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Senator José Rodríguez files Special Session Education Bills

Austin – Sen. José Rodríguez has filed a number of bills for the upcoming Special Session, which begins on Tuesday.

The bills filed address the most important issue that should be central to the Special Session, school finance, as well as ensuring that the state does not sanction discrimination against LGBTQ Texans, and providing greater opportunity for mail-in ballot voting while ensuring ballot integrity.

Details and comments by the Senator are as follow:

Education

  • S.B. 40 by Rodríguez, Garcia, Menendez, Watson, West, Whitmire & Zaffirini (comprehensive school finance reform): This bill provides a long-term solution for school finance reform by removing inequitable provisions not based on actual costs, increasing funding for vulnerable student populations, and updating the system as a whole to ensure all our children will get a quality education.

“It is long past time for comprehensive school finance reform, something that not only is necessary but is supported by an overwhelming majority of the public and legislators,” Rodríguez said.

  • S.J.R. 6 by Rodríguez, Garcia, Menendez, Watson, West, Whitmire & Zaffirini (requires state to provide 50 percent of school funding): This joint resolution provides for a constitutional amendment that will require the state to pay its equal share of the operating costs of public schools.

“The State is increasingly funding schools on the backs of local property taxpayers, while at the same time, complaining about high local taxes. True tax reform must take into account the main driver of property taxes – schools, which are the State’s constitutional obligation. In fact, the State’s share of the base funding for schools has decreased from 43.5 percent in 2015 to 37.7 percent in 2019. To address this, I have filed legislation that would require the State to fund at least half of our schools’ operating costs. This would dramatically reduce local property taxes and help ensure quality education for all Texas students.

  • S.B. 41 by Rodríguez, Garcia, Menendez, Watson, West, Whitmire & Zaffirini (increases bilingual education weight): This bill increases the ELL education funding weight from the current weight of 0.1 to 0.25. This funding weight has not been updated since 1984. Updating it would alleviate achievement gaps, expand dual language programs, reduce recapture payments, and help the almost one million students that need additional services.

“The investment in our students is an investment in our future,” Rodríguez said, regarding funding weights. “This is long overdue.”

  • S.B. 37 by Rodríguez (teacher stipends): This bill creates a $500 stipend for those with at least three years of experience, and $500 for those in TEA-determined shortage areas. These stipends would take effect in 2019, since this was not budgeted for in the current biennium. To attempt to implement the stipends now would constitute an unfunded mandate on schools, forcing either local tax increases or cuts elsewhere.

Quality teachers are the backbone of our education system and we need to recruit and retain the best, especially in the areas of math, science, bilingual education, special education and career and tech that are currently in short supply,” Rodríguez said. 

Equal rights for LGBTQ Texans

  • S.B. 38 by Rodríguez, Garcia, Hinojosa & Whitmire (comprehensive LGBTQ non-discrimination): This bill prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in the areas of housing, public accommodation, employment, and state contracting.

“Discrimination of any kind runs counter to the values of opportunity, personal faith, and freedom that all Texans hold dear. However, members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community still have experiences of discrimination in Texas, without any recourse at law,” Rodríguez said. “There are examples across the state of LGBT people being denied housing for themselves and their family, losing a job because of their sexual orientation or gender identify, or being denied service at business held open to the public. 

“Discrimination is also bad for business. An inclusive Texas is crucial to recruiting and retaining talent, attracting entrepreneurs and company relocations, and maintaining a strong travel and tourism industry.

“S.B. 38 will ensure that all Texans can live in our great state without fear that they will be denied the same protection afforded their friends and neighbors, simply because of who they are or whom they love.”

Voting

  • S.B. 36 by Rodríguez (absentee voting by mail): Current law limits mail in ballots to voters who have a disability, are 65 years old or older, in jail but otherwise eligible, or will be out of town Election Day. Mail in ballots reduce long lines at the polls, ensure greater access to the ballot, and have been proven to be reliable. Currently, 27 states and the District of Columbia offer “no excuse” absentee voting, which does not require an applicant to provide an excuse to request a mail in ballot. California, Oregon, and Washington were the first to pass this law in the 1980s, and studies from early 1990s showed an increase in voter turnout.

“I hope any discussion about reforming mail in ballot fraud will include proposals to expand access for the vast majority of eligible voters,” Rodríguez said. “Texas consistently ranks on the bottom in terms of voter turnout – eighth to last in 2016 – and that is the real problem when it comes to our election reform.”

Analysis: A 2018 Texas Legislative Battle Map, Federal Courts Willing

The three federal judges hearing the latest arguments in the state’s redistricting case could make significant changes to the makeup of the Texas House — if they decide to change the maps before next year’s elections. If they don’t — or if the changes they make are relatively minor — not very many House districts are competitive in a general election.

The Texas Senate is out of the court’s reach; the political maps for those 31 seats were agreed to and blessed by both the courts and the state years ago. With a couple of exceptions, they’re not very competitive — at least in general elections. Democrats have a virtual lock on 10 seats, Republicans on 17. In the remaining seats, statewide Republican candidates and statewide Democratic candidates finished, on average, fewer than 10 percentage points apart in last November’s election.

Fifteen Senate seats will be on next year’s ballot.

State Sen. Konni Burton, R-Colleyville, is the incumbent in the closest district, where Donald Trump squeaked past Hillary Clinton by 0.59 percent — 1,806 votes out of more than 308,000 cast. Other candidates on the Republican side outperformed the president, winning by an average of 46.8 percentage points.

Sen. Don Huffines, R-Dallas, represents a district where Republican and Democratic statewide candidates, on average, finished 8.9 percentage points apart. His is the only Republican Senate district where Clinton beat Trump (by 4.7 percentage points). Huffines wasn’t on the 2016 ballot, but he’s gearing up for a 2018 re-election bid.

Republicans did better in the district represented by Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston — winning by an average of 12.2 percentage points in statewide races. But Trump’s winning margin was a mere 0.89 percentage points. Huffman’s seat will be on the 2018 ballot.

In the House, all 150 seats will be on the 2018 ballot; statewide candidates finished at least 10 percentage points apart in all but 14 of those districts. Put another way, in 83 districts, Republicans won by at least 10 percentage points in the average contested statewide race. In 53 districts, the average statewide Democratic candidate won by 10 percentage points or more. (For the state as a whole, the average Republican won by 14.1 percentage points in 2016.)

