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Texas House Closes Out Special Legislative Session

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[gdlr_notification icon=”fa-flag” type=”color-background” background=”#ffcc20″ color=”#000000″]This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune[/gdlr_notification]

The special legislative session is over — in one chamber, at least.  

The Texas House abruptly gaveled out Sine Die – the formal designation meaning the end of a session – on Tuesday evening after approving the Senate’s version of a school finance bill that largely stripped provisions the chamber had fought to keep

Gov. Greg Abbott called lawmakers back for a special session on July 18. Special sessions can last for up to 30 days, which gave both chambers til Wednesday to work. 

The House’s move came after days of difficult negotiations with the Senate on school finance and property tax bills — and leaves the fate of the latter in question.  

House Ways and Means Chairman Dennis Bonnen had been expected to appoint members to a conference committee Tuesday so that the two chambers could reconcile their versions of the bill. 

But instead, shortly before the surprise motion to Sine Die, the Angleton Republican made an announcement. 

“I have been working with members of the Senate for several days on SB 1, we have made our efforts, so I don’t want there to be in any way a suggestion that we have not, will not, would not work with the Senate on such an important issue,” he said.  

Then he said he had not appointed a conference committee because he was “trying to keep the bill alive.” 

“If we appointed conferees now, it would kill the bill because there is not enough time,” he said, explaining that under House rules, there would not be enough time left in the session to issue a conference committee report and have the chamber vote on it. 

Bonnen’s announcement came after a vote on a school finance measure in which House members expressed deep disappointment —and  anger — that the bill they had sent to the Senate with $1.8 billion in funding for schools had come back with only $352 million. Some demanded that the House send the measure back. 

“I’d tell the Senate to take back this crap and fix it,” said state Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, adding that she did not like “being bullied.” The House ultimately approved the changes to the bill, sending it to the governor’s desk. 

While House lawmakers didn’t get their way with school finance, by adjourning Tuesday night, they have forced the Senate to either accept their version of the property tax bill or let it die. Supporters hope to require larger local governments get voter approval when they want to increase tax collections on existing buildings and land above a certain threshold. A key point of contention: whether that threshold should be at the 6 percent preferred by the House or the 4 percent preferred by the Senate. 

Both Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Gov. Greg Abbott have said property tax reform is their top priority for the session. At the time the House adjourned sine die, Abbott was on track to claim victory on nine of the 20 items he had put on the special session call. As of Tuesday afternoon, he had signed five of them into law, and four more were on their way to his desk. 

Patrick forced the special session by holding hostage a bill needed to prevent the shuttering of some state agencies during the regular session in May. At the time, he said he was doing so in order to push the House to move on two pieces of legislation: one that would regulate bathroom use for transgender Texans and another that would set new thresholds for when cities and counties must get voter approval for their property tax rates. 

Just as during the regular session, the House never took a vote on a “bathroom bill” during the special session. 

The Senate is set to reconvene at 8:45 pm on Tuesday night. 

Patrick Svitek contributed reporting to this story. 

The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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[gdlr_notification icon=”fa-camera” type=”color-background” background=”#999999″ color=”#ffffff”]Top image: The Texas House abruptly gaveled out Sine Die – the formal designation meaning the end of a session – on Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017. / photo credit: Bob Daemmrich / The Texas Tribune[/gdlr_notification]

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