The 85th Texas Legislature closed a special session last week after passing 10 of 20 items on an agenda set by Gov. Greg Abbott, and the governor has not ruled out calling a second 30-day special session.
State senators gave their approval in short order to 18 of the items set by the governor while state representatives took most of the allotted time to pass 10 items. Failing to get approval was Abbott’s top priority of property tax reform on which the two legislative bodies favored differing versions.
The Senate approved a tax reform bill that would have automatically triggered a rollback election for cities and other taxing entities if property taxes increased more than four percent in a year, and the House approved a version setting the automatic rollback election at six percent. With time running out on the session, the measure died before the House and Senate could reconcile their differences.
Representatives stymied several of the items by allowing them to die in committee without a vote. One of those was the so-called “Bathroom Bill” that would have barred transgender men, women and children from restrooms that do not match their gender as listed on their birth certificate. The bill was roundly condemned by business leaders who contended that it would cost Texas billions of dollars from loss of tourism and company relocations to the state.
The only item for which passage was listed as essential was Sunset Legislation needed for several state agencies to continue operations. The measure passed the special session.
Other items that passed legislative muster in the special session were:
- Limits on local tree regulations in which municipalities prohibit property owners from cutting down larger trees on their land.
- A bill allowing homeowners targeted by a city for annexation to vote on the proposal.
- A measure requiring physicians and facilities to report more details about abortion complications.
- Requiring Texas woman to pay a separate health insurance premium for health plans that cover abortions performed outside of medical emergencies.
- Continuing the Task Force on Maternal Mortality and Morbidity that is studying why maternal mortality rates have almost doubled in Texas between 2010 and 2014.
- Expanding the definition of mail-in voter fraud and strengthening penalties for committing the fraud.
- Strengthening patient protections for do-not-resuscitate orders before a doctor can issue them.
- Adding state funding to public schools and authorizing a study on school financing. The House compromised with the Senate after seeking $800 million in additional funding.
- Increasing teacher benefits, including a reduction of in health care premiums and deductibles for retired teachers.
Special session items that failed, in addition to the “Bathroom Bill” and property tax cap, were:
- A teacher pay increase of up to $1,000 that was seen as an unfunded mandate.
- School vouchers for special-needs students.
- Placing caps on local government spending, opposed on the grounds that it would make long-term financial planning difficult.
- Capping state government spending by setting growth to a formula that combined an estimated growth in state population and inflation. Currently, state spending cannot grow faster than the state’s economy based on the estimated rate of growth of Texans’ personal income.
- Speeding the approval process for private development projects in cities.
- Preventing cities from enforcing rule changes on property that was not in place when that property was purchased.
- Removing local ordinances that prohibit texting while driving. Texas will be under a statewide ban on texting while driving on Sept. 1, but some cities have approved more stringent bans.
- Prohibiting public employers, such as cities and school districts, from collecting union dues.
- Prohibiting local governments from sending tax dollars to Planned Parenthood.
By Joe Reavis • Staff Writer • [email protected]
For more stories like this subscribe to our print or e-edition.