STATE CAPITAL HIGHLIGHTS

Special session ends over impasse on property tax reform bill

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AUSTIN — Gov. Greg Abbott gave legislators 20 must-pass items, but the lawmakers delivered only 12 bills to his desk during the first called session of the 85th Texas Legislature.

Both the House and Senate gaveled to final adjournment on Aug. 15, the 29th day of the 30-day session, after deadlines left negotiators without enough time to resolve differences in Senate Bill 1, the property tax reform bill. The House adjourned first, leaving the Senate to accept its substituted version of SB 1 or let it die. The Senate adjourned and the bill died. 

Another measure that died was SB 3, the so-called bathroom bill. The legislation attempted to codify who does and who does not belong in restrooms, showers and changing facilities intended for use for a particular gender. SB 3 was promoted and supported by Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, but opponents testified that the legislation was unconstitutionally discriminatory and would have negative effects on the economy. The Senate passed SB 3 with all Republicans in favor and all but one Democrat against. When SB 3 moved to the House, Speaker Joe Straus, who sided with a list of prominent businesses that registered in opposition, kept it from advancing any farther.

The list of bills Abbott did sign into law includes:

- HB 7, to restrict municipal regulation of the removal of trees on private property;

- HB 13, to establish reporting requirements for certain physicians and health care facilities regarding abortion complications; authorizing a civil penalty;

- HB 21, to amend public school finance, and to increase funding for recruitment and retention of teachers and support of participants in the public school employees group insurance program;

- HB 30, to transfer certain appropriations to the Texas Education Agency and the Teacher Retirement System of Texas and adjust appropriations for public school finance;

- HB 214, to create new restrictions for health plans concerning elective abortion and to allow health benefit plan coverage for elective abortion; and

- HB 215, to create new reporting and certification requirements for certain physicians regarding certain abortions.

Also:

- SB 5, to create a criminal offense and increasing criminal penalties in fraudulent actions committed in the conduct of an election;

- SB 6, to increase transparency and property owner participation in the municipal annexation process

- SB 11, to amend general procedures and requirements for certain do-not-resuscitate orders and to create a criminal offense;

- SB 17, to require a study trends, rates and disparities in pregnancy-related deaths, severe maternal morbidity and postpartum depression;

- SB 20, to extend the functions of certain agencies subject to the Texas Sunset Act; and

- SB 60, to repeal certain unnecessary contingency riders for the Texas Medical Board and the Texas State Board of Examiners of Psychologists.

Maps violate voting law

A three-judge panel of the San Antonio-based U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas on Aug. 15 struck down two congressional district maps that were drawn by the Texas Legislature in 2011.

The panel, in Perez v. Abbott, unanimously ruled that District 35, represented by Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, and District 27, represented by Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi, were drawn with discriminatory intent and are in violation of the U.S. Voting Rights Act. 

The panel scheduled a Sept. 5 hearing to consider remedial plans, and ordered parties to the lawsuit, in preparation for the hearing, to consult with their experts and map-drawers and prepare statewide congressional plans that remedy the violations found in the district maps, yet minimize the effect on adjoining districts.

Also, the panel directed the parties to confer and address objections and concerns, to the extent possible, prior to the hearing. If both sides agree upon a remedial plan, they are required to notify the court, but the hearing will nevertheless proceed so the parties can present the plan on the record.

TEA releases 2017 ratings 

The Texas Education Agency on Aug. 15 released its 2017 state accountability ratings for more than 1,200 school districts and charters.

Districts, campuses and charters receive one of three ratings under the accountability system: Met Standard, Met Alternative Standard, or Improvement Required.

Nearly 95 percent of school districts and charters achieved the rating of Met Standard. The ratings include more than 8,700 campuses.

In addition, the number of individual campuses achieving either a rating of Met Standard or Met Alternative Standard increased again this year, while the number of campuses receiving a rating of Improvement Required continued to decline.

Ratings can be accessed at the web address, tea.state.tx.us.

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