The Week Behind Us and the Week(s) Ahead of Us
The big news this week: the Senate Committee on Property Tax heard Senate Bill 2, the 2.5 percent revenue cap bill. The day before the hearing, Gov. Greg Abbott, in his State of the State address, declared property tax reform and school finance reform to be emergency items.
County officials from across the state turned out for our Counties at the Capitol Legislative Day. The chief justice gave his State of the Judiciary address, in which he encouraged legislators to support bail reform; two legislators announced the filing of identical House and Senate bills designed to accomplish that goal.
The chair of House Appropriations also announced the appointment of his budget subcommittee chairs; these subcommittees are where much of the heavy lifting on the state’s budget takes place.
State of the State – Governor Declares Emergency Items
On Feb. 5, Gov. Abbott declared several emergency items in his State of the State address during a joint session of the Legislature. Of the items, property tax relief defined as a 2.5 percent cap on revenue on local taxing units is the most concerning for counties.
Counties were pleased to hear the governor prioritize other items including school safety, school finance reform, mental health and disaster response. The Legislature can vote on items declared as emergency items during the first 60 days of the session.
Counties at the Capitol a Success
Many county officials were in town on the day of the governor’s address for our biennial Counties at the Capitol Legislative Day. The day began with a breakfast where legislators and TAC staff addressed policy issues important to counties and ended with a legislative reception.
A recap of the day’s events is available in the Counties at the Capitol article in this week’s edition of County Issues.
Texas Counties Back Property Tax Relief
At a press conference following the governor’s State of the State address, county officials, along with city officials, school representatives, first responders and others, came together to voice their support for school finance reform and caution that revenue caps will limit essential local government services.
Revenue caps limit the ability of local government to provide essential services, such as disaster response, healthcare, law enforcement, and mental health and veterans services,” said Robert D. Johnston, Anderson County judge and president of the County Judges and Commissioners Association of Texas. “Revenue caps won’t reduce property taxes, addressing school finance and the tax appraisal process will. Victoria County Judge Ben Zeller and Cooke County Judge Jason Brinkley were also on hand and emphasized that constitutional unfunded mandate protection is property tax relief.
Senate Property Tax Committee Considers SB 2
The day after the governor named property tax reform as one of his six emergency items, SB 2 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) was heard in the Senate Property Tax Committee.
Several county officials waited long hours to express their concerns and solutions to the bill, which includes a 2.5 percent revenue cap for taxing entities that collect more than $15 million in property and sales tax revenue annually and an automatic November election for exceeding the rollback tax rate.
Additional information about the hearing is available in the Property Tax Update article in the newsletter.
Bail Reform Legislation Unveiled
On Feb. 4, Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston) and Rep. Andrew Murr (R-Junction) held a joint press conference to unveil and discuss their recently filed bail reform legislation, also known as the Damon Allen Act.
When discussing the legislation, Sen. Whitmire, who chairs the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, referenced several current lawsuits challenging local bail practices across the state.
Among the legislation’s provisions, magistrates would be required to consider the results of a pretrial risk assessment before determining bail for a defendant.
The bills would also require certain judges in each county to adopt an instrument to be used in conducting a pretrial risk assessment of a defendant, which must be the automated pretrial risk assessment system developed by the Office of Court Administration or another instrument that meets certain specified requirements.
Additionally, the bills would allow a judge to deny bail in certain circumstances; this particular provision is subject to voter approval of a proposed constitutional amendment – SJR 37/HJR 62. Justices of the peace would also be required to complete specified training relating to magistration duties, including setting bail.
Both Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht and Court of Criminal Appeals Presiding Judge Sharon Keller voiced their support for the legislation at the press conference. The Judicial Council, which is chaired by Chief Justice Hecht, and serves as the policy-making body for the state judiciary, has adopted legislative recommendations supporting many of the legislation’s provisions.
State of the Judiciary
Bail reform was also part of Justice Hecht’s State of the Judiciary address to a joint session of the Legislature on Feb. 6. In his remarks, Justice Hecht called on legislators to support the bail reform legislation recently introduced by Sen. Whitmire and Rep. Murr (SB 628/HB 1323).
Hecht also asked the Legislature to address several other issues, including changes to our current partisan judicial selection system, court costs and fee simplification, and mental health.
Additionally, Hecht asked for support for the Office of Court Administration’s technology requests, including funding for a statewide case management system that would provide magistrates with access to critical information and accelerate the reporting of records for federal background checks, to help better secure schools.
Gov. Abbott called for such a system in his School and Firearm Safety Action Plan released last May.
House Appropriations Subcommittee Chairs Announced
On Feb. 4, House Appropriations Chairman John Zerwas (R-Richmond) named article subcommittees. The subcommittees will meet to make recommendations on state spending by articles in the budget.
Zerwas named Rep. Oscar Longoria (D-Mission) chair of the Subcommittee on Articles I, IV & V of the budget, which deal with general government, the judiciary, public safety and criminal justice. Rep. Rick Miller (R-Sugar Land) will serve as vice-chair.
Rep. Sarah Davis (R-Houston) was appointed chair of the Subcommittee on Article II, which includes health and human services funding. Rep. J.D. Sheffield (R-Gatesville) will serve as vice-chair.
Rep. Greg Bonnen (R-Friendswood) was named chairman of the Subcommittee on Article III, which includes public and higher education funding. Rep. Armando Walle (D-Houston) was named vice-chair.
Rep. Toni Rose (D-Dallas) was appointed chair of the Subcommittee on Article VI, VII, & VIII, which include natural resources funding, business and economic development funding, and funding for regulatory agencies. Rep. Cecil Bell (R-Magnolia) will be the vice-chair.
Finally, Rep. Giovanni Capriglione (R-Southlake) was named chair of the Subcommittee on Infrastructure, Resiliency & Invest Committee with Rep. Gene Wu (D-Houston) as the vice-chair.
The upcoming appropriations subcommittee meeting schedules will be posted on a weekly basis.
The Week Ahead
Both House Appropriations and Senate Finance will continue holding hearings next week to consider testimony on the state budget.
Several committees in both the House and Senate are also scheduled to hold organizational meetings to hear invited testimony on issues under their jurisdiction. All current committee postings are available on Texas Legislature Online.
Helpful Tracking Links for Legislation
- County Bills by Office as tracked by the Texas Association of Counties.
- Senate and House committee postings are available on Texas Legislature Online.
- MyTLO section of Texas Legislature Online – use it to create customized alerts for specific committee meetings or to track specific bills.
Texas Association of Counties (TAC) is considered ground zero for all Texas counties.
Through TAC, counties communicate the county perspective to state officials and the general public. Understanding the way county government works and the value of county services helps state leaders preserve counties’ ability to serve their residents effectively.
According to TAC’s website, the cooperative effort is managed by a Board of county officials. Each county office is represented on the Board. This group of local officials, each of whom is currently serving his or her community, establishes policy for TAC. The Board establishes the scope of TAC services and the Association’s budget.