TLACast Newsletter
Texas Legislature Special Session
August 2017
Volume. 36 No. 5
3355 Bee Cave Road, Suite 401 | Austin, Texas 78746-6763
Phone: 512.328.1518 or 800.580.2852 | Email: tla@txla.org

The Texas Legislature ended the Special Session one day early in a stalemate over property tax reform. The House gaveled out Sine Die Tuesday evening and the Senate followed suite around 10pm. Governor Abbott and Lt. Governor Patrick have stated that property tax reform is one of their top priorities, and some Senators are calling for a second special session to address this issue.

SB 1 requires voter approval when larger local governments raise property taxes. The Senate set the rollback rate at which local governments would be required to hold elections to ratify property tax increases at 4%. The House version set that rate at 6%.

The House substituted their property tax reform bill for SB 1, and sent it back to the Senate where the bill's author refused to concur in the amendment, and requested a conference committee. After back and forth negotiations, the House sponsor stated there was no time to appoint conferees due to House rules. Therefore, if property tax reform is to happen during this Special Session, the Senate must accept the House's version of SB 1.

The 30-day Special Session ends Wednesday, August 16, and to date, lawmakers passed and the Governor signed the required "sunset" legislation extending several state agencies, and a bill to address mail-in ballot fraud. Bills regulating do-not-resuscitate orders, abortion reporting requirements and insurance and local annexation also passed and were sent to the governor's desk. Lawmakers also passed a school finance reform bill.

Teacher Pay & Retirement Benefits


Gov. Abbott included a teacher pay raise of $1,000 on the agenda, with the expectation that school districts would fund the raise from existing budgets. School districts, teacher groups and others strongly opposed this unfunded mandate. The House and Senate approached this issue very differently, with the Senate refusing to appropriate any money from the Rainy Day Fund, and the House willing to do so.

The Senate passed SB 19 which would transfer $193 million from the Health and Human Services Commission budget to TEA to fund a bonus program for classroom teachers, and $212 million from HHSC to the Teacher Retirement System to reduce participant costs.

The House bill, HB 20 does not include a bonus program, and appropriates $212 million from the Rainy Day Fund for the Teacher Retirement System.

The Senate did not take up HB 20, so when the House Appropriations Committee considered SB 19, members substituted the language from HB 20. That version of SB 19 went to the House floor but time ran out on passing the bill and returning it to the Senate.

However, funding to reduce costs to participants in the Teacher Retirement System's health care program was included in the final school finance bill, HB 21 which was passed by both the Senate and the House.

School Finance Reform
Initially, the special session agenda item directed legislators to create a commission to study the school finance system. However, Gov. Abbott added immediate school funding reform to the agenda at the beginning of the special session.

The House wanted to put more money into public schools immediately and reform funding formulas. Their main school finance reform bill, HB 21 would increase the base per-student funding the state gives to school districts, gradually remove an existing financial penalty for school districts smaller than 300 square miles, and create a $200 million grant program to help school districts that rely on the Additional State Aide for Tax Reduction (ASATR) program that is set to expire. It comes with a $1.8 billion price tag.

The Senate followed the governor's original agenda item and passed SB 16 which creates a commission to study the issue. The House passed an amended version of the bill that requires 15 commission members rather than 13, and provides more specific direction on the make-up of the commission. If the Senate accepts those amendments, SB 16 will go to the Governor for signature.

The Senate passed HB 21 Monday, stripping out $1 billion, putting $351 million into public schools to help small rural schools and students with special needs, and giving $212 million to the Teachers Retirement System's health insurance program to help lower participant's costs. This is funded by deferring payments to health care companies providing Medicaid.

On Tuesday, the House reluctantly agreed to the Senate's version of HB 21, accepting these changes. This bill is on its way to the Governor's desk.

Bathroom Bills
The Senate passed SB 3 requiring political subdivisions, public school districts and open-enrollment charter schools to require individuals to use multiple-occupancy bathrooms and changing facilities based on their biological sex. The bill also prohibits local ordinances or policies relating to the designation or use of a multiple-occupancy restroom or changing facility. The bill was sent to the House July 27 and was not referred to a committee.

On the House side, two bathroom bills were introduced, and referred to the State Affairs Committee. HB 46 prohibits political subdivisions, including public school districts, from adopting an ordinance regulating access to multiple-occupancy restrooms or changing facilities. HB 50 specifically prohibits school boards from adopting a policy regulating access to bathrooms.

Rep. Byron Cook, chairman of the State Affairs Committee stated he did not see a reason to hold hearings on these bills, so that these bills are dead, once again.

Union Dues Deduction
SB 7, passed by the Senate, would prohibit public employees who are in labor unions or other associations from having their dues automatically withdrawn from their pay checks. It applies to public school teachers, corrections officers and other government employees but exempts firefighters, police officers, EMS and charitable organizations.

The bill was sent to the House July 27 and has not been referred to a committee. HB 156 on this same issue was introduced and referred to the House State Affairs committee.

Depending on what happens with the property tax reform bill, Governor Abbott could decide to call another special session to address those key issues that were not passed during this special session. As of this publication, he has not issued any statements indicating what he might do.