The 14 seats where the margins were in single digits make up a preliminary target list. That’s unfortunate for the GOP because only two of the target seats are currently held by Democrats. Conversely, the list has Democrats dreaming of chances to cut into the 95-55 Republican advantage in the Texas House. What’s more, Clinton won in all but three of those seats, hinting at possible trouble for Republicans who will be running in the first midterm election of the Trump presidency.

Which incumbents have trouble in the rearview mirrors? Democrats Victoria Neave of Dallas and Philip Cortez of San Antonio; and Republicans Rodney Anderson of Grand Prairie, Linda Koop of Dallas, Matt Rinaldi of Irving, Cindy Burkett of Sunnyvale, Sarah Davis of West University Place, Tony Dale of Cedar Park, Angie Chen Button of Richardson, J.M. Lozano of Kingsville, Jason Villalba of Dallas, Larry Gonzales of Round Rock, Gary Elkins of Houston and Dwayne Bohac of Houston.

The federal judges way up there in the first sentence could change all of this. They’re at the end of a week of hearings over the congressional and Texas House political maps adopted in 2013 (after 2011 maps were tossed out as unconstitutional) to decide whether the state’s mapmakers cheated any of the state’s voters out of their electoral influence.

If those judges decide the maps in use aren’t fair, the lines could be changed before the 2018 primaries and, with them, the odds for the incumbent members and incumbent parties in each district.

Texas Democrats start the election cycle with a reasonable chance to pick up a handful of House seats. They’re hoping the courts put more districts in play. But they’d need to flip 21 seats to regain the majority they lost in the 2002 elections. That’s a stretch.

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • It’s true that three of the Republican incumbents in the Texas congressional delegation live in districts where Donald Trump lost, but unless judges change the state’s political maps, two of those districts are still dominated by the GOP. [link]
  • Winning some more seats in the congressional delegation or the Legislature would make Texas Democrats happy, but the real prize at stake in the state’s redistricting legislation is federal oversight of the state’s Republican mapmakers. [link]

Author: ROSS RAMSEY – The Texas Tribune

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick Proposes Millions for Teacher Bonuses and Retirement

With less than a week before the start of a special session of the Texas Legislature, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick laid out a proposal Thursday to give teachers bonuses and increase their retirement benefits, with plans to pay for both long-term using money from the Texas lottery.

Patrick called a press conference to roll out his own priorities for the next 30 days and tear down the House’s plan for revamping a faulty school funding system as a “Ponzi scheme.”

Patrick’s plan, in part, would provide $600 to $1,000 bonuses to long-term and retired teachers, inject $200 million into the Teacher Retirement System, give $150 million to struggling small, rural districts, and provide $60 million for new facilities for fast-growth school districts and charter schools.

Over the next two years, Patrick said, $700 million to pay for the plan would come from a deferral of funds to managed care organizations. Over the long-term, $700 million would be directly allocated from the Texas Lottery if voters approved an amendment to the Texas Constitution to ensure that transfer of funds continues indefinitely.

Patrick called on school districts to reprioritize 5 percent of their funds over the next four years to increase teacher salaries. Districts, he said, “have to be better about how they spend the money. They have to put more focus on teachers.”

Mark Wiggins, lobbyist for the Association of Texas Professional Educators, said most schools don’t have the financial wiggle room to reallocate funding without additional money from the state. “We haven’t seen any of these proposals. That’s why it’s tough to say where our members would come out on them,” he said.

The House passed a bill during the regular session that would have put $1.5 billion into public schools, in part by deferring a payment to schools to 2019. Patrick Thursday called that budget trick a “dangerous political stunt” and a “Ponzi scheme.”

The Senate tacked a “private school choice” provision to the House’s school finance reform package, effectively killing both issues in the regular session, since House members oppose public subsidies for private schools.

House Speaker Joe Straus and top House education leaders have appeared before education groups in the last month, chastising the Senate for not approving key reforms to the school finance system and refusing to change their positions on controversial issues such as “private school choice.”

Gov. Greg Abbott announced a 20-item agenda for the a special session beginning on July 18, including several education issues that the House and Senate clashed over during the regular session. Patrick stressed Thursday that he supported all 20 items, while pitching a multi-layered plan beyond the governor’s agenda.

Soon after Patrick’s press conference, Abbott praised the lieutenant governor’s efforts.

“My office has been working with lawmakers in both the Senate and House these past six weeks, and if these items do not get passed, it will be for lack of will, not for lack of time,” Abbott said.

Disclosure: The Association of Texas Professional Educators has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • Rep. Dan Huberty, chair of the House Public Education Committee, said he plans to file a bill during the special session to reform school finance — and to continue to reject “private school choice.” [link]
  • Speaking to hundreds of educators ahead of a special session packed with education bills, House Speaker Joe Straus chastised the Senate for underfunding school finance reform. [link]
  • Senate Education Chairman Larry Taylor on Wednesday afternoon said that he would not appoint conferees to negotiate with the House on a proposed school finance overhaul. “That deal is dead,” he said. [link]

Author:  ALIYYA SWABY – The Texas Tribune

Abbott Officially calls Special Session, Allowing Lawmakers to Begin Filing Bills

Gov. Greg Abbott issued a declaration for a special session of the Texas Legislature Monday, formally inviting lawmakers back to Austin to pass “sunset legislation” that will keep several key state agencies open.

The long-awaited procedural move allows lawmakers to begin filing bills for the special session set to begin on July 18.

In addition to the formal declaration, Abbott also released a draft version of 19 additional items he plans to add to the special session agenda later on. Last month, Abbott announced that lawmakers would consider 20 total legislative items during the special session.

Lawmakers’ failure to pass “sunset” legislation during this year’s 140-day regular session forced Abbott to call the special session. Absent that measure, government agencies including the Texas Medical Board, which licenses doctors across the state, will have to shut down.

“With today’s proclamation, and with bill authors already lined up for all special session items, I look forward to working with the House and Senate to finish the people’s business,” Abbott said in a statement.

During the special session, lawmakers will return to several controversial issues that deeply divided the state’s Republican leadership, including a so-called “bathroom bill” that seeks to restrict which bathrooms transgender Texans can use. In his unofficial supplemental call, Abbott described that issue as “legislation regarding the use of multi-occupancy showers, locker rooms, restrooms, and changing rooms.”

Abbott also wants legislators to take on school finance reform, school choice for special needs students and several local control measures.

