SPECIAL SESSION: What happened with each of Gov. Abbott’s 20 issues


Highlights

Some bills have stalled as the session’s close draws near.

With time running short, several priorities are still in play.

Gov. Greg Abbott asked lawmakers to tackle an agenda of 20 issues, many important to fiscal and social conservatives, for the special legislative session that began July 18. The House and Senate ended their work abruptly on Tuesday night, a day earlier than expected, after not agreeing to the details of a bill addressing Abbott’s top priority: reining in property tax increases for cities and counties.

Lawmakers sent Abbott bills addressing just nine and half of his priorities, and one of those bills, on city tree ordinances, was not responsive to Abbott’s wishes.

Here is a rundown on what happened on each issue:

1. SUNSET LEGISLATION

Done. The first order of business and the only must-pass legislation of the special session, Senate Bill 20 and SB 60, were also the first to reach the governor’s desk Friday after receiving final passage by the House. The bills extend the expiration dates and funding for the Texas Boards of Medical Examiners, Examiners of Psychologists, Examiners of Marriage and Family Therapists, Examiners of Professional Counselors and Social Worker Examiners.

The essential and noncontroversial legislation failed to pass in the regular session as Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Senate, maneuvered to force a special session.

— Jonathan Tilove, American-Statesman

2. TEACHER PAY/TEACHER RETIREMENT SYSTEM

Patrick said before the special session kicked off that the Senate would come up with a way to give all teachers and retired teachers a $1,000 pay raise, but the effort didn’t come to fruition. There’s no money available and using lottery revenue — which Patrick wanted to pursue — has been a no-go.

The Senate proposed a trimmed down proposal to give teachers a one-time bonus of between $600 to $1,000 in September through SB 19, but the House gutted the provision from the bill. The Senate had wanted to pay for the bill along with other education proposals by using Medicaid money, but the House has steered away from using that method because Medicaid faces a $1.2 billion shortfall next legislative session.

Although both chambers never arrived on a compromise for boosting teacher pay, lawmakers did broker a deal to spend $212 million to lower deductibles and premiums before they shoot up in January for retired teachers. Retired teachers under 65 are expected to see a deductibles reduce by half of what they were expected to pay (from $3,000 to $1,500) and premiums for them and their children decrease by a $25 per month (from $433 to $408). Retired teachers over 65 are expected to see premiums reduce from $146 per month to $135.

— Julie Chang, American-Statesman

3. SCHOOL FINANCE

In its final major legislative move of the special session on Tuesday, the House reluctantly accepted a Senate plan in House Bill 21 to increase spending on public schools by $351 million more over the next two years.

The House originally proposed $1.8 billion in the original version of HB 21, but the Senate eventually stripped major provisions from the bill, including one that would have increased the basic amount of money schools get per student by $210.

The version of HB 21 that passed Tuesday would spend $150 million for a grant program for school districts that will lose Additional State Aid for Tax Reduction in September; $41 million on small school districts; $120 million to fund construction at public charter schools and certain school districts; $40 million for a two-year grant program for school districts that provide innovative services for students with dyslexia and autism.

The bill also contains a provision to create a commission to study the state’s broken school finance system and make recommendations on how to fix it by next legislative session. HB 21 would also infuse $212 million into the Teacher Retirement System to lower health insurance deductibles and premiums for retired teachers.

The bill would be paid for by delaying payments to Medicaid managed care organizations in the upcoming budget cycle to the following budget cycle in 2020-21.

— Julie Chang, American-Statesman

4. SCHOOL CHOICE FOR SPECIAL NEEDS STUDENTS

Dead. This issue once again proved to be a nonstarter in the House, where rural Republicans and Democrats oppose any state spending, direct or indirect, on private school tuition.

Senate Republicans approved SB 2, which would create a scholarship program to help a small number of students with disabilities pay for private school. Opponents said during committee hearings that students wouldn’t necessarily receive a better education because they would lose protections under federal education disability law once they enter private school.

