The Texas House met for less than an hour Friday, continuing its deliberate pace during the special legislative session called by Gov. Greg Abbott. The Senate, by contrast, set a blistering pace and all but finished work Wednesday, passing 18 of 20 items on the agenda.
The House gave final approval to two of those issues Friday, the 11th day of the 30-day session.
Funding state agencies
On a 137-0 vote, the chamber passed House Bill 2, by Rep. Larry Gonzales, R-Round Rock, which would fund the continuing operation of five state agencies: the Texas Medical Board, the State Board of Examiners of Psychologists, the State Board of Examiners of Marriage and Family Therapists, the State Board of Examiners of Professional Counselors, and the State Board of Social Worker Examiners.
Failure to pass a bill extending the operation of these agencies during the regular session that ended in May necessitated the special session.
HB 13, by Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake, would require abortion providers and health care facilities to report to the state within three business days any abortion complications. Under the proposal, doctors’ and patients’ names would be confidential. Doctors and facilities that don’t comply would risk losing their license to practice.
Supporters of the bill say they want to ensure that data on abortion complications is accurate. The House approved the bill 94-45.
Tree mitigation fees
House members passed HB 7, by Rep. Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, on a 130-9 vote. The bill would require cities that charge tree removal fees to allow homeowners to plant new trees to offset fees. The bill is similar to one Abbott vetoed in June. A bill that would eliminate local tree ordinances, which Abbott supports, stalled in committee, after dozens of Texans testified in opposition to it.
The Senate passed a bill that abolishes local tree ordinances, an approach that aligns with Abbott’s agenda.
The House Ways and Means Committee on Friday approved an amended version of HB 4, by Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, that would require voter approval for a property tax rate hike of 6 percent or higher. Currently residents can petition to force an election on tax increases of 8 percent or more by cities, counties and special purpose districts. Community colleges would be exempt under the bill.
The Senate went farther, requiring voter approval for property tax increases exceeding 4 percent.
Property tax reform is Abbott’s top special session priority.
Mail-in ballot fraud
The House Elections Committee heard testimony Friday on several bills aimed at preventing mail-in ballot fraud. HB 184, by Rep. Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth, would require a signature verification process for early ballots, notification of rejected ones within a month after an election and a process for correcting errors. In some fraud cases, people would face 10 years in prison.
Supporters say it would deter fraud and protect seniors, while opponents say it could scare people away from civic engagement and openly discussing politics.
The panel also heard testimony on bills that would ease the process of updating voter addresses and further regulate voting at residential care facilities.
Meanwhile in the Senate
After a passing a passel of bills in the first nine days of the special session, the Senate met for less than a minute Friday with only two senators present. A similar pro forma session is scheduled for Monday afternoon, with senators expected to return to work later in the week.
Additional material from American-Statesman staff writer Chuck Lindell.