The Texas Legislature’s Once-Ambitious 2019 Agenda Hits A Few Snags

Time is running out this session for lawmakers to tackle property taxes, child welfare and the environment.

By Laura RiceApril 22, 2019 12:17 pm, , ,

There’s only 35 days left in the regular session of the 86th legislature, and just two weeks left for lawmakers to vote House bills out of committee if they want them to be considered in the full chamber. 

Reporters from partner station KUT in Austin evaluated bills related to three topics lawmakers said were top priorities at the beginning of the session: property taxes, child welfare and the environment.

Gov. Greg Abbott has been insistent about stemming the rise of property taxes. But Jimmy Maas reports that some efforts by state legislators have cause some local lawmakers to worry. One example is how the House has proposed increasing the homestead exemption, which reduces a home’s taxable value. The Senate, on the other hand, wants to limit the rate at which local governments can increase property taxes: cities and counties would only be allowed to raise revenue (through property tax increases) by a maximum of 3.5% a year, and any larger increases would trigger an automatic election for residents to approve or reject the increase.

School finance reform is enmeshed with property tax changes, since local property taxes cover a lot of the costs of running public  schools. The Texas House passed a $9 billion bill to fill funding gaps, while the Senate has focused on a $5,000 pay hike for teachers. It’s unclear how the House and Senate plan to reconcile their different strategies.  

Meanwhile, child welfare advocates are worried Texas lawmakers are running out of time to address children’s health care needs, Ashley Lopez reports. So far, several child welfare bills have passed in one chamber and not the other. These include a bill to provide transportation for women to prenatal and postpartum care appointments. Another bill covers contraception for teens with parental consent.

Recent fires and explosions at Houston-area petrochemical plants have drawn attention to environmental issues. Mose Buchele says at the beginning of the session, bills related to pipelines, petrochemicals and plastic bags topped the environmental agenda, but most of them aren’t moving through the legislature.

For example, there hasn’t yet been a hearing for a bill that would allow Austin to reinstate its ban on single-use plastic bags, nor has there been one for a Senate bill to strengthen requirements for above-ground chemical storage. That bill was a response to tank damage during Hurricane Harvey, and after the Deer Park petrochemical plant fire last month. A number of pipeline regulation bills are also stuck in House committees.

The last day of the 86th legislature’s regular session is May 27.

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Written by Shelly Brisbin.