Published 1:50 pm Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The First Called Session of the 85th Legislature ended a day early Tuesday after the House passed the Senate version of a school finance bill and adjourned sine die. The 29 day session saw the passage of a number of the 20 items placed on the call by Governor Greg Abbott, including measures that would control municipal authority and place additional requirements and restrictions on abortion procedures in Texas. The Texas Privacy Act, more commonly known as “the bathroom bill” didn’t receive a hearing in the House, and a key property tax bill died when the chambers couldn’t come to an agreement on a rollback figure.

The failure of that tax bill disappointed its author, Houston Senator Paul Bettencourt, who also led the effort to pass the bill in the regular session. “The taxpayers of Texas demanded property tax relief,” he said. “They’ve had double digit increases…by any measurement, faster than Texans’ ability to pay.” At issue was the tax increase rate that would trigger an automatic rollback election. The House version set that threshold at 6 percent but the Senate wanted 4 percent. When the House declined to appoint a conference committee to resolve these differences, it was up to the Senate to decide to accept the House version or let the bill die. Bettencourt chose the latter and vowed to champion the Senate’s four percent version of the bill the next time the Legislature meets.

Earlier in the day, the House accepted the Senate’s proposal to add more money to public schools over the next two years. HB 21, sponsored in the Senate by Senator Larry Taylor of Friendswood, would create a $150 million fund to help districts that would depend on an expiring 2006 hold-harmless provision to maintain services. It also includes $120 million for traditional and charter school funding, $41 million to phase out the small district adjustment penalty and $40 million for schools to help kids with dyslexia and autism.   The Senate also added $212 million to help drive down premiums and deductibles for retired teachers.

Here’s what else reached Governor Abbott’s desk over the special session:

  • Sunset legislation to extend the operation of the Texas Medical Board and four other healthcare licensing boards until 2019
  • Legislation to curb cities’ authority to restrict tree removal from private property and annex new areas without approval of voters in those areas
  • Legislation requiring reporting of abortion complications and minors receiving abortions, as well as legislation prohibiting government, group and ACA exchange-purchased insurance plans from covering elective abortions
  • Legislation creating a maternal mortality and morbidity task force to tackle the growing problem in Texas
  • Legislation to create a commission to study the issue of school finance over the interim and recommend changes and reforms
  • Legislation to increase penalties for mail-in ballot fraud
  • Legislation to improve patient input in the do-not-resuscitate order process

At a Wednesday press conference, Governor Greg Abbott expressed disappointment that many of the issues on his call never received a vote in the House. The Senate passed bills relating to 18 of the 20 items on the special session agenda in the first week of the special session. Abbott said that all options remain on the table going forward, including calling a second special session.

Until then, the Senate stands adjourned sine die.