SENATE BEGINS DEBATE ON SPECIAL SESSION AGENDA
(AUSTIN) — After three days of weekend hearings, the Senate on Monday began to debate and vote on issues placed on the agenda for the 30-day session by Governor Greg Abbott.
The Senate gave tentative approval to a school finance reform bill that would create a system by which children with disabilities can apply for and receive money to attend private schools. SB 2, by Friendswood Senator Larry Taylor, would fund that program through donations to non-profit organizations from insurance companies in exchange for tax credits. Students with disabilities could receive up to $10,000 per year to pay for private school tuition. It would also allow students with disabilities who stay in public school to apply for smaller $500 grants to pay for approved academic expenses, like tutoring, transportation and instructional materials. The fund would be capped at $75 million per year.
The bill also contains $212 million in additional educational spending. Most of that money goes towards offsetting revenue lost in 2006. Until now, the state has made up the difference in revenue caused by the 2006 property tax cut, but that fund is set to expire in September. $150 million in SB 2 would go towards helping districts that still rely on those funds to pay for expenses while a more permanent school finance system reform is considered in upcoming sessions. The remaining money goes towards facilities funding for traditional and charter public schools
Also Monday, the Senate gave initial approval to its major property tax reform plan for the special session in the form of SB 1, by Houston Senator Paul Bettencourt. Current law allows for taxpayers to petition for a rollback election if a property taxing entity raises levies by more than eight percent in a year. Bettencourt's bill would cut that threshold in half to four percent and would make rollback elections automatic, rather than subject to a petition drive. The bill would also move rollback elections to the uniform election date in November and create a statewide deadline for tax protests on May 15. Finally, the measure seeks to increase transparency in notification and make property tax arbitration more taxpayer friendly. Under an amendment offered by Senator Charles Perry of Lubbock, small taxing jurisdictions with less than $20 million in sales and property tax revenue would be exempt from the rollback threshold in the bill, but could hold an election to opt-in.
The Senate tentatively passed another four bills on Monday. They are:
- SB 17 by Senator Lois Kolkhorst of Brenham, which seeks to improve rates of maternal mortality and morbidity in Texas by directing the Department of State Health Services to research and develop recommendations for policies to address the problem.
- SB 10 by Senator Donna Campbell of New Braunfels, would require that facilities that provide abortions report any complications from the procedure to state health agencies within 30 days, and doctors who perform abortions to report complications within 72 hours.
- SB 73 by Senator Bryan Hughes of Mineola, which would require that in the case of abortions where the mother is a minor, providers must report whether parental consent or judicial bypass permitted the procedure.
- SB 16 by Senator Larry Taylor of Friendswood, would create the Texas Commission on Public School Finance in order to research, recommend policy changes, and consider new methods of paying for public schools in Texas.
All six bills will still have to face a final vote on Tuesday before they head to the House. The Senate will reconvene Tuesday, July 25 at 10 a.m.