The House gutted SB 2 and instead proposed a two-year grant program for public school students with disabilities to use on such private services as therapies and tutoring.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick criticized the House Tuesday night for killing legislation that would’ve have given “parents of a child in a wheelchair the choice to go to a better school if their current school couldn’t support them.”

— Julie Chang, American-Statesman

5. PROPERTY TAX ELECTIONS

Dead. Limiting local property tax increases has been a priority for Patrick all year, and Abbott said it was his top priority for the special session.

The fix that emerged would have required voter approval for city or county tax increases — billed by Senate Republicans as property tax relief but seen by their House counterparts as a way to increase voter participation that would do little to lower taxes. School taxes, which make up the bulk of property tax bills, would not have been affected.

The bodies couldn’t agree on a major facet of the bill, either, with Senate Republicans wanting automatic elections whenever property taxes rose 4 percent or higher, while the House chose a 6 percent trigger.

The Senate asked for a conference committee to resolve the issue, but the House adjourned early, essentially telling the Senate to take the 6 percent rate or leave it. Patrick and the Senate chose to leave it, keeping in place a system that allows property owners to petition for a rollback election for tax increases of 8 percent or more.

— Chuck Lindell, American-Statesman

6. CAPS ON STATE SPENDING

Dead. Conservatives pushed for a change to the Texas Constitution that would make the cap on state budget growth more restrictive.

Currently, lawmakers cannot increase the state budget greater than the growth in a measure of Texans’ personal income. SB 9 by Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, and House Bill 208 by Rep. Tan Parker, R-Flower Mound, would instead set limits using formulas based on inflation and population growth that tends to rise slower.

Recent budgets have been well below the current spending limit but in some instances would have narrowly exceeded the proposed caps.

The Senate approved Hancock’s bill, but HB 208 ran into trouble Saturday night in the House, when House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, ruled that the written bill analysis did not accurately describe the bill’s contents, a violation of House rules. A replacement bill never made it back to the floor.

— Sean Collins Walsh, American-Statesman

7. CAPS ON LOCAL SPENDING

Dead. Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, acknowledged Sunday that his bill to place a cap on local government spending did not have enough support in the Senate. The House declined to act on a similar bill, figuring that if it couldn’t gain traction in an otherwise compliant Senate, the issue is dead.

— Chuck Lindell, American-Statesman

8. CITY ANNEXATION AUTHORITY

Done. Abbott on Tuesday signed SB 6, which would require cities in larger counties to get voter approval before annexing new areas.

During the regular session, Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, killed a similar measure with a filibuster on the penultimate day.

— Taylor Goldenstein, American-Statesman

9. LOCAL TREE REGULATION

Done, although not in the way Abbott requested. The governor said he wanted lawmakers to prohibit cities from restricting tree removal on private property. Austin and at least 90 other Texas cities and counties regulate trees on private property.

The Senate quickly passed such a measure, but the House passed HB 7, which would lower the fees a city could charge for tree removal if the homeowner planted replacement trees, similar to a measure Abbott vetoed in June.

Aiming for a compromise, Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, added changes to the bill to stipulate that cities can’t ban cutting down trees with a diameter of less than 10 inches and can’t regulate trees in their extraterritorial jurisdictions. But Straus returned House Bill 7 to the Senate on Saturday, saying the changes did not belong in the bill.

Shortly after midnight Tuesday, the Senate removed both provisions, and the House followed by sending HB 7 to Abbott.

— Elizabeth Findell, American-Statesman

10. LOCAL CONSTRUCTION PERMITS

Dead. SB 13 by Sen. Konni Burton, R-Fort Worth, aimed to speed up the permitting process for new construction. The bill flew through the Senate in late July but didn’t made it to the House floor.

SB 13 would have required local governments to approve or deny building permits within 30 days. A permit would be automatically approved if the local government fails to make a decision by the deadline.