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • Gov. Greg Abbott is plotting an aggressive approach to the upcoming special session of the Legislature, diverting from his above-the-fray style to try to see through an ambitious 20-item agenda. [link]
  • Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday announced he was calling the Legislature back for a special session to address must-pass “sunset” legislation and 19 other measures. Here’s what Texans can expect ahead of July 18. [link]

Author: ANDY DUEHREN – The Texas Tribune

Texas is Putting Troubled Nursing Homes on Notice

Texas nursing homes beware: The state’s tolerance for mistakes is dropping fast.

In September, a new state law takes effect that will make it more difficult for long-term care facilities cited for repeat violations to avoid hefty fines from regulators.

It’s an effort by legislators and advocates for the aging to crack down on bad seeds in the nursing home industry. And there are a lot of them.

A January AARP Texas report found the quality of the state’s nursing homes on average was “shamefully poor.”

More than half of them received just one or two stars out of a possible five in the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services rating system, according to a 2015 report from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Meanwhile, the state’s Department of Aging and Disability Services, which regulates long-term care facilities, identified some 17,466 violations over the course of fiscal year 2015, but only took enforcement action — everything from fines to license revocations and denials — in 40 cases.

State Sen. Charles Schwertner, chairman of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, sought to change this in the last legislative session. He filed a bill that, among other things, gives the state the ability to fine repeat offender nursing homes without first having a chance to fix violations.

His bill — eliminating a so-called “right to correct” loophole for the most serious offenses — passed the Senate but never made it out of the House, and eventually got attached as an amendment to another successful health care bill.

Schwertner said in April that the state “needs to send a clear and unambiguous message that we’re serious about protecting our most vulnerable citizens from abuse and neglect.”

“Whether it’s children in foster care, individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities living in long-term care facilities, or our parents and grandparents residing in nursing homes, our state needs to do a much better job of protecting those who cannot protect themselves,” he said.

But Phillip Hopkins, president of TAG Management Services, which operates long-term care facilities in Texas, said businesses like his are facing mounting regulations and pressure to be perfect in an industry where mistakes can happen and staff turnover is high.

He said allowing them to correct problems before being hit with fines is crucial to providing high quality care. If one of his company’s nine nursing homes is dinged for a light bulb being unscrewed or a resident missing a shoe, he said, “we’re going to be chasing our tails.”

“We fix it and concentrate on it, but if they fine me on everything that happens it dilutes the system,” Hopkins said.

Legislators and advocates for the elderly have been vexed for years over how few troubled nursing homes are fined. In fiscal years 2014 and 2015, 328 of the state’s 1,200 nursing facilities accounted for 94 percent of all serious violations. But the state fined only 22 of them, according to the AARP report from earlier this year.

The Sunset Advisory Commission, which reviews the effectiveness of state agencies, wrote in a July 2015 report to the Legislature that the Department of Aging and Disability Services “needs to step up to the plate and more aggressively take on its role as a regulator.” But the commission also said that the department’s power over long-term care facilities is “a regulatory touch so light that the industry feels little consequence from committing repeated violations.”

“In the agency’s defense, statutory provisions keep penalty caps low and prohibit the collection of fines for many violations later corrected by providers,” the report said. The department “cannot effectively ensure the safety of these vulnerable populations while wearing statutory handcuffs and without effective enforcement tools.”

Bob Jackson, state director at AARP Texas, said because nursing homes have been allowed to fix violations without facing consequences, they’ve gone back to their old habits — over and over again.

“There’s a cadre of nursing homes that are at the bottom and never get better,” he said. “They correct the one-time citation but there’s not an incentive … There’s no sting in it for the provider.”

The nursing home industry puts the onus back on agency surveyors, who they say don’t always enforce violations the same way.

Scot Kibbe, director of government relations for the Texas Health Care Association, which represents 600 nursing homes, said that kind of inconsistency makes it difficult for nursing homes to meet survey goals that will improve their standing. He said nursing homes can appeal a surveyor’s findings — but that’s a long, costly process.

“Many are struggling for lack of funding, and then if you keep tacking on penalties, you’re not solving the problem,” Kibbe said. “It’s maybe putting them further in the hole.”

Disclosure: AARP Texas, the Texas Health Care Association and the Kaiser Family Foundation have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune. Find a full list of Tribune donors and sponsors here

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • The Texas Legislature is faced with a budget challenge that has pitted the Republican majority’s desire to cut government spending against a vulnerable faction: nursing homes. [link]
  • Nursing homes were spared the draconian cuts proposed by lawmakers at the beginning of the 2011 session. Still, despite growing caseloads and rising medical costs, they move forward with less state and federal support. [link]

Analysis: A Governor (Belatedly) Setting the Legislature’s Agenda

Gov. Greg Abbott is doing in advance of the special session what Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick did at the beginning of the regular session: laying out a bunch of priorities, setting the agenda.

Better late than never.

The governor is fiddling with something interesting here — using a special session as a way to focus an unfocused Legislature, to force them to work on his issues instead of issues of their own, to sidestep some of the parliamentary landmines that scramble the minds of all but a few of the Capitol’s wizards, to get things done.

Abbott started with a rule of his own, telling the Senate to pass the legislation that forced him to call a special session in the first place — a “sunset” bill that will extend the lives of a handful of government departments that would otherwise die, including the doctor-licensing Texas Medical Board. Once the Senate has temporarily mended its hostage-taking ways, the governor has promised to add 19 issues to the agenda, including lavatory legislation and property tax caps, that were the primary reasons for the Senate’s obstinacy.

The session hasn’t started yet — it hasn’t officially been called. But Abbott, after suffering the frustrations of the first six months of 2017, finally has the wheel.

Special sessions and their governor-driven agendas are nothing new, but it’s interesting to watch in the hands of a relatively new governor. Abbott took office in January 2015; this is the first special session he’s ever called.

He said at the outset what the issues would be. Now he’s trickling them out again, one at a time, naming the bill authors, picking his favorites and giving them each a moment in the gubernatorial spotlight.

There’s some stagecraft at work here, too. Lawmakers can always file bills that aren’t on the governor’s agenda for a special session. They’re not eligible for consideration, but filing is a way to shine attention on something and to try to get the governor to add it later. But lawmakers can’t file any bills until the official proclamation of a special session is released. Abbott hasn’t released that and is using the time available to bring a little more attention to the things he wants done.

He got a bellyful of lawmaker filings earlier this year. He’s going from a legislative session where more than 6,000 bills were filed and considered and passed or killed in 140 days, with or without his input, consent, guidance or knowledge, to a 30-day special session with an agenda entirely in his hands. Quite the luxury.

