Texas Legislature concludes its third special session with a flurry of bills passed
On Tuesday, the Texas Legislature adjourned sine die, putting an end to a packed third special session. The primary focus was redrawing district maps for Texas’ State Board of Education, Senate, House, and U.S. Congress—all of which passed—but Gov. Greg Abbott also added several other items to the agenda. Passed legislation also included bills that discriminated against transgender student athletes, appropriated federal stimulus money, funded an opportunity for a “premium holiday” for TRS healthcare, provided a tax break to homeowners, and increased funding to institutes of higher education across Texas.
Redistricting complete, but faces legal action
All four redistricting maps have been continuously attacked throughout the process for underrepresenting voters of color. MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) filed suit against the state on all four maps on behalf of individual voters and a coalition of Latino organizations committed to securing fair redistricting plans. The lawsuit asks the federal court to toss out the new maps because the maps are unconstitutional and violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. According to the complaint, the new maps for Congress, and the Texas House, Senate, and State Board of Education do not reflect the growth of the Latino community.
Lawmakers carve up billions in federal pandemic aid, with possible ‘premium holidays’ for TRS retiree healthcare members
The Legislature also passed SB 8, which appropriates federal stimulus funds given to Texas as part of the American Rescue Plan. SB 8 appropriates over $286 million to the Teachers Retirement System of Texas to offset COVID-19 costs. TRS is considering creating a premium holiday for a certain number of months in which eligible retirees would not pay TRS-Care premiums. The funds will also be used to reduce additional premium increases for TRS-ActiveCare members that otherwise could have occurred in the 2022-2023 plan year. More specific information on TRS-Care and TRS-ActiveCare plan premiums will likely become available this December.
The bill also allocates more than $7.2 billion to the state’s unemployment compensation fund, which was overwhelmed with claims last year during the pandemic.
Transgender sports bill passes as President Biden calls it “bullying disguised as legislation”
In a huge blow to LGBTQ+ students and activists across the state, the Legislature finally passed HB 25, which would discriminate against transgender student athletes. The bill would prevent transgender students from competing in sports with their own gender group. This bill and similar bills filed across the country have caused the issue to gain national attention. The Biden White House released a statement this week condemning the passage of HB 25 and calling that bill and similar bills like it “bullying disguised as legislation.” At least five state legislatures across the country have also passed similar bills.
Voters will decide on property tax break with homestead exemption increase
Voters will have the last word in May 2022 on property tax changes that sailed through both chambers Monday. Passed unanimously, SJR 2 would raise the state homestead exemption from $25,000 to $40,000 for school property taxes, saving the average homeowner about $176 in savings, according to the bill’s author, Sen. Paul Bettencourt.
After lawmakers were unable to agree on other forms of property tax relief—including one-time rebates to homeowners—lawmakers immediately fast-tracked the homestead exemption proposal. The Senate passed the proposal without hearing from a single member of the public before the language was publicly available, with the House passing the bill later in the evening.
If approved by voters, the constitutional amendment would cost the state about $600 million annually. Bettencourt said the amendment would be paid from state surpluses the first year. However, it is not clear how the measure would be paid for in the future.
College campuses get a funding boost for renovation, construction
In the last week of the special session, the Legislature passed a bill authorizing the issuance of $3.3 billion in tuition revenue bonds for institutions of higher education to finance construction projects. While these “tuition revenue” bonds are the primary mechanism for funding university capital projects, the Legislature had not passed a package since 2015.
Note: At press time, special session bills passed still await the governor’s action with his signature for approval, no action taken for approval, or a veto.
What failed to pass
Two of the governor’s agenda items that did not pass the legislature were bills to increase penalties for illegally voting—or making honest mistakes when voting—and to block COVID-19 vaccine mandates for all entities in Texas. Although no legislation was passed to prohibit COVID-19 vaccine mandates, the governor had already released an executive order blocking these mandates, and the legal fight over that issue is ongoing. Even without these two agenda items passing, it currently seems unlikely that the Legislature will enter a fourth special session any time soon. On Wednesday, a spokesperson for Abbott stated that “there is no need for another special session at this time.”
