From the 85th: Special Session Ends... at Least the First One

The Special Session ended last night, a day before the final 30th day of the called Special Session. First the House adjourned Sine Die, followed by the Senate.

In the final moments leading up to the end of this Special Session the two prominent issues on the table appeared to be school finance and property tax reform. The House voted to accept the Senate version on a school finance bill that would provide some immediate funding for schools but also removed $1.5 billion in additional school funding that was contained in the earlier House version.

With the school finance issue addressed, the remaining issue was what version of a property tax reform bill would pass both chambers. The bills would require rollback elections if some, there were size exceptions in both versions, local taxing jurisdictions increase their tax rate by either 4 percent (Senate version) or 6 percent (House version). Many thought the two bodies were headed to a conference committee to try and work out the differences, but the House adjourned Sine Die leaving the Senate with only two options – accept the 6 percent threshold or kill the bill. The Senate did not accept the 6 percent and then also ended their Special Session.

Gov. Abbott listed 20 items on his call for Special Session. When the dust settled last night, he got half of those items sent to his desk. Two of the items on the governor’s desk that might interest some TMHA members are H.B. 7 which provides that a city cannot impose a tree removal fee for smaller trees on a person’s residence property, and creates a tree removal credit program for larger trees that are removed, but new trees are also planted.

The other bill is S.B. 6 which relates to cities abilities to annex additional areas. The bill makes a distinction for cities in larger populated counties versus those in smaller counties, and depending on the city and amount of area seeking to be annexed determines the types of notice, process, and voting requirements needed by those property owners who would be annexed. A similar version of this bill was filibustered in the final hours of the regular session, but in the Special Session the bill has passed and the governor has signed it into law. The new annexation laws will go into effect December 1st.

Are we done?

Well, those of us who work when the Texas Legislature works aren’t exactly making any vacation plans just yet. We must wait and see if Gov. Abbott decides to call the members back for another special. The failure of the property tax reform bill or the recent federal court ruling that two of Texas’ congressional districts are unconstitutional and must be changed prior to the 2018 elections, could be a couple driving factors that would bring another special session. But then again, the congressional maps might get fixed by the courts, not the lawmakers, and Gov. Abbott might decide that 169 total days in session this year is enough.

The overtime session this time has certainly been busy and was certainly not dull. For those interested in the details, I will be presenting a complete regular and special session recap at TMHA’s upcoming Annual Convention, Sept 10-12. I’d encourage all of our members to attend. And if you are not interested in hearing me, come for one of the many other top speakers and topics featured in our education packed event.