State

Property tax reform bill goes to conference committee

AUSTIN — The Texas House of Representatives on May 1 passed Senate Bill 2, legislation proposing to bring property tax relief to homeowners, but the lower house slowed the bill’s momentum by tacking on 25 floor amendments.

If finally passed in the coming days, the legislation would lower the rollback rate for most local taxing authorities from 8 percent to 3.5 percent and 2 percent for school districts. The bill also allows local option elections on proposals to exceed rollback rates.

SB 2, like House Bill 1, the state budget bill, is now in the hands of a conference committee of five House members and five Senate members tasked with producing a final, agreed-to version. Meanwhile, all eyes are on the calendar and the clock as constitutional deadlines set in and the May 27 end of the session grows near.

Gov. Greg Abbott lauded the progress made on the property tax reform bill. “For too long, Texans have watched their property taxes skyrocket while being reduced to tenants of their own property. That is not the Texas way,” Abbott said.

“In the final days of the legislative session, I am confident this historic legislation, combined with additional reforms working their way through the system, will reach my desk where I will sign them into law. I look forward to working with Lt. Gov. Patrick, Speaker Bonnen and the entire Legislature to deliver lasting property tax relief to every Texan.”

Parties settle voting suit

Parties in the lawsuit LULAC v. Texas Secretary of State David Whitley and consolidated cases agreed to a settlement over Whitley’s Jan. 25 letter to county voter registrars.

In an announcement released April 26, Whitley wrote, “Today’s agreement accomplishes our office’s goal of maintaining an accurate list of qualified registered voters while eliminating the impact of any list maintenance activity on naturalized U.S. citizens. I will continue to work with all stakeholders in the election community to ensure this process is conducted in a manner that holds my office accountable and protects the voting rights of eligible Texans.”

In his role as the state’s chief elections officer, Whitley wrote the letter directing registrars to identify and remove from voter rolls non-U.S. citizens registered to vote in Texas. That letter sparked the lawsuit.

Plaintiffs agreed to dismiss their claims and the Secretary of State’s office agreed to issue a new advisory notifying Texas counties on a revised process for identifying and removing non-U.S. citizens from the state’s voter rolls.

The Secretary of State’s office, in following the new process, will send to county voter registrars only the matching records of individuals who registered to vote before identifying themselves as non-U.S. citizens to the Texas Department of Public Safety when applying for a driver license or personal identification card.

House OKs marijuana bill

HB 63, legislation lessening penalties for possession of an ounce or less of marijuana, won House approval on April 30, on a vote of 103-42.

If passed, the penalty for minor possession of marijuana would be a misdemeanor citation, like a traffic ticket. Authored by House Speaker Pro-tempore Joe Moody, D-El Paso, the bill drew support from both political parties.

Before a final vote was called in the House, Moody said in the course of a longer statement, “Members, 22 states and the District of Columbia have passed bills like this and the sky hasn’t fallen there. Whatever you think about Colorado-style legalization, this isn’t it.”

HB 63 was received in the Senate for consideration on April 30, but Lt. Gov. Patrick, who presides over the upper chamber, indicated in a social media post that he would not allow the bill to progress any further.

Revenue total increases

Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar on May 2 announced state sales tax revenue totaled $2.8 billion in April, an amount 3 percent more than the amount reported in April 2018.

“State sales tax revenue continued to grow, but at a modest pace compared to recent months,” Hegar said in an agency news release. “Increased sales tax collections were mostly from the construction and services sectors, while collections from retail trade saw a moderate decline,” he added.

Furthermore, Hegar said, total sales tax revenue for the three months ending in April 2019 was up 6.2 percent compared to the same period a year ago.

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