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Home | Tag Archives: texas property

Tag Archives: texas property

Dan Patrick threatens to use “nuclear option” to skirt Senate tradition and bring property tax bill to the floor

Faced with a stalemate on his priority property tax proposal, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said Friday that if no deal materializes over the weekend, he plans to take the “nuclear option” on Monday and force a vote — blowing past Senate tradition to bring up the bill with a simple majority instead of the three-fifths vote typically required in the upper chamber.

For months, Patrick and his lieutenants have struggled to pass Senate Bill 2, a sweeping reform measure that would require cities, counties and school districts to seek voter approval for any tax levy increases of more than 2.5 percent in a given year, not including new growth. Needing 19 votes to bring the measure to the floor, and having, he said, 18 of 19 Republican votes in the upper chamber, Patrick had to watch the bill stall for more than two months after it was filed.

“I respect our Senate rules, but I do not intend to let a procedural motion stop the Senate from passing this important bill. If using the so-called ‘nuclear option’ is the only choice left to me to pass meaningful and lasting property tax reform and relief on Monday, as Lt. Governor I will lead as the public expects me to lead and exercise that option,” Patrick said in a statement to The Texas Tribune on Friday. “The public doesn’t care about our procedural rules. They want tax relief and they deserve it. Time is running out on our session.”

Traditionally, the upper chamber starts the session by passing what’s called a “blocker bill” — a bill that sits ahead of any other priorities on the Senate’s ordered agenda so that bringing up anything other measure ahead of it requires a three-fifths vote, or 19 senators in support if all 31 are on the floor. Passing that bill would allow Patrick to bring a measure to the floor with a simple majority of senators, just 16.

The “blocker bill” tradition dates back at least to the 1950s.

It wouldn’t be the first time Patrick upended tradition to grease the skids in the chamber he’s led since 2015. That year, in his first term as lieutenant governor, Patrick lowered the threshold from two-thirds to three-fifths, allowing the chamber’s Republicans to bring legislation to the floor without support from any Democrats.

Senate Bill 2, along with an identical House Bill 2, was filed in January after the governor, lieutenant governor and speaker of the House declared a united front in addressing property tax reform this session. But since then, facing opposition from local officials who argue the 2.5 percent election trigger is too low to accommodate their budgeting needs, it stalled in the Senate, passing the upper chamber’s property tax committee in February but not coming to the floor for a vote.

Meanwhile, in the House, the once-identical bill was overhauled in committee to carve out school districts, a change that has drawn criticism from some of the lower chamber’s more conservative members.

The House, which seems to have been moving the measure at a faster clip, was scheduled to debate the property tax bill on Thursday, but recessed that morning amid rumors that the Senate would instead bring up its version first. After a day of private negotiations, neither chamber brought up the proposal.

On Thursday evening, Patrick had a conference call with a handful of Senate Democrats, according to several sources familiar with the call. In that call, he informed them that he intended to force a vote on Monday, as Texas Monthly first reported on Friday.

By passing the “blocker bill,” the Senate would throw out a requirement members hail as critical to the upper chamber’s deliberative tradition, and further ostracize Senate Democrats already unhappy with some of their Republican colleagues, who Democrats say “ambushed” them earlier this month with a resolution declaring the U.S.-Mexico border a “crisis.”

Sen. Kel Seliger, the Amarillo Republican who Patrick says has been the only Republican handout on the bill, panned the plan as a “desperate measure.” If Patrick does go ahead with the plan, he wouldn’t require support from Seliger.

“Our rules provide incentive to work together well and reach consensus and compromise. You do this when you need to run over somebody,” Seliger said. “It does not lend itself to the sort of collegiality and cooperation that we brag about and I think that’s unfortunate.”

Shannon Najmabadi contributed reporting.

Read related Tribune coverage

Author: EMMA PLATOFF – The Texas Tribune

Controversial Insurance Bill Moving in Legislature

Texas property owners could face new hurdles when they try to sue their insurer over storm claims under controversial legislation being cheered by groups seeking curbs on lawsuits but jeered by consumer advocates and some businesses.

Senate Bill 10 emerged this week from a Senate committee that narrowed the bill to include only storm lawsuits and property damage claims. A few days earlier, Dallas businessman Brint Ryan, a Republican megadonor who had been opposed to a more expansive incarnation of the bill, endorsed the effort.

Ryan’s name was on a long list of high-profile business supporters put out by the chief group promoting the bill, Texans for Lawsuit Reform. The list included heavyweights such as San Antonio billionaire Red McCombs, Dallas billionaire Ross Perot, Jr. and Robert McNair, owner of the Houston Texans.

Ryan, founder and CEO of Dallas-based tax services firm Ryan LLC, sent a letter this week to House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, signaling his support.

“The Texas economy leads the nation in part because our state’s leadership has worked to stop lawsuit abuse whenever and wherever it happens,” Ryan said in the letter. “Unnecessary litigation creates the equivalent of a tort tax that hampers economic growth and is a burden on all consumers and job creators.”

Other businesses have signaled opposition, exposing a rift in the coalition that in past years supported legislation that imposed curbs on the ability to file lawsuits; among those who remain opposed is the billionaire Bass family of Fort Worth, according to the family’s Austin lobbyist, Rusty Kelley. Also against is Huntsman Corporation, a chemical company based in The Woodlands, said the company’s vice president of government relations, Troy Keller.

“We are opposed to the bill because it disadvantages companies in front of insurers, and that’s been our position throughout,” Keller said. “It hasn’t changed.”

The bill would erect new requirements for policyholders, including pre-lawsuit notice provisions that are more stringent than current law and changing the penalty rate on insurers who don’t pay claims in a timely way from 18 percent to a floating rate that today would equal 10 percent.

Opponents say it will also cause many high-dollar claims to go to federal court, where lawsuits would take longer and cost more, but TLR disputes that interpretation of the bill.

TLR CEO Richard Weekley said the bill is needed because “property owners want strong accountability for storm-chasing lawyers who are abusing the legal system and jeopardizing affordable insurance coverage for us all.”

Consumer advocates and trial lawyer interests say the law will make it harder for average Texans to collect from foot-dragging insurance companies.

Earlier this week AARP, representing senior Texans, threw in with the opposition, saying in a memo to key House leaders that the legislation stacks the deck too much in favor of insurers.

“It remains too broad and shifts the claims-handling process too much towards insurance companies, beyond current law and practice,” said Tim Morstad, associate state director for advocacy at AARP Texas.

Lin McCraw, president of the Texas Trial Lawyers Association, said those pushing the bill will punish everyone who files a storm-related lawsuit, not just those making “fraudulent claims.”

“These bills don’t distinguish between valid claims and those that are not,” McCraw said. “Instead they take a one-sided approach that benefits insurance companies at the expense of honest property owners.”

Disclosure: Texans for Lawsuit Reform, the McCombs Foundation, Rusty Kelley, Ross Perot Jr., the Texas Trial Lawyers Association and AARP Texas have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune.  A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors is available here.

Author: JAY ROOT – The Texas Tribune

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