Published 3:24 pm Monday, July 24, 2017

The Senate wrapped up an unusual series of weekend hearings Sunday, approving measures related to the remaining issues on Governor Greg Abbott’s special session agenda. After dealing with bills relating to property tax reform, multi-stall restroom regulations and local control earlier in the weekend, committees considered bills that would strengthen penalties for mail-in ballot fraud, end automatic payroll deductions for public employee unions and municipal annexation, among others.

Hearings opened on Sunday afternoon in the Senate Chamber with the State Affairs Committee hearing bills that would enhance protections against vote fraud by mail. SB 5 by North Richland Hills Senator Kelly Hancock would create new offenses for mail-in ballot fraud, making it illegal to influence a voter, fraudulently obtain a ballot or vote via mail and altering a mail in ballot. Violations under the proposed bill would be state jail felonies.  The bill also contains enhanced signature verification measures in order to catch fraudulent ballots and requirements that the Attorney General be promptly notified of rejected mail-in ballots following an election.

Next in State Affairs, members heard testimony relating to municipal annexation procedures. = SB 6, by New Braunfels Senator Donna Campbell, would require that a city receive the consent of a majority of residents in an area before it can annex the area into its jurisdiction. For areas under with fewer than 200 residents, a majority would have to sign a petition in favor of annexation for it to happen. For areas with larger population, the annexing city would have to conduct and pay for an election in the area on the question.   Cities would be required to hold public hearings and take resident input before they conduct either procedure.  The bill would only apply to large cities with a population of more than 500,000.

The Business and Commerce Committee held a hearing on a bill relating to union dues for public sector employee unions. Current law allows them to automatically deduct membership fees from member paychecks if the employee assents, but SB 7 by Mineola Senator Bryan Hughes would end that practice. The bill does exempt unions for firefighters, police and other first responder employee unions from the bill.

The full Senate will begin considering the bills passed by committees over the last three days of hearings on Monday. Bills approved by the full body will then head to the House for further consideration. Lawmakers have until the end of the special session on August 16 to pass bills.