AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Nearly two weeks into the first of a promised several special sessions by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, there are no signs of breaking the impasse on property taxes. In fact, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick appears to be digging in.
“That’s a negotiation that we are not backing down from ever,” said Patrick at a news conference he called to mark a week into the special session.
The same day, at a separate event, Abbott reiterated his commitment to his competing plan, the same plan supported by Speaker of the House Dade Phelan. The House passed it, and immediately adjourned from the special session a day after the Governor called everyone back.
Abbott wants the legislature to spend $17.6 billion on lowering school district property tax rates, “solely by reducing the school district maximum compressed tax rate.” That strategy, known as compression, simply gives school districts more money in return for lower tax rates.
“If you’re going to eliminate all property taxes, you have no money left to do anything,” Patrick told reporters earlier in the week. “There would be no funding for education, no funding for health care, no funding for law enforcement.”
At his event, Patrick shared data from the Legislative Budget Board showing the state would need to make up for more than $73 billion per year in other revenue sources without school district property taxes. Alternate sources of revenue for the state come mostly from sales tax revenue, along with streams coming from the oil production taxes, motor vehicle sales, insurance taxes and more. He also invited Abbott to a “Lincoln-Douglas” style debate.
The plan Patrick champions in the Senate would prioritize homeowners over business property. He wants to offer some tax compression in addition to raising the homestead exemption to $100,000. The homestead exemption refers to the amount of your home’s value you can deduct from the taxable value.
“I’ll call special session after special session after special session until the solution is reached,” Abbott said.
For now, when the next special session call will be released, seems to depend on the man holding the gavel in the Senate.
With lieutenant governor’s signature, ‘dead suspect’ bill sent for governor’s final review
While the mystery surrounding a missing transparency measure at the Texas Capitol remains, the attention it grabbed in recent days – from state lawmakers, frustrated families and open records advocates nationwide – ensured any movement to advance House Bill 30 would not go unnoticed. On Tuesday, Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick finally signed the legislation, ending what he has essentially explained as an inadvertent organizational delay.
“That’s a whole long story,” Patrick told reporters when asked about the holdup Tuesday afternoon during a press conference. “It will take care of itself before you know it.”
As the Senate prepared to reconvene for its special session work that evening, those stakeholders had been waiting to see if Patrick would sign the “dead suspect loophole” legislation overwhelmingly passed by both chambers nine days earlier in the final stretch of the regular session. His signature is required in the Texas Constitution, and his House counterpart – Republican Speaker Dade Phelan – had already signed off more than a week before.
A Senate journal clerk previously told KXAN, following Phelan’s signature, HB 30 never made it to the upper chamber – which would have been the final step before being sent to Republican Gov. Greg Abbott for review ahead of becoming law. Of more than 1,240 bills passed by lawmakers in the regular session, this was the only one that had yet to go to the governor’s desk, as first reported by KXAN.
Phelan’s communications director, Cait Wittman, called HB 30 one of the speaker’s “many legislative priorities” – leaving those anxiously watching for an update to wonder whether the measure had become fallout from recent high-profile policy disagreements between Texas’ top leaders.
“It’s even more clear now that they lied and tried to blame it on us,” Wittman told KXAN Tuesday, indicating a belief the holdup was political.
After Phelan signed off, records KXAN obtained from the House’s chief clerk through a public information request indicate HB 30 was among several bills prepared on May 29 – the final day of the regular session when property tax squabbles were already threatening a special session. It was then to be delivered to the Senate for Patrick’s signature.
But a source close to the process said legislative staff discovered it missing the next day as they readied that batch of bills for the governor. Phelan then signed a certified replacement copy, and records show that version was received by the Senate secretary on May 30. A week later, Patrick had yet to sign either version of the bill.
However, during that Tuesday press conference, Patrick gave the first public account of where the original copy of the bill might have gone when he indicated becoming aware of a “deal in the works” at the end of the regular session: if the House passed a certain Senate bill, the Senate would pass HB 30.
“(House members) killed our bill,” Patrick said, adding that he later “stuck (HB 30) on my podium, and it’s been there the last five days.”
Patrick also said HB 30 was “always intended to be signed.”
