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Capital Highlights: Abbott signs 3 bills with few likely to reach his desk in final week

by | Aug 14, 2017 | Opinion

By Ed Sterling

Director of member services for the Texas Press Association

Three bills reached Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk last week, with the 30-day special session of the Texas Legislature set to expire Aug. 16.

Abbott signed all three into law on Aug. 11:

— Senate Bill 5, increasing criminal penalties for voter fraud, by Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, and sponsored in the House by Dan Huberty, R-Kingwood;
— Senate Bill 20, the “sunset bill” that extends the life of the Texas Medical Board and several other healthcare-regulating state boards, by Van Taylor, R-Plano, and sponsored in the House by Larry Gonzales, R-Round Rock; and
— Senate Bill 60, relating to the funding of those revived healthcare boards, also by Taylor and sponsored by Gonzales.
Two more bills headed to the governor for consideration are:
— HB 13 by Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake, and Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, legislation requiring emergency healthcare providers to report complications from abortions and for the Health and Human Services Commission to publish the data; and
— HB 214 by John Smithee, R-Amarillo, and Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, banning abortion coverage through the federal Affordable Care Act and allowing private insurers to offer abortion coverage.
And, in an Aug. 12 weekend session, the House debated and tentatively passed SB 1, legislation lowering the property tax rollback rate and requiring voter approval to increase the rate above the threshold. The House-amended version differed from the one passed in the Senate, however, and as of deadline it was unclear whether the two sides could reach a compromise. With time running out, the House and Senate did concur on amendments to SB 6, a bill to reform municipal annexation, but a municipal annexation reform bill was still unsettled. Negotiators for both bodies are working toward settlement on that and other bills on the governor’s call as the Aug. 16 deadline inches closer. Racing against the clock are bills that would:
— Increase the average salary and benefits of Texas teachers;
— Provide a more flexible and rewarding salary and benefit system for Texas teachers;
— Establish a spending limit for political subdivisions and curb their power;
— Ban local regulations of the use of hand-held mobile communication devices while driving; and
— Ensure action is taken to reduce the maternal mortality rate in Texas.

Gov. Abbott, on June 6, called for legislation addressing the previously mentioned issues and a few others to be solved in the current special session, after lawmakers were unable fulfill his legislative priorities during the 140-day regular session that ended May 29.

Judge dismisses suit

Austin U.S. District Court Judge Sam Sparks on Aug. 9 dismissed as moot Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s lawsuit requesting the court to consolidate several lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of SB 4.

Paxton’s lawsuit, filed preemptively in support of the legislation widely referred to as the “show me your papers” immigration bill, was passed by the state Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Abbott on May 7.

In a news release, Paxton reacted to Sparks’ ruling in Texas and Ken Paxton v. Travis County et al., claiming the ruling by Judge Sparks would have no effect on the merits of SB 4 cases pending in San Antonio courts and that he plans to keep fighting.

Scheduled to take effect Sept. 1, SB 4 requires law enforcement agencies across Texas to detain individuals pursuant to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s federal detainer program.

In his ruling, Sparks said Paxton does not have standing to bring suit because the law has not taken effect and therefore no violation has occurred.

Hegar to send revenue

Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar on Aug. 9 announced his office would send cities, counties, transit systems and special purpose taxing districts $779.2 million in local sales tax allocations for August.

The amount is 1.3 percent more than in August 2016. Allocations are based on sales made in June by businesses that report tax monthly, and sales made in April, May and June by quarterly filers.

Mark White laid to rest

The body of former Gov. Mark White lay in state in the Capitol Rotunda on Aug. 9 and burial followed in the Texas State Cemetery.

White died at age 77 at his home in Houston on Aug. 5. He was the 43rd governor of Texas, serving from 1983 to 1987. He also served as Texas attorney general from 1979 to 1983, and as Texas secretary of state from 1973 to 1977.

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