Published 5:39 pm Friday, August 11, 2017

Two of Governor Greg Abbott’s priority issues will soon await his signature after the Senate voted Thursday to concur with House changes to bills strengthening penalties for mail-in voter fraud and require reporting of abortion complications.

These two bills with be the third and fourth measures to completely clear the Legislature for the special session, joining two Sunset measures approved by the House on Thursday. SB 5, by North Richland Hills Senator Kelly Hancock, would enhance punishments for people who intentionally obtain or cast a mail-in ballot. HB 13, sponsored by Senator Donna Campbell, would require that doctors and providers report all complications resulting from abortion procedures to state health authorities. This measure only differs from the Senate version of the bill in that it changes the reporting deadline for doctors from 72 hours to three business days, and would permit electronic reporting.

Also Thursday, the Senate considered a bill that seeks to protect private property rights of individuals when it comes to cutting down trees on their own land.   HB 7, sponsored by Brenham Senator Lois Kolkhorst, would prohibit cities from enacting ordinances that prevent people who live in one- or two-family homes from cutting down small trees, less than 10 inches, on their property.   It would require cities to implement tree credit programs, where these property owners can be exempted from the cost of a tree mitigation fee if they plant another tree to replace the one that was cut down. The tree could either be planted on the property where the original tree was cut down, or another location agreed to by the city and the owner or developer “The goal of HB 7 is to reduce fees while encouraging land owners to plant more trees,” said Kolkhorst.

Developers and owners of commercial properties or mutli-family residential properties could be reimbursed for up to half of a tree mitigation fee if they plant a replacement tree.   .  A provision setting a cap of $400 on tree mitigation fees was removed by amendment, and it will be up to cities to decide what type and how large a tree qualifying for reimbursement must be.   The bill will now head to the House for consideration of Senate amendments.

Finally Friday, the Senate Education Committee approved a bill that will serve as the Senate’s counter to the House education finance reform plan as the Legislature enters the final few days of the special session. Senator Larry Taylor of Friendswood, who chairs the committee, substituted Senate language into HB 21 that would spend far less than the $1.8 billion in the bill as it came out of the House.   The bill would allocate about $310 million to continue a hold-harmless provision for school districts following the property tax compression of 2006, and would allocate $60 million each to private and traditional charter schools for facilities funding. The Senate plan would pay for that by transferring unencumbered funds from the Health and Human Services Commission to the Texas Education Agency. Taylor told members he hopes to bring up and finally pass the bill when the Senate meets in session on Saturday.

The Senate will reconvene Saturday, August 12 at 5 p.m.