— Philip Jankowski, American-Statesman

11. LOCAL LAND USE RULES

Dead. SB 12, by Sen. Dawn Buckingham, R-Lakeway, was one of two of Abbott’s priorities to not reach the Senate floor. Lawmakers were concerned that it could undo years of fire and safety codes.

The House version of the bill, HB 188 by Rep. Cecil Bell, R-Magnolia, was heard by the Land and Resource Management Committee, where many testified against it. A substitute was floated, but the committee left the bill pending. As written, the bill would back-date zoning and use regulations on property to the date that the current owner purchased or received the property. Opponents said this could lead to a patchwork of zoning and land use regulations.

— Philip Jankowski, American-Statesman

12. LOCAL RULES RESTRICTING PHONE USE WHILE DRIVING

Dead. Abbott’s push to override local laws on phone use behind the wheel, such as Austin’s, died in the House Transportation Committee. HB 171 from Rep. Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth, a twin to SB 15 by Sen. Don Huffines, R-Dallas, which passed the Senate earlier in the special session, had a hearing July 27 but did not receive a committee vote.

The Goldman and Huffines bills would have prohibited cities from regulating phoning while driving. Its insertion into the special session call by the governor came on the heels of Abbott signing HB62 from this year’s regular session. That law, which takes effect Sept. 1, would in most cases make it illegal to type, send or read an electronic message on a phone while piloting a moving vehicle. But that law doesn’t address talking on a hand-held phone while driving.

Advocates for HB 62, the fruit of attempts in every session since 2009 to ban texting while driving, see HB 171 and SB 15 as moving backward in the effort to stop phone use while driving because at least 40 cities have passed ordinances stricter than the new state law.

— Ben Wear, American-Statesman

13. TRANSGENDER BATHROOMS

Dead. The subject that generated the most heat during the special session also generated little traction in the House, where the Republican leadership dismissed efforts to limit transgender-friendly bathrooms and locker rooms as unnecessary and harmful to transgender people and the state economy.

The Senate quickly acted on such limits, one of Patrick’s priorities, but Straus declined to even send it to a committee, the first step in the House process. The House State Affairs Committee also declined to vote on two such House bills, dooming the effort.

The issue was the subject of several rallies outside the Capitol, most against the bills. Executives of some of Texas’ largest companies wrote letters to state leaders urging them to drop efforts to pass any bathroom measure.

— Chuck Lindell, American-Statesman

14. UNION DUES

Dead. SB 7, which passed the Senate early in the special session, would have banned payroll deductions for union dues for many state and local government employees.

It would have exempted unions serving police, firefighters and emergency medical workers, instead applying to such government employees as teachers, correctional officers and Child Protective Services caseworkers.

Proponents of the bill said that local tax dollars shouldn’t be used to pay for such dues.

Teacher groups, who have been among those vocally opposed to the bill, have said that little to no tax dollars are used and that the bill is a politically motivated effort to silence such groups.

The House did not consider SB 7 or a similar bill.

— Julie Chang, American-Statesman

15. TAXPAYER FUNDING FOR ABORTION PROVIDERS

Dead. This legislation would have banned local governments from contracting with, or sending taxpayer money to, abortion providers or their affiliates.

HB 14 was approved by the House State Affairs Committee on July 27, but the required committee report wasn’t completed for more than two weeks — an unusually long delay that left House conservatives fuming. A Senate-passed version also wasn’t acted upon in the House.

— Chuck Lindell, American-Statesman

16. INSURANCE COVERAGE FOR ABORTIONS

Done. Signed by Abbott on Tuesday, HB 214 will prohibit abortion coverage in private insurance plans as well as coverage offered to state employees and plans under the Affordable Care Act.

Women who want coverage will have to buy supplemental insurance, if available. Abortions needed to save a woman’s life can still be covered, but pregnancies resulting from rape or incest will not.

— Chuck Lindell, American-Statesman

17. REPORTING OF ABORTION COMPLICATIONS

Done. Signed by Abbott on Tuesday, HB 13, requires stricter reporting of abortion-related medical complications treated in abortion clinics or later in a hospital or emergency center.

