House Advances Must-pass ‘sunset' Bills, Braces for Lively Property-tax Debate

AUSTIN -- Two of Gov. Greg Abbott's most important priorities for the special session got a little closer to passage Thursday. The House tentatively approved two "sunset" bills needed to keep alive five important agencies, while its GOP leaders relented and said they'd allow a wide-open weekend debate of how to restrain property tax increases.With less than a week left in the special session, House members advanced the agency sunset bills on voice votes. The chamber was expected to send the must-pass measures to Abbott as early as Friday.Also on Thursday, House GOP leaders backed away from restricting Saturday's scheduled debate of property tax limitations -- another key priority for Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and the Senate. House members of both parties objected, saying a ban of floor amendments would set a bad precedent, said Corpus Christi GOP Rep. Todd Hunter, who proposed the restriction. It appeared to be an effort by Speaker Joe Straus' lieutenants to preserve a compromise version of a property-tax bill that was carefully negotiated in the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee.Hunter's Calendars panel, which directs the flow of bills to the House floor, had proposed the ban on Wednesday.'Nuclear option'Rep. Mike Schofield, R-Katy, said the proposed prohibition "would have fundamentally changed" how the House operates."That is never how we've done business," he said. "It is considered the 'nuclear option' in the Texas House to cut off amendments after several hours of debate and many amendments. This would ... cut off debate before even one single amendment was offered."As passed by the Senate, the property-tax bill would make any revenue growth exceeding 4 percent the automatic trigger for cities, counties and other non-school taxing districts to hold rate-rollback elections. Currently, the local government entities may raise up to 8 percent more revenue each year without danger of an election. If they go over, opponents must circulate petitions to trigger the rollback election. The House Ways and Means panel rewrote it so the rollback elections would be automatic but only triggered if revenue growth exceeds 6 percent. Also, community colleges and very small cities and counties would not be affected, and the tighter revenue caps wouldn't apply for three years after a major disaster.House leaders feared that on the floor Saturday, they would lose control of the bill -- much as they did a "sanctuary cities" bill on immigration enforcement last spring.  Continue reading...

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