For a guy who’s been trying to extend the control of his office, this could be addictive. Two years ago, he got his fingers deeper into the budget than his predecessors, successfully (for now) challenging a limit on what is and is not within a governor’s veto power when it comes to state spending. Line-item vetos are allowed in Texas, but Abbott reached into “riders” — descriptive texts directing agencies on just how to spend the money appropriated in the budget. Before Abbott, those parts of the budget were considered out of reach.

Abbott is lately picking the pockets of cities and counties, joining with the Legislature to weed out local ordinances he doesn’t like in favor of overarching state laws. During this year’s regular session, ride-hailing regulations approved by voters in Austin and by elected city councils elsewhere in Texas were run down. Texting-while-driving laws, a regular feature in local statutes, are new to state law; one of Abbott’s special-session items would strike those local ordinances now that the state has stepped in. The property tax restrictions so dear to Abbott and the Senate (and to at least 77 percent of the state’s voters, by the way, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll) would require local governments to ask voters before raising taxes more than a small amount.

It’s safe to say local officials across the state are unhappy with the state’s ambitions.

And now the governor is getting his first taste of really and truly bossing the Legislature around. It’s a turn from regular sessions, where his handful of “emergency items” gets no more attention than the legislative package of any relatively powerful legislator. Abbott was successful with most of his pets earlier this year (his call for ethics reform got only a muted reply), but compare that to Patrick, who listed 30 items and put at least two dozen in the bank.

Now it’s Abbott’s turn: He’ll be in for the usual surprises when the session starts and the legislative animals chew up the furniture and tear up the lawn, but the lead-up has been going well. The governor looks like he’s in charge, for perhaps the first time this year.

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • Texas lawmakers will return to Austin in a month to take another swing at more than a dozen issues they couldn’t resolve during the regular legislative session. So what has changed? [link]
  • The state’s top leaders couldn’t close a session-ending deal over the final weekend, giving advocates of bathroom and property tax legislation — if the governor allows it — another chance. [link]
  • A review of Gov. Greg Abbott’s schedule during May provides a glimpse into the final stretch of the legislative session, where the governor tried in vain to bring together lawmakers to avoid a special session. [link]

 

Author: ROSS RAMEY – The Texas Tribune

Abbott Plots Aggressive Approach to Special Session

Gov. Greg Abbott is plotting an aggressive approach to the upcoming special session of the Legislature, diverting from his above-the-fray style to try to see through an ambitious 20-item agenda.

The push came into public view Thursday, when Abbott’s office began announcing lawmakers who will take the lead on individual items — state Rep. Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth, and state Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, intend to author legislation cracking down on mail-in ballot fraud, for example. Abbott’s office is working to line up similar pairs for all 20 items.

These are not the only preparations his office has been making for the special session, which begins July 18. Since its announcement, his staff has been privately meeting with a range of stakeholders to solicit their input and build support for the agenda.

“I think there clearly is a sense that they’re much more engaged,” said Dale Craymer, the president of the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association, which met last week with Abbott’s staff.

People like Craymer note that it’s natural for the governor and his office to be more hands-on in the lead-up to a special session because the agenda is entirely of the governor’s making. But some also say the increased level of engagement is notable after a regular session in which Abbott faced some criticism for being absent from legislative battles.

Abbott sought to recapture the spotlight June 6 when he laid out his surprisingly lengthy special session call, asking lawmakers to take up everything from raising teachers’ pay by $1,000 to pre-empting local ordinance regulating trees on private land. He ordered legislators to first pass a series of bills that prevent some state agencies from closing.

People who have spoken to Abbott’s office in recent days say they realize the agenda is a heavy lift but are determined to get it done. Abbott’s staff, one of those people said, “are not walking into this unaware of the challenge.”

“The buzz is that they’ve called every trade association in town, they are visiting with people from across the state, visiting aggressively with folks in making sure that as much of this agenda as possible is passed during the special session in hopes that there’s not another,” said Luis Saenz, a lobbyist who used to work for Abbott’s office.

One trade organization Abbott’s office has met with is the Texas Building Owners and Managers Association, which represents commercial real estate throughout the state and has an interest in property tax reform. The group’s president, Brett Williams, said Abbott’s office walked him through all 20 items and left him with the impression that they are “trying to get the issues across the line.”

Abbott, for his part, has declined to say whether he is willing to call subsequent special sessions if lawmakers do not complete his checklist in their first 30 days. Technically, the special session is not even official yet — Abbott has not filed the proclamation that would allow lawmakers to start filing bills, and his office has not given any indication of when he may.

Regardless, Abbott’s office sees a number of sources for optimism once the special session gets underway: Without any must-pass bills — aside from the agency-saving measures — there is less potential for hostage-taking. It’s much harder for the House to get away with killing legislation in the Calendars Committee, which sets the daily agenda, when there aren’t thousands of bills flowing through it. And in general, the spotlight will be burning bright and hot on the 20 items with far fewer distractions.

Abbott’s massively funded political operation — his re-election campaign has a $34.4 million war chest and no serious opponent — will also be closely watching the special session. Sources say he and his office plan to make clear “who’s with him and who’s not” on his agenda for the special session, which will unfold with a few months until candidate filing begins for the 2018 election cycle.

What remains to be seen is whether the preparation will be enough to overcome the challenges that led to a special session in the first place: sharp differences on priorities between the House and Senate and, to a lesser extent, between the House and the governor. There have been few signs those tensions have thawed since the end of the regular session.

In a speech last week, House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, jokingly compared Abbott’s special session agenda to a pile of manure while throwing cold water on multiple agenda items.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, meanwhile, has continued to present himself as Abbott’s eager partner at the top of the state government, all but pledging the Senate’s full support for the governor’s special session agenda.

“I’m glad we’re having a special session,” the lieutenant governor said in a radio interview Wednesday. “The governor and I are linked shoulder-to-shoulder on these issues.”

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • Texas lawmakers will return to Austin in a month to take another swing at more than a dozen issues they couldn’t resolve during the regular legislative session. So what has changed? [link]
  • A review of Gov. Greg Abbott’s schedule during May provides a glimpse into the final stretch of the legislative session, where the governor tried in vain to bring together lawmakers to avoid a special session. [link]
  • Well before the current legislative standoff over public accommodations for transgender Texans, the political elements of the “bathroom bill” fight were falling into place. [link]

Author:  PATRICK SVITEK – The Texas Tribune

Analysis: “Tax relief,” Maybe, but no Savings for Taxpayers

State officials are talking once again about your property taxes. Like you, they hate those taxes. A lot.