2021 constitutional amendment election in Texas: What you need to know
On November 2, Texans will have an opportunity to vote on eight propositions that would amend the state constitution and change state law.
Early voting started Monday and runs to Friday, October 29. Election day is November 2. Election Day voting hours are 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at all polling places statewide.
Ballot Propositions & Language
Relating to Gambling Authorizes professional sports team charitable organizations to conduct raffles at rodeo venues
Relating to Bond issues Authorizes a county to issue bonds to fund infrastructure and transportation projects in undeveloped and blighted areas
Relating to Religion Amends the Texas Constitution to prohibit the state or any political subdivision from enacting a law, rule, order, or proclamation that limits religious services or organizations
Relating to the State judiciary Changes the eligibility requirements for the following judicial offices: a justice of the supreme court, a judge of the court of criminal appeals, a justice of a court of appeals, and a district judge
Relating to the State judiciary Authorizes the Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct to accept and investigate complaints and reports against candidates running for state judicial office
Regarding Healthcare and Constitutional rights Amends the Texas Constitution to state that residents of nursing facilities, assisted living facilities, or state-supported living centers have a right to designate an essential caregiver that may not be prohibited from visiting the resident
Relating to Taxes Amends the Texas Constitution to allow the legislature to extend a homestead tax limit for surviving spouses of disabled individuals as long as the spouse is 55 years old and resides at the home
Relating to Taxes and Veterans Amends the Texas Constitution to allow the legislature to apply a homestead tax exemption for surviving spouses of members of the military to those fatally injured in the line of duty
Broad coalition forms to oppose Austin ballot measure that could bankrupt the city
Some 115 organizations—including the Texas AFL-CIO, which Texas AFT is affiliated with—have joined to oppose Proposition A, an Austin ballot measure that would use a “random number” to specify how many police officers should be hired.
While the Prop A measure is Austin-specific, a recent law passed by the Legislature in the spring could make similar ballot measures in other cities a significant threat to city budgets and operations statewide. That law prohibits many municipalities from ever decreasing the amounts budgeted to policing, meaning that if cities are forced to hire exorbitant levels of officers, they can’t legally make adjustments to lower them.
Prop A mandates the city hire 2 police officers for every 1,000 residents, a number police officials called “meaningless” and “random.” (Austin currently is at 1.8 officers per thousand.) City officials estimate the measure would cost from $50 million to $120 million a year, forcing cuts to other services like paramedics and firefighters. Austin passed a record-high police budget this year and initiated two new training academies to address staffing shortages. You can find out more about the fight against this harmful ballot measure at No Way on Prop A.
Pol. Adv. paid for by Texas AFT.
‘Summer’ is ready to help you tackle student loan debt after AFT’s lawsuit victory
In a previous Hotline we told you about AFT’s landmark legal victory opening a new pathway to erasing student loan debt.
What you need to do now to get help from the AFT:
- Sign up for AFT notifications now at Summer, an AFT member benefit that helps you navigate the loan forgiveness/reduction process. Scroll down to the enter-your-email-address box here and we’ll notify you as soon as you can apply.
- AFT members can sign up for a free account with Summer here.
- If you’re not an AFT member yet, be sure to sign up today here (Texas) or here (other locations).
Bridges Institute offers Mindfulness Essentials series
The Bridges Institute will be hosting the Mindfulness Essentials series via Zoom next month. The series started on Wednesday and will continue each Wednesday from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., throughout the months of September and October. These free instructive webinars will help participants better understand their mind and emotions. CPE credit will be issued per hour of participation. Sign up for the webinars here.
In addition to the instructive webinars, The Bridges Institute will also host weekly practice sessions in which participants can take part in guided meditation. These sessions begin September 20 and occur on subsequent Mondays, from 6:15 p.m. to 6:45 p.m., throughout the months of September and October. Sign up for the practice sessions here.