The Texas Senate will meet again tomorrow to continue working on the two issues Gov. Greg Abbott prioritized for the first special legislative session this year: property tax cuts and border security.
Not so for the Texas House. In a move that surprised some, House Speaker Dade Phelan swiftly passed both measures and adjourned on the first day of the special session.
This move left Lt. Gov Dan Patrick and the Senate no choice but to accept the House versions of each bill or end the session with nothing.
Julián Aguilar, a reporter with the Texas Newsroom, said the Senate can’t make any changes if they want to pass either bill, since the House is already adjourned.
“Based on comments the lieutenant governor has made, it doesn’t look like they’re going to take any action on the House-backed plan on property taxes,” Aguilar said. “On the border security bill, which is House Bill 2 by Rio Grande City Republican Ryan Guillen, that one was referred to a border security committee in the Senate, and that one will be heard Tuesday morning. But it’s the same situation. They cannot mark it up. They can’t amend it. They have to kick it out and vote on it as it was sent over from the House.”
Aguilar said HB 2 targets small human smuggling operations at the border, including stash houses.
“Stash houses are houses based on the border that are sort of the midway point for the smugglers and their network. This is where sometimes dozens and dozens, if not more, migrants are kept in usually pretty horrible conditions against their will, waiting for the next leg of their transport,” he said. “HB 2 increases the penalty for operating a stash house to at least ten years in prison. And this goes for the same thing for human smuggling, which people thought the penalties were also pretty low.”
Aguilar said there is a matching Senate bill with the same language, and it is possible the Senate decides to pass the House version despite the House’s adjournment.
The same cannot be said for property tax relief, where there are more differences between the House and Senate plans.
“The House plan would reduce property taxes for all property owners, which includes commercial properties and residential homeowners. What the Senate proposal does is it leans more heavily for relief on the homeowners,” Aguilar said. “According to our friends at the Texas Tribune, who did an analysis of both versions, the Senate bill would save homeowners $400 a year more than the House bill version.”
Gov. Greg Abbott has backed the House bill, but Patrick — as well as property rights groups and some far right organizations — prefer the Senate plan.
“You have Gov. Abbott and the folks on the House side saying, ‘look, our House bill is the first in many steps we have to take to eliminate property taxes altogether.’ The lieutenant governor fired back and said that’s not a realistic plan,” Aguilar said. “So this is where the staring contest is right now. And as the governor said last week when he was giving a recap of the session, he said he’s going to call him back as many times as it takes, not only for property taxes, but other items down the agenda. You know, so it’s going to be a long summer for these folks that were hoping to get it all done.”
Aguilar said the Senate could also vote other border security bills out of committee this week, but with no House in session to take those items up, that is as far as those bills can go.
“These include other measures that folks wanted to add on to the call on border security. We’re talking about some very conservative folks that are watching the border, Texans for Strong Borders and groups like that,” he said. “The governor has made it no surprise that he plans on calling them back for several special sessions on other matters. So if property taxes doesn’t get done and it’s looking like it’s not going to get done unless some legislative miracle happens where the Senate decides to take the House version as filed, then we’re back at square one, at least on that issue.”