“(The House) played games there and killed that Senate bill after we passed HB 30 – otherwise, I wouldn’t have even pulled it out of the stack. I just wanted to see what it was about,” Patrick closed, minutes before the bill’s status was updated online to “Signed in the Senate, Sent to the Governor.” “Let’s just say it’s been done, okay?”
“I don’t mind waiting another week for the bill to come to the governor as long as Texas families don’t have to wait any longer for the answers they deserve,” Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, the bill’s author, told KXAN. “I appreciate Speaker Phelan making it a priority to shine a light on something that should never be in the dark in a free society.”
Moody had filed similar legislation every regular session since 2017, aiming unsuccessfully to close the state’s “dead suspect loophole.” It relates to an exception in the Texas Public Information Act giving law enforcement discretion to withhold details in closed criminal cases when the suspect does not go through the court process.
While that point was put in place to protect the privacy of people wrongfully accused of crimes, open records advocates say it had an unintended consequence of keeping information about a person who dies in custody secret permanently – because that person will never have a chance to go to court. KXAN has investigated the loophole’s widespread use for years, as police agencies have used it broadly across Texas to keep evidence from journalists, lawyers and families.
Though it faced heavy opposition from police unions over the years, the measure to close the loophole gained strong bipartisan support following the Uvalde school shooting in 2022 that left 19 elementary students and two teachers dead. There were fears officials would cite that legal exemption since the shooter had also died, preventing families from getting answers about possible law enforcement inaction. That concern led Phelan to become an early supporter before Moody re-filed the bill – one of the few pieces of Uvalde-related policy lawmakers eventually passed in the regular session.
“More than anything, the families of the #Uvalde victims need honest answers and transparency. Period,” Phelan tweeted shortly after the shooting. “It would be absolutely unconscionable to use the ‘dead suspect loophole’ to thwart the release of information that is so badly needed and deserved right now. I think it’s time we pass legislation to end the dead suspect loophole for good in 2023.”
The governor has until June 18 to sign or veto the remaining legislation lawmakers passed – including HB 30. If neither action is taken, it will become law without his signature.
Paxton legal team publicly attacks impeachment process
The court of public opinion now has the opening statements from the defense team of impeached Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. His team, headlined by prominent Houston attorney Tony Buzbee, chose to make their statement from the Republican Party of Texas’ Austin headquarters.
“What can be described as only a drive-by shooting, on a holiday weekend, to politically assassinate one of the leading conservative voices not only in Texas, but the United States,” said Buzbee. “The impeachment articles that have been laid out by the House are baloney.”
“There was no due process before the House,” Cogdell said.
The pair called it rushed and secretive. Lawmakers allied with Paxton mounted similar complaints in May. However, 60 of the House’s 85 Republicans, including Speaker Dade Phelan, voted to impeach. The full vote was 121-23. This marked only the third time a state official faced impeachment in Texas history.
Catch up on our coverage:
- House impeachment managers name attorneys for Paxton trial
- Attorney: ‘Ken Paxton will never, never be convicted’ in Senate impeachment trial
- Potential impeachment looms over AG Ken Paxton after investigative hearing
- What we know about possible impeachment against Attorney General Ken Paxton
- What do the 20 Articles of Impeachment against Ken Paxton mean?
- How does the impeachment process work in Texas?
The impeachment trial in the Texas Senate is set to begin no later than Aug. 28.
“If we’re really going to have a trial, it’s going to take a lot longer than that,” Buzbee said.
The trial date start, as well as a June 20 Senate meeting to consider trial rules, were set by a Senate vote.
Paxton has been under FBI investigation for years over accusations by members of his own staff that he used his office to help a donor. He was separately indicted on securities fraud charges in 2015, though he has yet to stand trial. Paxton has denied the allegations against him.
The Texas House retained Dick DeGuerin and Rusty Hardin to present the impeachment case in the Senate trial. Both have become practically as recognizable in courtrooms as the politicians and famous figures they have represented over decades in Texas.
“We’ve each prosecuted Republicans, we have each defended Republicans, we’ve prosecuted Democrats, we have defended Democrats,” said Hardin, speaking to State of Texas correspondents. ”I think we go where the evidence takes us and where we have a client that we want to represent, in this case [it] is the state of Texas House of Representatives. And I think we owe that to the community at large to when somebody in public service like that calls, I think we should always find time to step in.”
“This is not a criminal trial,” said DeGuerin. “This is a trial to assure the people of Texas have an honest Attorney General.”