But they’re hoping to fool you, once again, into thinking they are going to lower the price of local government and public education.

None of their proposals or their recent actions would do that.

School property taxes are the biggest part of every Texas property owners’ tax bill. They are also the only local property tax that goes up and down primarily because of what happens in Austin.

State officials don’t set your school property tax rate; they just decide how much money local officials are required to raise.

In practice, it amounts to almost the same thing.

If the state spends less money per student, the local districts have to spend more. They get their money from property taxes, so property taxes go up.

And then, state officials complain — alongside property taxpayers across Texas — about rising property taxes.

The current long slide in state funding started in 2007 — right after lawmakers rejiggered the formulas and balanced state and local funding, with each covering 45 percent of the total cost of education and the federal government picking up the remaining 10 percent.

The numbers ten years later: Locals pay 52 percent, the state pays 38 percent and the feds are still at 10 percent.

According to the Texas Supreme Court about a year ago, local property taxes and the system they finance remain constitutional. Lucky for the state that’s not a criminal court, though: Taxpayers clearly feel robbed.

State officials can feel the heat of that ire. But their new budget doesn’t address the school finance problem. They killed legislation that would have put another $1.5 billion into public education — the only bill in the regular session that would have moved school taxes, if only indirectly and only a little bit.

And their effort to limit growth in property taxes levied by other local governments failed, too. Gov. Greg Abbott has said he will put that one taxesTxon the agenda of the midsummer special session. One version, passed by the Senate and apparently favored by the governor, would have required voter approval for any local property tax increases of more than 5 percent.

It wouldn’t save you any money — contrary to the rhetoric billowing from the Senate — but it could lower the speed at which your property taxes grow. It’s like promising a gazelle you can make the lions a little slower.

Texas lawmakers have replaced the idea of lowering state taxes with a new one: Complaining alongside taxpayers who want lower taxes. Actually doing something about it has remained out of reach.

They could replace an unpopular tax with a less unpopular one, but they have few options — none of them particularly lucrative. The Texas Lottery was an example of this, and it served mainly to underscore our widespread innumeracy: A surprising number of Texans thought state-run gaming would cover the full cost of public education in Texas. In fact, the Texas games earn the state about $2.5 billion very two years, about as much as taxes on alcoholic beverages and less than half as much as the (also) unpopular business franchise tax. Lawmakers budgeted $41 billion for public education over the next two years; the lottery will cover about 6 percent of that.

They could cut spending, except it has proven nearly impossible to do that in Texas, partly because the state budget is, relatively speaking, pretty tight, and partly because when you get down to it, the programs that would be cut are more popular than the tax cuts that might result.

People want roads and schools and prisons and whatnot, and the political experts who run the government — give them their due for getting into and then remaining in office — have ascertained that it’s more rewarding to keep current programs alive than to cut taxes.

That’s a safe assumption, isn’t it, since they haven’t cut those programs or whittled those taxes?

But state leaders can hear the voters, too, so they’re trying to force local governments to hold the line on taxes. They can’t provide any relief themselves, but maybe they can make someone else do it.

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • In their just-ended legislative session, Texas lawmakers mowed through a list of politically divisive issues that could have lasting effects on how others see a state that’s been known for years as a mecca for business. [link]
  • There’s a simple test to tell you whether the promise of a tax cut is really a tax cut: Is there money in your hand? [link]
  • Some Texas lawmakers want to kill the franchise tax that so many businesses hate. So far, so good. But it might leave a hole in the state’s pocket when it inevitably comes time to rebalance the state’s financing for public schools. [link]

Author:  ROSS RAMSEY – The Texas Tribune

Here’s What Gov. Greg Abbott has Said – or Not Said – About Special Session Items

When Gov. Greg Abbott announced Tuesday that he was calling back the Texas Legislature for a special session, he promised to “make it count,” setting a wide-ranging agenda of 20 issues for lawmakers to consider beginning July 18.

Some of the topics, including school finance reform and property tax reform, have been on Abbott’s legislative wish list since his State of the State address in January, while others have received little or no recent mention from the governor.

Abbott stipulated that lawmakers must first pass “sunset” legislation to reauthorize several key state agencies before he will allow them to turn to the other topics, which range from municipal annexation to a controversial “bathroom bill.” Abbott’s office did not respond to a request for comment Thursday morning.

Here’s a look at Abbott’s previous comments on those topics.

Public schools — and bathrooms

Easily the most controversial topic of the regular session was Senate Bill 6 — the “bathroom bill” — which would have required transgender Texans to use bathrooms in government buildings and public schools that match their “biological sex” and prohibited local governments from adopting or enforcing local bathroom regulations. While Abbott remained silent on SB 6, he did signal support for another bill — House Bill 2899 — that would have nixed existing municipal and school district trans-inclusive bathroom policies and prevent locals from enacting any new policies. He nodded to HB 2899 during his special session announcement.

Two of Abbott’s items focus on public school teachers: one that would raise their salaries by $1,000 and one that would grant school administrators more flexibility over teacher hiring and retention. Abbott discussed local school control and teacher quality during his 2015 State of the State address: “We can bring out the best in all of our teachers by getting rid of these one-size-fits-all mandates and trusting our teachers to truly educate students in the classroom … We must also return genuine local control to the school districts in Texas.” In 2014, before he was governor, Abbott called for paying teachers up to $2,000 more per year if their students performed well on Advanced Placement tests. More recently, he’s been quiet on raising salaries for teachers.

After the Texas Supreme Court ruled in 2016 that the state’s school finance system was constitutional — but critically flawed — Abbott backed school finance reform in his 2017 State of the State address in January: “Both the House and the Senate are right to tackle the vexing issue of school finance now rather than putting it off … It is time to construct an entirely new system. With a sense of urgency, we must create better ways to fund education.”

One contentious issue that contributed to the demise of school finance reform efforts during the regular session was “private school choice” for special-needs students. Abbott added it to the special session agenda after having endorsed the idea in December 2016. “It would be far more efficient to provide that money to parents for them to choose which school is best for their child, knowing that, in the City of Houston, for example, where there are hundreds of schools, there may only be 10 that have the resources and capabilities of addressing the special needs of that particular parent’s child,” he said. He also generally backed “school choice” during his 2017 State of the State address.

