Early gavel at Texas House forces Senate’s hand on property tax reform

The House adjourned a day ahead of schedule Tuesday evening, leaving it to the Senate to accept the House version of property tax reform or leave the top priority of Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick undone and risk a second special session.

It was unclear just how scripted the dramatic development was, and whether it was a way out of a House-Senate deadlock over the property tax rollback rate that would trigger an election. The House wants the rate set at 6 percent, the Senate at 4 percent.

The Senate was due back Tuesday night for what could be the close of the midsummer special session. Wednesday is the last day lawmakers can meet.

Under the House version, voters would have to give their approval when large cities or counties want to raise property taxes more than six percent. Before adjourning, House Ways and Means Chairman Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, said it was too late to appoint conferees, and it didn’t seem that the House would budge on its rate to accommodate the Senate’s call for a 4 percent threshold.

READ: Where Gov. Abbott’s 20 special session priorities stand

Before the unexpected adjournment, the House also approved the scaled-back Senate plan to provide $563 million in extra funding for schools and retired teachers, far less than the $1.8 billion the House had sought and sent to the governor for his signature.

Going into Tuesday, the governor had signed only two of his priority pieces of legislation on his 20-item agenda — sunset bills to keep the Texas Medical Board and four other agencies up and running for another two years, and a bill imposing stiffer penalties for mail-in ballot fraud.

Abbott signed bills on three more of his priorities Tuesday and the Senate sent two more priorities his way. The House sent Abbott the school spending bill along with a measure requiring cities and counties to allow tree-planting in lieu of fees when trees are cut down — only slightly different than legislation Abbott vetoed in the regular session saying it didn’t go nearly far enough.

Among the legislation signed into law Tuesday were two abortion-related bills — one to limit insurance coverage for abortions and another to expand reporting requirements for complications resulting from abortion procedures.

Under House Bill 214, Texas women would have to pay a separate insurance premium if they want to be covered for abortions that are not a medical emergency. There would no exceptions for pregnancies that result from rape or incest or in the case of fetal abnormalities. The law was intended to ensure that other Texans, who object to abortion, are not subsidizing elective abortions through their insurance plans.

READ: U.S. court voids 2 area congressional districts

Abbott also signed HB 13, mandating that physicians and health care facilities report to the state more details on abortion complications.

Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, criticized the legislation as unneeded and intended to impose a burden on physicians who perform abortions for “no other reason than harassment.”

Abbott on Tuesday also signed into law Senate Bill 6, requiring cities in large counties to receive voter approval before annexing new areas.

“I’m proud to sign legislation ending forced annexation practices, which is nothing more than a form of taxation without representation, and I thank the Legislature for their attention to this important issue during the special session,” Abbott said.

The Senate voted 21 to 10 to concur with a version of SB 11 to require that patients or their representative be informed before a do-not-resuscitate order is placed in their medical file, sending the bill to the governor.

“This bill gives patients a voice, or the patient’s representative a voice on whether a DNR will be placed in their file,” said Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, author of the Senate bill.

The legislation had the backing of Texas Right to Life and Texas Alliance for Life and the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops. The Texas Hospital Association was opposed to it. The Texas Medical Association was neutral on the bill.

On a unanimous vote, the Senate also concurred with House changes in SB 17, extending the life of the state’s Task Force on Maternal Mortality and Morbidity, launched by the Legislature in 2013, until 2023.

A new study in the medical journal Obstetrics and Gynecology found that Texas’ maternal mortality rates had nearly doubled between 2010 and 2014.

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