Current Events

Lege Returning to Austin to Debate Abortion, Bathroom Bill, Property Taxes

As expected, Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced on Tuesday that a special legislative session will begin on July 18.
As expected, Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced on Tuesday that a special legislative session will begin on July 18. Courtesy of the office of Governor Abbott
The inevitable announcement finally came Tuesday from the Texas State Capitol: There will be a special legislative session.

“Considering all the successes of the 85th legislative session, we should not be where we are today,” said Texas Governor Greg Abbott during a Tuesday afternoon news conference in Austin. The special session of the 2017 Texas Legislature will begin on July 18, and can last up to 30 days.

Abbott said that once the charters of five state regulatory agencies (including the doctor-licensing Texas Medical Board) are renewed, 19 items will be added to the agenda.

The measures include the so-called bathroom bill that would force transgender people to use the bathroom based on their biological sex; added abortion restrictions that would prevent local governments from using taxpayer money for Planned Parenthood and any other abortion service; and can’t-get-enough, edge-of-your-seat legislation such as “preventing cities from regulating what property owners do with trees on private land.”

Minutes after the conclusion of the news conference, a number of local and nationwide advocacy organizations shot off flame-throwing criticisms of Abbott.

The New York-based GLAAD, an LGBTQ media advocacy organization, said that Abbott’s “special discrimination session” “openly targets and discriminates against transgender Texans for living their lives according to their gender identity.” Abbott, during his spiel, doubled down on his support for House Bill 2899. “We need a law that protects the privacy of our children in public schools.”

The Lone Star Project also didn’t seem too impressed by the governor’s overall announcement. “Greg Abbott made a rare appearance today to call on the Texas Legislature to impose a Republican primary campaign plan on Texans. Nothing in his laundry list of Tea Party duties will make a single child safer, create a single job or give any Texan more confidence in the integrity of their state government.”

Along with the bathroom bill, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick has made it loud and clear that he wants property tax relief to pass within a special session. However, Senate Bill 2, co-authored by Senator Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), basically brought out the worst in everybody involved during the regular session.

Property tax bills for the everyday homeowner in Harris County (and also for many residential property owners in Texas's major metropolitan areas) have gotten out of hand. On its face, SB 2 looked as if it would do some good for homeowners. However, Bettencourt has been criticized for citing out-of-context numbers to try to get his bill to the governor’s desk. During a contentious Senate Finance Committee hearing on March 14, lawmakers on both sides of the debate sparred with one another during a six-hour confab.

In a prepared statement sent to Houston Press and other media outlets, Bettencourt gave props to Abbott, who said that property tax increases can be limited by creating automatic rollback elections to gain taxpayer approval for increases above a certain percentage.

Taxpayers know the truth: Property tax bills are rising too quickly. As appraised values go up, tax rates need to come down. I look forward to passing Senate Bill 2 as filed, including the rate rollback provisions, to bring about needed property tax reform and relief for all Texas taxpayers.

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Steve Jansen is a contributing writer for the Houston Press.
Contact: Steve Jansen