Property taxes and local regulations

Efforts to change the process for property appraisal and tax rate increases collapsed during a standoff between the House and Senate during the final days of the legislative session, but lawmakers are set to have another shot in July. Abbott called for rollback elections for property tax increases during his State of the State address in 2017: “We have to remember, property owners are not renting their land from the city. That is why we need property tax reform that prevents cities from raising property taxes without first getting voter approval.”

Abbott also asked lawmakers to address local regulations on spending, trees on private land, construction project rules and permitting. The governor has broadly criticized local regulations but has not addressed all of these items recently.

Earlier this year, he publicly pushed for an end to local rules regulating what property owners do with trees on private land, but he has been quiet on local construction rules (his special session call includes “preventing local governments from changing rules midway through construction projects”).

In a 2015 opinion piece in Forbes, Abbott wrote that he wanted to “speed up the permitting process to help businesses get their projects done faster,” which echoes his comments in his call for a special session.

Abbott wants the Legislature to address municipal annexation rules during the special session after a Democratic filibuster killed a bill meant to allow Texans to vote if a city wanted to include their property in its borders. He’s been quiet on that issue.

Although he just signed a bill instituting a statewide texting-while-driving ban, Abbott has asked lawmakers to pass legislation during a special session stating that the statewide ban overrules any local regulation on the issue. He advocated for such a pre-emption during the session.

Abortion, health and medicine

The special session agenda includes three items relating to abortion policy in Texas: barring taxpayer funding from subsidizing health providers that perform abortion, requiring women to obtain separate insurance policies for non-emergency abortions and increasing reporting requirements for when health complications arise during abortions. During his 2017 State of the State address, Abbott promised to embrace any legislation that “protects unborn children and promotes a culture of life in Texas.”

At the end of his Tuesday announcement, Abbott asked the Legislature to extend a task force dedicated to studying maternal mortality in Texas. Abbott has not been particularly vocal on the topic in the past; a previous statement to the Tribune from spokesman John Wittman said Abbott is “committed to reducing the maternal mortality rate.”

He also put legislation that would strengthen patient protections relating to do-not-resuscitate orders on the agenda. He’s been quiet on that topic.

Government and elections

During the special session, Abbott wants lawmakers to prohibit the use of taxpayer dollars for collecting public employee union dues. He addressed the topic during his 2017 State of the State address: “We must end the practice of government deducting union dues from paychecks of employees. Taxpayer money shouldn’t be used to support the collection of union dues.”

The Legislature used part of its regular session to pass a bill that curbs voter fraud at nursing homes and widens ballot access to elderly Texans who live in them. Abbott wants further action during the special session asking for a bill “cracking down on mail-in ballot fraud.” In late 2016, after the state began investigating alleged mail-in ballot voter fraud in Tarrant County, he tweeted, “We will crush illegal voting.”

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • Advocates and families of transgender Texans are preparing for a special session of the Texas Legislature that’s sure to continue the heated debate over which bathrooms transgender individuals are allowed to use. [link]
  • Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced Tuesday that he’s calling lawmakers back for a special legislative session starting July 18. Here’s what he’s committed to adding to the call.    [link]
  • Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday called a special session of the Texas Legislature starting July 18. Abbott said that after legislators address a bill to keep some state agencies from shuttering, he’ll add another 19 items to the agenda. [link]

Author:  ANDY DUEHREN – The Texas Tribune

Texas Bill Provides Alternatives to Jail for Inability to Pay Fines

AUSTIN – A measure passed by the Texas Legislature is designed to prevent people convicted of low-level crimes from being sent to jail when they can’t afford a fine or fees.

Senate Bill 1913 was approved by just five votes in the waning hours of the legislative session and awaits the governor’s signature.

Its sponsor, state Sen. Judith Zaffirini of Laredo, says the purpose is to keep Texas jails from acting as “debtor’s prisons.”

Attorney Brett Merfish with the public-interest group Texas Appleseed, says the idea is to stop what’s known as the “cycle of court debt.”

“People would not be taking up space in our local jails, and instead be able to serve out their sentences and also not lose their jobs, not have that interruption in their lives,” she says. “Usually, if people are indigent and can’t pay, being in jail can lead to a cascade of other consequences in their lives.”

The bill requires judges to evaluate a person’s ability to pay fines for lower-level offenses that most often don’t include jail time, such as traffic tickets or low-level misdemeanors, and would keep them out of jail simply because they can’t afford the fines. It also allows judges to lower fines, set payment plans or order community service in those cases.

Merfish says a Texas Appleseed study shows significant numbers of Texans are spending time in jail simply because they are poor.

“These practices are widespread – so, in these cases of fine-only offenses, over 16 percent of them are satisfied by jail credit, which we think is an indicator for when people can’t pay,” she adds.

She says each year, hundreds of thousands of Texans are caught in the cycle of court debt, often losing their jobs, cars, homes and even custody of their children.

“There’s certainly further reform, but we’re happy with this as a first step to having practices and procedures in courts that will highlight this issue for judges, and ensure that people are given alternatives to payment,” explains Merfish.

Last year, ACLU Texas filed suit against the Galveston County town of Santa Fe, alleging its city court assessed assessed excessive fines and warrant fees on people convicted of low-level crimes to help fund the city’s $600,000 budget shortfall. The case is still pending.

Author: Mark Richardson – Texas News Service

Abbott Pushes Back Announcement on Special Session

Gov. Greg Abbott‘s announcement on whether he will call a special session is not expected to happen before next week.

On Monday, Abbott said he would share his verdict “later this week.” On Friday, his office said he would not make the announcement Friday or over the weekend.

Abbott is facing pressure to bring lawmakers back to Austin to deal with unresolved debates over property taxes and a “bathroom bill” that would regulate which restroom transgender Texans can use. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has been pushing for a special session to address those issues.

Asked Wednesday morning about a special session, Abbott said he was waiting for the budget to be certified and wanted to go through more bills on his desk. Comptroller Glenn Hegar announced Thursday evening he had certified the budget.

Author:  PATRICK SVITEK – The Texas Tribune

Uncertainty, Deep Tension Mark the End of the 85th Regular Session

Texas’ 85th legislative session has come to an uncertain, rancorous end after a 140-day period that saw the state extend its rightward march and tensions between the two chambers reach new heights — largely because of disagreements within the ruling Republican Party.

Lawmakers gaveled out Monday afternoon — first the House, then the Senate — under a cloud of uncertainty over whether Gov. Greg Abbott would call a special session, which Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has been pushing for to deal with a number of incomplete priorities. Abbott was coy Monday morning, saying he would announce his decision “later in the week” — and making clear that he would be in charge in the event of an overtime round.

