AUSTIN (Nexstar) – Hours after lawmakers adjourned sine die for the end of the regular legislative session, Gov. Greg Abbott called them back to return Monday at 9:00 p.m. — in what he said will be the first of multiple special legislative sessions after chamber divisions got in the way of key Republican legislative priorities like property tax relief.
“More must be done for the people of Texas. Many critical items remain that must be passed. Several special sessions will be required,” Gov. Abbott said.
The Governor designated two topics for the legislature to address: property taxes and human smuggling. Only the Governor can convene the legislature outside of the regular session period, during which lawmakers may only pass legislation relating to topics the governor defines.
A look at what happened and didn’t happen on top legislative priorities
Cutting Property Taxes
House and Senate leaders failed to strike a deal on legislation to lower property taxes after months of tense divisions. Although top Republican leaders agreed cutting property taxes is the top priority this session, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dade Phelan remained at an intractable impasse all session about how exactly to do so.
Lt. Gov. Patrick advocated primarily for increasing the homestead exemption – that’s the amount of your home’s value that is not subject to property taxes. The Texas Senate passed legislation to raise the exemption to $70,000, well above the current $40,000.
House Speaker Dade Phelan advocated instead for lowing the appraisal cap – that’s the limit a property’s value can increase year over year. Appraisal increases are currently capped at ten percent for homesteads – Phelan fought to lower that to five percent and extend it to all property.
Although Phelan billed that proposal as the largest property tax cut in Texas history, it went nowhere with Lt. Gov. Patrick. He called it “bad math.” Negotiations did not begin in earnest until late May, with the deadline looming on May 29.
Negotiators worked tensely into the evening on the final day of session to hammer out a deal but failed. Patrick said the dealbreaker was Phelan’s push for an eight percent appraisal cap on commercial property, which the Lt. Gov. characterized as too expensive.
The Governor changed the terms of negotiation with his call for a special session, eliminating the possibility for an increased homestead exemption or lowered appraisal cap. He allowed legislation relating solely to school district tax rate compression – essentially, another tool to lower property taxes by buying down taxes from local entities.
The Governor is expected to call another special session later this year to address his fight for “school choice.” Gov. Abbott has staked his leadership this session on subsidizing private education expenses with state money. Legislation to establish “education savings accounts,” also known as school vouchers, passed the Senate but faced bipartisan opposition in the House.
Sen. Brandon Creighton’s Senate Bill 8 would have provided $8,000 for families to move their children out of public school and into either private or homeschooling. That measure failed to reach a vote on the House floor.
The proposal was amended into a major school finance bill, House Bill 100, which would have provided increased public education funding and raises to teachers. That bill failed to reach a House vote, as well.
Gov. Abbott has promised to call a special session to pass education savings accounts, but the timeline is uncertain.
In the session following the worst school shooting in Texas history, leaders prioritized bolstering school safety funding and establishing minimum security standards for public schools.
Phelan’s priority, HB 3, was a broad proposal that will increase safety standards and funding for schools. The House proposed increasing the per-pupil allotment to $100, so school districts would have adequate funds to add things like fencing and bullet-resistant windows. However, the Senate cut the funds down to $10 per student, a mere 30 cent increase from the current allotment.
HB 7, a priority of Speaker Phelan, would have flooded about $100 million to border communities to help give them resources for handling the influx of migrants at the southern border. One of its more controversial provisions called for a new state border unit. A Senate committee added provisions to create a 10-year minimum sentence for human smuggling and criminalize migrants who enter Texas anywhere except ports-of-entries. It was another bill that failed during conference committee after lawmakers could not reach an agreement.
Bolstering the state’s power grid
Patrick made a point to focus on shoring up more dispatchable energy for the state’s power grid this session, two years after the 2021 February winter storm when the grid was minutes away from complete failure.
HB 1500 would have restructured financial incentives for how the energy market operates. It proposed to give natural gas facilities more money. It mirrored Patrick’s priority bill, SB 7, which missed a key deadline. Ultimately lawmakers came to a deal on the proposals during conference committee and HB 1500 is awaiting the governor’s signature.