Texas Legislature Update

By Jerry Strickland

The grind of the 88th Texas Legislative Session is reaching maximum churn as the biennial session moves closer to the finish line. With a month left to finish considering the 8,400+ pieces of legislation filed, the House and Senate both face quick deadlines to move legislation out of their respective bodies in the next two weeks, or those bills will officially be dead. It’s about this time of the Texas session when things become clear about what will move and what won’t.

What has moved? To put it plainly, the budget and most of the Texas Senate priority bills. What hasn’t? Two of the key pieces of legislation state leaders have talked about for years — property tax relief and school vouchers. More on that in a minute.

Just last week, conferees were selected to hammer out budget details between the House and the Senate version of the $308 billion budget. Those conferees will find agreement on some of the disparities between the House and Senate budgets, which both include a modest increase in spending, paid for by the $31 billion budget surplus state leaders have at their disposal.

While a good amount of focus has been on wedge issues like bills to address trans athletes, drag queen shows, and child gender reassignment surgeries, the Texas Legislature is moving through bills responding to the Texas power grid, Uvalde shooting, border security, healthcare, and economic development. Regarding economic development and Texas continuing to strengthen its already robust growth, businesses are closely watching the debate over House Bill 5. The Legislation is a priority for Speaker Dade Phelan and the Governor. It seeks to give Texas a replacement Economic Development program after the so-called Chapter 313 program was not authorized following the last legislative session. The program incentivized 600 business development projects in Texas by lowering school district taxes for those projects. After being discontinued in 2022, the program is being considered again, with some changes to who can qualify for the tax breaks. It’s something to watch in the waning days of this session as Texas tries to keep hold as the top state for business relocations and expansions.

Now back to those two big issues that haven’t moved as quickly as state leaders would like — property tax reform and school vouchers. The logjam is thanks to a vocal disagreement over which path to take on property tax reform. Lt. Governor Dan Patrick declared last week that the House approach is fundamentally wrong. You don’t have to look far to see how dug-in the Senate is, as they haven’t even referred the House-passed plan to a committee. Conversely, the House hasn’t been moving with lightning speed with the Senate-passed plan either. That impasse, plus the disagreement on school vouchers (a priority for both the Governor and Lt. Governor), has some folks whispering about a special session after the 88th gavels out. The Governor holds the ultimate power on whether to call legislators back, and he sets the agenda. Still, without these two items, chances are higher that summer plans may be stymied if no agreement can be reached.