Opponents argued that abortions are safe, with complication rates well below other procedures, making HB 13 another attempt to harass abortion providers, while supporters said current reporting procedures are inadequate, potentially hiding problems and inflating safety rates.

— Chuck Lindell, American-Statesman

18. DO-NOT-RESUSCITATE ORDERS

Almost derailed, a bill requiring specific patient approval before a do-not-resuscitate order can be placed in a hospital file was sent to Abbott on Tuesday.

A late-session agreement to provide better protection for doctors and nurses who act contrary to unknown orders saved the bill.

— Chuck Lindell, American-Statesman

19. MAIL-IN BALLOT FRAUD

Done. Abbott signed into law Friday SB 5, which requires a signature verification process for early ballots, notification of rejected ones within a month after an election and a process for correcting errors. Punishment for committing mail-in ballot fraud in some cases could carry a penalty of up to 10 years in prison. Supporters say tougher penalties will help protect seniors and people with disabilities. Democrats said the bill focuses more on punishment rather than robustly preventing fraud.

SB 5 also prohibits electronic signatures on mail-in ballot applications and repeals HB 658 — passed during the regular session earlier this year — which would have given voting priority to people with mobility issues and makes it easier for people in residential care facilities to vote by bringing ballots and an election official to their location — if at least five voters living there request a ballot. Abbott signed the bill into law in June. It would have taken effect in September.

— Johnathan Silver, American-Statesman

20. MATERNAL MORTALITY TASK FORCE

Done. The House sent the Senate four bills that would keep the Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Task Force in operation through 2023, expand its duties and add members to the group. Those haven’t been referred to a committee.

A Senate bill that also would extend the task force’s operation and duties cleared the upper chamber. The House gave final approval Monday, and SB 17 was approved by the Senate on Tuesday.

— Johnathan Silver, American-Statesman



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Texas News & Politics

HOMICIDE DETAILS: Suspect shot victim, ran him over before fleeing to Mexico, Austin police say
HOMICIDE DETAILS: Suspect shot victim, ran him over before fleeing to Mexico, Austin police say

Austin police on Wednesday named a suspect in a weekend homicide – in which the victim was shot and run over – but they believe the man has fled to Mexico.  Authorities have issued an arrest warrant for Gustavo Linan, 28, on a charge of first-degree murder in the death of 35-year-old Valente Garcia-Hernandez with bail set at ...
Community news: Pflugerville’s Assistant Police Chief McLean retiring

TRAVIS COUNTY PFLUGERVILLE Assistant police chief retiring The Pflugerville Police Department’s second in command will retire after serving the community for more than 24 years. Assistant Chief Jim McLean announced he will retire at the end of the month. McLean began his law enforcement career in 1992 as a police officer in Hutto and joined the...
Man shoves woman onto subway tracks; culprit at large
Man shoves woman onto subway tracks; culprit at large

A 49-year-old woman was injured Tuesday night when a man pushed her onto tracks at a subway station in Manhattan’s East Village, according to multiple reports. The woman, who was not identified, was pushed from the northbound platform around 9 p.m. Tuesday, WABC reported. Police said they were searching for a man in his 20s who was suspected...
Sources: Trump assistant to be top federal prosecutor in Central Texas
Sources: Trump assistant to be top federal prosecutor in Central Texas

President Donald Trump is prepared to send one of his special assistants to Central Texas to be the next U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas, the American-Statesman has learned. Two sources familiar with the search process said Texas senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn have advised Trump to replace acting U.S. Attorney Richard Durbin with...
WATCH: PolitiFact Texas unwraps stickers (without staring at eclipse)
WATCH: PolitiFact Texas unwraps stickers (without staring at eclipse)

We hope you already know that if you follow @PolitiFactTexas on Twitter, you’ll get nudged every time about the latest fact-check posted by the fact-checking project teaming reporters from the Austin American-Statesman, Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News. We encourage Twitter followers because a tweet pops the moment every...
More Stories