“I would normally say, ‘I’ll see you in 18 months,’ God willing,” Patrick told senators as the chamber prepared to adjourn for the last time in the regular session. “But we’ll see you a little sooner than that.”

The final day was also consumed by a scuffle on the House floor that seemed to embody some of the sharpest tensions of the session: State Rep. Matt Rinaldi, R-Irving, traded accusations with House Democrats after Rinaldi said he called immigration authorities on people in the gallery protesting the state’s new “sanctuary cities” law. The dustup punctuated a session in which Democrats and Republicans alike waged fierce battles over illegal immigration, abortion and LGBT rights.

“This session has been very, very difficult and emotional in many different ways, in many layers, over contentious issues, and there are enough of us here to remember a time in Texas when respect and decorum ruled the day,” state Rep. Celia Israel, D-Austin, said Monday at a news conference held by House Democrats. “It’s just ironic — my senior members that have been here dozens of years have told me this is the worst session they’ve ever seen.”

Even after both chambers gaveled out Monday afternoon, the fault lines were clearer than ever. Patrick issued a statement that accused the House of killing several of his priorities, including those related to property taxes and bathrooms, which the lieutenant governor said remain “must-pass legislation.” Straus, for his part, issued a statement saying his chamber “feels very good about where we ended up, and now we look forward to returning home.”

The session got underway on Jan. 10 in the shadow of Comptroller Glenn Hegar‘s dour revenue estimate, in part due to the downturn in oil prices, ensuring budget writers had their work cut out for them. For weeks, the two chambers sparred over the best way to balance the budget, with the Senate using an accounting trick to free up $2.5 billion — Straus called it “cooking the books” — and the House turning to the state’s savings account, colloquially known as the Rainy Day Fund.

Budget writers ultimately struck a deal that relied on a bit of both methods.

The session also opened against the backdrop of a new Republican administration in Washington led by President Donald Trump. Texas Republicans were hopeful Trump would provide some relief for a state that spent the last eight years at war with a Democrat-led federal government, but the benefits ultimately appeared to be limited.

On one of the items where Texas Republicans have long sought assistance from the federal government — border security — budget writers maintained the current spending level of $800 million.

That did not mean Trump’s influence was not felt under the pink dome. His hardline stance against illegal immigration dovetailed with Abbott’s push for a ban on “sanctuary cities,” arguably the most rancorous proposal of the session. After the Senate passed the legislation, Senate Bill 4, House leadership sought to water it down, an ultimately unsuccessful endeavor thanks to a polarizing amendment by state Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler.

The amendment allows law enforcement officials to ask the immigration status of anyone they detain — not just those they arrest. Its passage, mainly along party lines, marked something of a coming-out party for the newly formed House Freedom Caucus, a group of 12 conservative lawmakers who spent the session working to advance their priorities through their knowledge of the rules and procedure.

“Our fingerprints are on many pieces of policy,” Schaefer said in an interview earlier this month, “and that’s not by accident.”

The sanctuary cities ban was one of four emergency items Abbott declared in his State of the State address, and he signed it into law weeks before the session concluded. He did so without advance notice on a Sunday evening on Facebook Live, spawning another round of protests against the bill.

While Abbott, Patrick and Straus were generally on the same page regarding SB 4, they were far more splintered on a “bathroom bill” that would require transgender people to use the restroom that matches their birth gender. Patrick charged into the session vowing to fight for it, while Abbott kept his distance and Straus made clear he viewed it as potentially bad for the state’s economy.

There were few big surprises regarding the issue during the first half of session. The Senate approved its bathroom bill, Senate Bill 6, early on and sent it to the House, where it languished amid continued resistance from House leadership. But in April, the House debuted what some had hoped would be an alternative to SB 6, House Bill 2899, and got the governor to break his silence — Abbott called it a “thoughtful proposal.”

Still, HB 2899, which would have invalidated local trans-inclusive policies and school accommodations for transgender students, remained stuck in a House committee — even as it accrued a total of 80 co-authors. The issue wouldn’t show signs of life again until after a remarkable turn of events that began May 11, when the Freedom Caucus, at a boiling point with House leadership, went on a bill-killing spree that claimed what is known as the sunset safety net bill. In the House, the failure of the measure, which keeps some state agencies from shuttering, meant the Senate would have to pass it to avoid a likely special session.

Patrick seized the opportunity, vowing to hold the bill hostage until the House acted on a bathroom bill and property tax reform. Abbott aligned himself with Patrick, calling them priorities in the home stretch — but stopped short of threatening a special session over them.

“It definitely, I think, kind of shifted the balance, so to speak, or shifted the playing field on what was going to get done in the session or whether there was going to be leverage at all for this issue or the property tax issue,” one Freedom Caucus member, state Rep. Matt Krause of Fort Worth, recalled Sunday.

With time running out, the House worked to appease Patrick, passing measures that dealt with the two issues more narrowly than the lieutenant governor had preferred. The period marked the apex of pressure that Patrick had been applying on the House since the session’s early days, hoping to bend it to his chamber’s more conservative will.

“I think Speaker Straus did a terrific  job of being basically the voice of reason in that regard,” state Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, said Monday, reflecting on the Senate pressures. The House had its priorities, Zerwas added, “we got them done, and the lieutenant governor had some of his priorities that didn’t really sync up with our leadership here, so you know, I think ultimately that’s how the political process works. I think we got done the things the state, the citizens, expect us to get done.”

In the final days of the regular session, there appeared to be some hope lawmakers could work out a deal to avoid overtime — Abbott sounded optimistic as of Friday morning. But whatever chance there was for compromise seemed to plummet over the weekend, when the chamber leaders held dueling news conferences — twice — to assign blame to the other side for putting lawmakers on the brink of a special session.

By Monday morning, Abbott, known for his aversion to special sessions, was striking a somewhat different tone. Asked at a bill-signing ceremony whether he planned to call lawmakers back to Austin, he raised the possibility for the first time in 140 days. “I’ll be making an announcement later this week,” the governor said.

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • In some ways, the standoff over the bathroom bill had been years in the making.
  • Abbott signed a bill Monday morning that allows ride-hailing companies like Uber to return to Austin.

 Author:  PATRICK SVITEK – The Texas Tribune

Legislature Approves Bill Requiring Disclosure of Government Contracts

Elected officials and high-ranking state officials in Texas will soon have to disclose their business relationships with governmental entities.

