the legal age to buy or tobacco products or e-cigarettes from 18 to 21. Sen. Huffman said surprising statistics on tobacco use by teens, and its effect on the numbers of adult smokers, drove her to file SB 21. She said a higher minimum age would keep tobacco and e-cigarettes out of schools. Under her bill, those younger than 21 who hold, use or buy e-cigarettes or other tobacco products could have a $100 fine – down from $250 for violations under the current law. Members of the military were exempted.
SJR 24 by Kolkhorst–Proposing a constitutional amendment relating to the appropriation of the net revenue received from the imposition of state sales and use taxes on sporting goods. 4-10-19 Passed the Senate by vote of Y: 30/N: 0.
This bill would automatically appropriate the sporting goods sales tax to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the Texas Historical Commission. The legislature would maintain the power to determine the specific uses of the funds and their allocation between TPWD, THC, and large county and municipal parks. SJR 24 proposes a constitutional amendment relating to the appropriation of the net revenue received from the imposition of state sales and use taxes on sporting goods.