Potentially coloring the case further, is the arrest of Austin real estate developer, Nate Paul.
Paul is at the center of the allegations against Paxton, including claims he bribed the attorney general by paying for renovations to his Austin home. He has also denied the allegations against him. But the day after Paxton’s legal defense team first held a news conference, Paul was booked into the Travis County jail on a hold for the FBI.
Lawyers for Paul did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The FBI declined comment as well.
LBJ’s family reflects on Voting Rights Act legacy
The historic events of August 6, 1965, remains burned clearly in the mind of Luci Baines Johnson.
“I saw some of the great civil rights leaders of my time standing around a very small desk,” said Johnson. “And I saw some of the leaders of the Congress standing there, too. And I knew in my youth this was a moment of all moments, and I should take it and treasure it.”
She recounted that day recently, while sitting at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library in Austin, Texas. On that day in 1965, she accompanied her father, President Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ), to Congress for the signing of the Voting Rights Act. She called “daddy duty,” meaning “I was supposed to accompany him to important occasions.”
Knowing a trip to Capitol Hill would take more time than she anticipated, she asked why.
“‘We are going to Congress because there are going to be some courageous men and women who may not be returning to Congress because of the stand they have taken on voting rights,’” she recalled her father telling her. ”‘And there are going to be some extraordinary men and women who will be able to come to the Congress because of this great day. That’s why we’re going to Congress.’”
It would become one of LBJ’s defining moments and acts of his presidency. Now decades later, she fears what will happen to that law. Johnson said she was saddened in 2013 when the Supreme Court released its ruling in Shelby County v. Holder, which essentially ended a provision of the Voting Rights Act mandating the way states were included on the list of those needing to get advance approval for voting-related changes.
“I cried because I knew what was coming. I knew that there were parts of this country, including my home state, my father’s home state, that would take advantage of the fact that there would no longer be an opportunity to have the federal government ensure that everyone in the community had the right and equal access to the voting booth,” she said.
Her interview took place before the Supreme Court issued a ruling on another core provision of the Voting Rights Act. A 5-4 court majority sided with plaintiffs who had argued that Alabama’s congressional maps diluted the influence of Black voters.
Johnson said she wants to continue fighting to protect voting rights and maintain her father’s legacy.
“I don’t want to get to heaven one day, and I hope I do, and have to say to my father, it was gutted to death on my watch,” she said.
New border laws, defenses, and realities along the Rio Grande
While the special session ground to a halt when the Texas House of Representatives decided to adjourn early, the state is not waiting for the next session to beef up security along the Mexican border.
In fact, Abbott used a bill signing this week to float an idea to Texans many had probably never even thought of to stop illegal crossings of the Rio Grande.
Abbott said a “new, water-based barrier of buoys” will be installed at the Texas border immediately.
“These buoys will allow us to prevent people from even getting to the border,” Abbott said.
Images of the concept were displayed on each side of a table where Abbott sat. Colonel Steven McCraw, Director of the Department of Public Safety, and Adjutant General of Texas Thomas Suelzer, joined him at the press conference. One image showed someone attempting to get over the barriers.
“The bottom line is [Texas] Border Patrol is already working on this. This was something that border patrol had already looked at, designed and even tested,” McCraw said.
McCraw also revealed the state will deploy the first 1,000 feet of buoys in Maverick County’s Eagle Pass in July. McCraw added the buoys can be deployed quickly and are movable. 1,000 feet of these buoys costs a little under $1 million.
The governor’s proclamation for the Special Session included “Legislation solely for the purpose of increasing or enhancing the penalties for certain criminal conduct involving the smuggling of persons or the operation of a stash house.”
However, with only the Senate currently in session, there’s no chance of movement on that agenda item at the moment. It was a keynote legislation he called for during his State of the State address. The main border security proposal Abbott had mentioned was creating a “mandatory minimum jail sentence of at least 10 years for anyone caught smuggling illegal immigrants in Texas.”
Lawmakers set aside more than $5 billion for border security in the regular session, in part for Operation Lone Star. Abbott used his event this week to sign six bills related to border security and training passed in the 88th Legislature. These included giving the Texas military department full authority to use drones at the border.
“Texas is no longer ground zero. For this crisis, Texas is a stronghold,” said Suelzer.