The new requirement, part of Gov. Greg Abbott’s ethics reform package, was given final approval by the Legislature Sunday. HB 501 won’t take effect for another 18 months, but when it does, state officials who do significant business with cities, counties and other governmental entities will have to disclose the contracts on personal financial statements filed with the Texas Ethics Commission.

Over the years, state politicians doing governmental work have sparked controversy and raised questions about whether they’re using their political influence to cash in or voting on legislative measures that could affect their bottom line. Among the relationships that stirred criticism in the past: Attorney General Ken Paxton’s investment in a company that sells police video recording technology to law enforcement agencies; Sen. Royce West’s work for Dallas County and Dallas schools; and former Sen. Wendy Davis’ legal workfor the North Texas Tollway Authority, the DFW Airport board and other entities. (All have said their contracts presented no conflict of interest.)

The author of the new disclosure legislation in the Texas House, state Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, said the bill represented “a humongous leap forward” in government transparency.

“People who file under this are going to have to list more of their interests than they’ve ever had to file before,” Capriglione said. “You’ll be able to dig down and find out which elected officials have government contracts and if that is at all in conflict with the way they’re voting.”

The bill requires elected officials and bureaucrats who file state personal financial statements to report their interest in government contracts valued at $10,000 or more during a calendar year; it also requires legislators who serve as bond lawyers for public entities to list that work on their reports.

Compared to earlier versions, the bill was weakened in two significant respects. It removed a provision that would have required officials to reveal business referral arrangements, including lawyer referrals, on their financial disclosures. It also gives what ethics reform proponents call a “get-out-of-jail-free card,” namely a new provision that allows officials to correct errors or omissions in their reports without fine or sanction as long as the official declares the mistake was made with no intent to mislead and fixes it within two weeks of discovering it.

Craig McDonald, director of the watchdog group Texans for Public Justice, said HB 501 was a “step forward” even as he lamented the inclusion of language that softens already weak enforcement of ethics violations.

“There’s no doubt that the legislators want to do everything they can to get off the hook when they make errors or try to hide their disclosures,” he said.

The House and Senate gave final approve to the bill Sunday. Abbott has until mid-June to sign or veto the measure.

Author:  JAY ROOT – The Texas Tribune

Texas Lawmakers Pass Bill Making Attacks on Police, Judges a Hate Crime

Legislation that would make attacking police officers and judges a hate crime cleared the Texas Senate on Tuesday. Now the measure heads to Gov. Greg Abbott‘s desk.

Under House Bill 2908, making a terroristic threat that puts a police officer or judge in fear of imminent bodily injury would be a state jail felony, which carries a sentence of up to two years in jail.

Unlawfully restraining or assaulting a police officer or judge would be a second-degree felony, which carries a prison sentence of up to 20 years. Any crime against either group that results in serious bodily injury would be a first-degree felony, punishable by up to 99 years or life in prison.

The legislation is an answer to two recent attacks: the 2016 ambush that left six Dallas police officers dead and many more injured, and the 2015 attack on state District Judge Julie Kocurek outside her Austin home. Kocurek survived the attack. (A separate bill focusing on court security cleared both chambers this week.)

Since those tragedies, state lawmakers have prioritized bills supporting police and judges. Abbott, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and other officials have called for enhanced penalties for attacking law enforcement.

“At a time when law enforcement officers increasingly come under assault simply because of the job they hold, Texas must send a resolute message that the state will stand by the men and women who serve and protect our communities,” Abbott said when pushing for such legislation.

In Texas, hate crimes are offenses committed with a bias or prejudice against someone’s “race, color, disability, religion, national origin or ancestry, age, gender or sexual preference,” according to state law.

If it gets Abbott’s sign-off, as expected, the bill will take effect Sept. 1.

Read more:

  • Greg Abbott says targeted killing of police officers should be a hate crime in Texas.
  • Days after five police officers were killed by a lone gunman in downtown Dallas, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, introduced legislation that would make killing a police officer a federal crime.

Author:  JOHNATHAN SILVER – The Texas Tribune

Dan Patrick Unconvinced by House Action on Bathrooms, Property Taxes

After threatening to force a special session of the Texas Legislature unless lawmakers approve a “bathroom bill” and property tax legislation, Lt. Gov Dan Patrick on Monday appeared to be unconvinced by the House’s actions on the two issues.

“I share Governor Abbott’s concern about the lack of a rollback provision in Senate Bill 669 on property taxes,” Patrick said in a statement about a property tax measure the House passed Saturday that did not include a rollback provision for local tax increases. Patrick, like Gov. Greg Abbott, had indicated he wanted the House to approve Senate Bill 2, to require local governments that want to raise property taxes by 5 percent or more to get voter approval, but that proposal stalled in the House.

On the bathroom front, Patrick said he had concerns about the “ambiguous language” the House approved as an amendment Sunday to address bathroom use by transgender Texans in public schools because it “doesn’t appear to do much.” The measure the House approved would require schools to provide single-stall restrooms, locker rooms and changing facilities to students who don’t want to use facilities designated by “biological sex.”

“There is still time for the House and Senate to address these concerns — which are both priorities for Texas voters — in a meaningful way,” Patrick said.

Throughout the session, Patrick and Straus have been at odds over what should be the Legislature’s priorities. The lieutenant governor’s statement comes after a weekend of House votes on the issues that have emerged as sticking points in his efforts to push for Abbott to call a special session. The regular legislative session ends May 29.

Last week, Patrick had said he was prepared to go to a special session if the House did not act on the property tax issue and some version of a “bathroom bill.”

Abbott said both pieces of legislation were also priorities for him, though he has not publicly threatened a special session over the two items.

But following the House’s vote on the bathroom amendment, House Speaker Joe Straus said in a statement that the governor made clear “he would demand action on this in a special session.”

Patrick had pushed for the House to move on Senate Bill 6, the measure his chamber passed out in March, to regulate bathroom use for transgender Texans or to amend a bill with language from a related House measure. Both measures stalled in the House, which on Sunday approved a more narrow proposal.

Over the past few months, Straus was reticent to allow a vote on the Senate’s bathroom proposal, saying the issue felt “manufactured and unnecessary.”

And ahead of the House’s vote on the property tax measure — which was set on the House calendar ahead of Patrick’s special session ultimatum — Straus argued that the House had addressed the issue of offering taxpayers relief by focusing on a measure intended to reform the state’s complex school finance system.

A spokesman for Straus did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Patrick’s statement.

Read related coverage:

Author:  ALEXA URA – The Texas Tribune

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