The election bill wasn’t all the Legislature was working on over the past few days — on Friday, the House approved a Senate bill from state Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) to allow new homeowners to get property tax breaks for their home purchases more quickly.
The final hurdle to Senate approval for the election bill appeared to be the removal of a bipartisan House amendment, offered by state Reps. Briscoe Cain (R-Deer Park) and John Bucy (D-Austin), related to the case of Crystal Mason, a Black Fort Worth woman who was charged with illegal voting.
Mason was sentenced to five years in prison for casting a provisional ballot in 2016 while she was out of jail on parole. The ballot was given to her by a poll worker when Mason’s name didn’t appear on her county’s voter roll. Mason didn’t realize she was ineligible to vote due to her status as a felon out on parole (she was previously convicted of tax fraud). Even though Mason was unaware that casting her provisional ballot would be illegal (and even though her vote was never counted), she was convicted of illegal voting. Mason was released on parole after serving 10 months of her illegal voting sentence; her case is awaiting review by the Texas Supreme Court.
Bucy and Cain’s amendment would have changed state law to only prohibit folks from being criminally charged for voting when ineligible only if that person knew they weren’t allowed to vote at the time, and could have retroactively affected Mason’s case.
The amendment was so uncontroversial in the House that it was accepted without debate before the House ultimately passed its version of the election bill late Thursday night. But Hughes voiced his opposition to the amendment Friday, saying it was the only part of the House’s modified version of his election bill that he took issue with.
So instead of approving the House’s tweaks to the bill, Hughes moved to set up a private conference committee with members of both chambers to come up with a compromise version of the bill.
After reviewing the amendments added to SB1 by the House, my only objection is to Amendment 58. I am moving not to concur and requesting the appointment of a conference committee only to address Amendment 58. #TxLeg #ElectionIntegrity— Senator Bryan Hughes (@SenBryanHughes) August 28, 2021
Sunday afternoon, Hughes told independent Austin journalist Eva Ruth Moravec that the conference had “agreed to remove the Cain amendment” from the bill, setting the stage for the revised bill to be approved by the Senate as soon as Monday afternoon, apparently due to concerns it would make it tougher to prosecute non-citizens accused of voting illegally.
Bettencourt’s property tax relief bill, Senate Bill 8, will allow new homeowners to immediately qualify for property tax breaks; Under current law, homeowners have to wait until January of the next year following their home purchase to qualify for those tax discounts. It’s the first bill headed to Abbott’s desk since the first special session began back in July, as the House was prevented from passing any legislation due to the coordinated walkout from House Democrats in protest against the GOP election bill.
"It was put in there to help people like Crystal Mason. But what we learned is it is also going to affect the prosecution of folks who are non citizens who vote," Hughes said.— Eva Ruth Moravec (@EvaRuth) August 29, 2021
He told me the conference committee report that removes Amendment 58 should be signed tonight.
SB 8 isn’t the only property tax bill Bettencourt has proposed — another bill of his, Senate Bill 12, would extend 2019 property tax cuts to disabled homeowners and homeowners 65 and older. That bill is expected to pass its final votes in the days ahead and ultimately head to Abbott’s desk for his signature.
State Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin) wrote similar legislation that would have provided the same property tax relief to elderly and disabled Texans during the regular session. But the Austin Democrat’s bill never received a hearing in its House committee, and when she tried to tack it on as an amendment to another bill, it was removed by Republicans.