As the third special session of the Texas Legislature enters its final week, no bills have made it to Gov. Abbott’s desk, though several are on track to do so by the end of the session (no later than Oct. 19). Abbott asked lawmakers to pass legislation addressing the following topics:
To achieve property tax reduction, the Senate proposed in SB 8 a “swap” of federal funds for general revenue, under which federal COVID relief funds would be used to pay $3.7 billion worth of state employees’ salaries. This would free up state general revenue to pay for reduced property taxes through compressed tax rates authorized in SB 1.
The House, in its version of SB 1, uses the federal funds directly for reduced property taxes. Homeowners would receive a check next fall, estimated at $533, as a property tax reimbursement of sorts. While the check would undoubtedly be welcome, the House has additionally proposed in HB 90 that 90% of surplus state funds would be used for ongoing property tax relief in the future. This strategy is very concerning for public education, as it will make significant investments in education much more difficult to pay for.
SB 8 also includes provisions to help Texas school employees who are enrolled in TRS-Care (for retirees) or TRS-ActiveCare. If SB 8 or similar legislation passes, $286 million in federal funding will be allocated to TRS to ensure that health insurance premiums for those plans will not increase as a result of COVID costs. (Note: TRS-Care premiums are not expected to increase; ActiveCare may see an increase in 2022-23, but it will not be due to COVID claims, which would have raised premiums by 5%.)
SB 1 and SB 8 are both scheduled for consideration on the House floor Friday. HB 90, the bill that could preclude significant ongoing investments in public education, has not yet been scheduled for House debate.
The Senate passed a bill regarding transgender children in UIL athletic competitions (SB 3) early in the session, but the House Public Education Committee has not scheduled it for a hearing. A similar House bill (HB 25) was heard and passed out of the Select Committee on Constitutional Rights and is scheduled for House floor consideration today (Oct. 14). The bills would require that students participating in UIL athletic competitions do so based on their biological sex as recorded on their official birth certificate.
Redistricting legislation — the “must do” bills for this session — have made enough progress in the House that there is some speculation that lawmakers could finish their business within this third special session. Bills redrawing the boundaries for the Texas Senate and State Board of Education have passed the Senate and will be debated on the House floor Friday. The House redistricting bill for the Texas House is scheduled for a Senate hearing Friday, and the Senate bill revising U.S. House boundaries has passed out of the Senate and is likely to reach the House floor in the next few days. However, there is always the possibility that growing tensions between the House and Senate could blow up negotiations on these and other issues, requiring yet another special session.