Senators busy with property tax bill, impeachment trial rules as first special session winds down

The Senate met in closed session to discuss the rules for the impeachment trial Tuesday.

By Sarah Asch & Glorie MartinezJune 21, 2023 12:52 pm,

It’s been a busy summer in Austin for state legislators, and signs point to more activity ahead.

The first special legislative session is technically still underway, though the House finished its work and gaveled out almost immediately at the end of May. In the Senate, lawmakers are still at the statehouse, focused on a property tax bill that differs from what the House and the governor prefer.

Meanwhile, the Senate is also gearing up for the impeachment trial of suspended Attorney General Ken Paxton, and despite promises of transparency, no official rules have been made public yet.

Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University, said the property tax bill passed Tuesday by the Senate was intended to be a compromise with the House and Gov. Greg Abbott.

“We still have Lt. Gov. [Dan] Patrick’s favorite, which is the homestead exemption for school property taxes going up to $100,000. I think he’s pretty much set in stone on that issue,” Jones said. “What he did do is provide some compression … that benefits everybody by reducing the overall property taxes that they pay for schools. And then to throw in something for small businesses, he increased essentially the threshold under which you have to pay franchise taxes.”

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Jones said proponents of the House plan cite the way it will benefit businesses, so the Senate’s new plan expands to focus on small businesses specifically.

Lauren McGaughy, an investigative reporter at the Dallas Morning News, said despite the Senate passing this new bill, it is unclear if the House will return to Austin to negotiate.

“The lieutenant governor had this press conference yesterday where he said, ‘we passed this bill, now we need to wait for the House,’” she said. “The governor’s spokesperson issued a statement that reiterated that the governor wants them to agree on something. So if the Senate decides to adjourn sine die and this special session ends, then it seems pretty obvious that the governor is going to have to call them back for another special session and see whether they’re ready to come towards each other in any real way.”

Jones said another special session is all but guaranteed.

“The House gaveled out, and I don’t think they’re going to want to yield and come back at the very tail end to try to do something rushed,” he said. “I think what the Senate’s doing and what we’re seeing now is setting the stage for a second special session that will occur. It could start as early as late next week, a week from today, or it could start in July. But for the property tax relief – especially for what the lieutenant governor wants to do, which is the homestead exemption – locking that into the constitution, that has to be passed by the end of July in order for it to be able to get onto the November ballot.”

The Senate also met Tuesday to discuss the rules for Paxton’s upcoming impeachment trial. McGaughy said despite critiques from the Texas GOP that the House was not transparent in its investigation into Paxton, the Senate has yet to release much information.

“Now that the impeachment articles are over in the Senate, which is tasked with holding a trial on whether to convict Paxton on those articles and remove him from office, there’s been promises from the lieutenant governor to be more transparent, to be more open with the rules around the trial, how they’re going to run it, when it’s going to happen,” she said. “But yesterday, when we were expecting to at least see some rules or hear some debate about the rules, we were all disappointed.”

Jones said Senate lawmakers spent most of the day Tuesday in closed session. He said one thing the public did receive was the first statement from Sen. Angela Paxton, Attorney General Paxton’s wife, about her possible role in the proceeding.

Senate lawmakers spent most of Tuesday in closed session. But one thing the public has received is the first statement from state Sen. Angela Paxton, the attorney general’s wife, about her possible role in the proceeding.

McGaughy said Angela Paxton is required by the state constitution to attend the trial, but it is still unclear if she will recuse herself or not. She said it’s possible the reason the lawmakers did not present the rules as expected was there are still disagreements to be hashed out.

Jones said Paxton’s supporters might be trying to walk the line between not removing him from office and ignoring his conduct.

“I think one of the difficulties that Paxton supporters are going to have to deal with is providing a vehicle or an avenue through which senators can vote to acquit but not do so in such a way that they’re seen as ignoring the evidence against the attorney general, which seems very solid in terms of that he abused his power as attorney general to benefit Nate Paul, the investor donor person who provided remodeling to his house and a job for his paramour,” Jones said. “Providing them with some way to say and save face to vote for acquittal without effectively exonerating him of the crimes.”

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