Property taxes, school vouchers and trans health care on minds of Texas lawmakers

The Texas Legislature convenes on Jan. 10.

Property taxes, school vouchers and trans health care on minds of Texas lawmakers

From property taxes to school vouchers, the agenda for the coming Texas legislative session is taking shape as bills are filed in preparation for January.

The opening of bill filing in the weeks ahead of the Legislative session prompts the biannual filing of hundreds of bills spanning the policy gambit. Most will never become law. Generally, legislation must pass through committees in both the House and Senate and on the House and Senate floor before heading to Gov. Greg Abbott's desk — a process that is further bottle-necked by limitations on when bills can be heard in the full chamber and other procedural maneuvers and rules.

Since the start of bill filing on Nov. 14, hundreds of legislative proposals have been made. The filing deadline is March 10.

The Texas Legislature convenes on Jan. 10.

Property taxes are top of mind for many as lawmakers return to Austin. Rates are set locally, but the state is looking at ways of cutting property taxes — particularly in light of the state's at least $27 billion surplus. Dozens of bills related to property taxes have already been filed.

Among the proposals:

House Bill 29 (Andrew Murr, R-Junction): The bill would eliminate school districts' maintenance and operations tax and create an interim committee tasked with examining the effectiveness of using new consumption taxes — taxes on goods and services — to fund public schools.

House Bill 610 (Rep. Richard Peña Raymond, D-Laredo): The bill calls for a temporary $360,000 homestead exemption.

Property tax relief was a common topic of bills filed by Tarrant County lawmakers. Bills related to property taxes include proposals to cap increases in home appraisals filed by Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, a Southlake Republican, and incoming state Rep. Nate Schatzline, a Republican replacing Rep. Matt Krause, who did not seek reelection.

Fort Worth Republican Craig Goldman has filed a bill to repeal franchise tax.

Vouchers haven't seen success in past sessions, with opposition that has included rural Republicans. But Abbott has signaled support for school choice, which could move the needle.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said he thinks 'the time has come' for vouchers in an interview on Spectrum New 1's Capitol Tonight.

Bills include a proposal by incoming senator, Republican Rep. Mayes Middleton of Wallisville, to create the 'Texas Parental Empowerment Program,' allowing participants to receive state funds for education at private schools.

Last legislative session, lawmakers advocated for a number of bills restricting transgender children's access to gender-affirming health care, but they ultimately did not become law. Legislators did approve a measure barring transgender public school athletes from competing on a sports team consistent with their gender identity.

Bills aimed at restricting gender-affirming health care access are again being proposed ahead of the 2023 session. Legislative proposals include making it a felony or revoking the medical license of doctors who perform gender-affirming surgery or prescribe puberty blockers to a person younger than 18. Another would fold such medical treatment into the definition of child abuse.

The session comes amid debates over what library material is appropriate for students, with some parents and lawmakers taking aim at 'pornographic' material in books and calling for parental choice in public schools. Many of the books targeted are about LGBTQ issues. A bill filed by Rep. Tom Oliverson, a Cypress Republican, would require books sold to schools to have content ratings, similar to those in films.

Tarrant County is represented by five senators and 11 House representatives. In addition to a slew of property tax bills, legislation filed by the lawmakers include:

Senate Bill 140 (Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas): Addresses the procedures for issuing a no knock warrant and the authority of judges to issue a no knock warrant.

House Bill 140 (Rep. Stephanie Klick, R-Fort Worth): Authorizes assistance for student loan payments for nurses working in long-term care facilities.

House Bill 382 (Rep. Nicole Collier, D- Fort Worth): Would shield people caught with a consumable product that contains marijuana that the person thought was legal consumable hemp from being convicted of marijuana possession.

House Bill 660 (Rep. David Cook, R-Mansfield): Law enforcement agencies would be required to enter notice of a protective order into its computer records of outstanding warrants.

House Bill 307 (Rep. Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth): Increases the penalty for illegal voting from a class A misdemeanor to a second degree felony. Attempting to vote illegally would be a state jail felony.

House Bill 611 (Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake): Make it a crime to post on a public website a person's home address or telephone number with the intent of harm or to threatened harm.

House Bill 1007 (Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie): Prohibits the carrying of firearms and other weapons in certain facilities caring for those with an intellectual or developmental disability.

Five Tarrant County lawmakers — Sens. Kelly Hancock, Tan Parker and Brian Birdwell and Reps. Salman Bhojani and Tony Tinderholt — hadn't filed any bills as of the morning of Dec. 23. They still have a couple of months to get proposals in, including once the Legislature has convened.

Other bills include pushes to to expand gambling and marijuana use, eliminate the 'tampon tax' and a proposal to make Austin its own district, similar to Washington, D.C.

SJR 17 (Sen. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston): The joint resolution would let voters decide whether to bring destination resort-style casino gambling to Texas.

House Bill 714 (Rep. Jared Patterson, R-Frisco): Would turn the city of Austin into the 'District of Austin' and establish legislative oversight for the area.

House Bill 521 (Rep. Briscoe Cain, R- Deer Park): Would allow pregnant drivers use HOV lanes, even if no one else is in the car with them.

Multiple bills (House Bill 70 by Donna Howard, R-Austin; House Bill 510 by Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston; and Senate Bill 128 by Sen. Drew Springer, R-Muenster) have been filed to exempt menstrual products from sales tax.

The legislature could also debate abortion policy after the overturning of Roe v. Wade. Texas' abortion law prohibits virtually all abortions. Bills have been filed to allow abortions in cases of rape and incest. Another bill would bar businesses that assist an employee in getting an abortion, including by covering costs for travel, from receiving tax incentives.