85th Legislature to Reconvene July 18 for Special Session
Limiting Local Control Remains Front and Center
On June 6, Gov. Greg Abbott told lawmakers to prepare to return to Austin. For counties, this means taking a collective deep breath and prepping for round two in the battle to protect local control.
The governor’s call for a special session – a convening of state lawmakers outside the constitutionally mandated 140-day regular session – did not come as a surprise to most considering the contentious and divisive nature of round one.
Only the governor can call a special session, and only the governor can decide what issues will be addressed. After the Texas Senate ushers through a Sunset bill to keep five state agencies from shutting down – including the Texas Medical Board – Abbot said he will add 19 items to the call, several of which could have a profound impact on Texas counties.
“In addition to the revenue caps proposals under the guise of property tax reform, the governor will submit an issue to limit local government spending to population and inflation, regardless of the increases required by state unfunded mandates,” stated Jim Allison, general counsel for the County Judges and Commissioners Association of Texas (CJCAT).
The special session will begin on July 18, last up to 30 days, and address the following, as stated on the governor’s website, https://gov.texas.gov/news/post/governor-abbott-announces-special-session:
- Sunset legislation.
- Teacher pay increase of $1,000.
- Administrative flexibility in teacher hiring and retention practices.
- School finance reform commission.
- School choice for special needs students.
- Property tax reform.
- Caps on state and local spending.
- Preventing cities from regulating what property owners do with trees on private land.
- Preventing local governments from changing rules midway through construction projects.
- Speeding up local government permitting process.
- Municipal annexation reform.
- Texting while driving pre-emption.
- Prohibition of taxpayer dollars to collect union dues.
- Prohibition of taxpayer funding for abortion providers.
- Pro-life insurance reform.
- Strengthening abortion reporting requirements when health complications arise.
- Strengthening patient protections relating to do-not-resuscitate orders.
- Cracking down on mail-in ballot fraud.
- Extending maternal mortality task force.
Every legislative session has an issue or two that rises to the top, Allison offered during the North & East Association Conference, which took place during the final weeks of the regular legislative session. For example, law enforcement, water and education have surfaced in previous sessions. For the 85th Legislature, one overriding issue was the budget and the discrepancy between the Senate and House versions. Lawmakers passed Senate Bill 1 on May 27, appropriating $216.8 billion in total spending for the state’s budget during the 2018-19 biennium. Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar certified the budget on June 1.
“The other major issue developing in the session concerns the degree of control over local governments to be exercised by the state,” Allison continued during his conference presentation. “While counties are completely subject to legislative control, traditionally the Legislature has recognized the need to allow local discretion, particularly in budget matters. However, there has been a significant change in attitude among some state leaders toward dictating policies upon local governments and mandating services without funding.
“For example, Senate Bill 2, creating a 4 percent revenue cap with a mandatory referendum, is the most obvious intrusion into local responsibilities,” Allison elaborated in his conference legislative update. “Without relieving any part of the increasing cost of unfunded mandates, S.B. 2 would impose fiscal handcuffs on counties, relegating the Commissioners Court to solely funding mandated services. Transportation, law enforcement, mental health services and other local needs would be reduced and ignored to meet these artificial caps.”
During the press conference announcing the special session, Abbott referred specifically to S.B. 2 and called for its passage.
As during the regular session, the CJCAT will partner with other associations to monitor the special session and communicate county concerns to lawmakers. Allison will provide updates and calls to action on the County Judges listserv and the Commissioners Court listserv. Stay tuned.