Legislative Update: Gov. Abbott Has a Veto Tantrum, Senate Sets Paxton Impeachment Trial Rules

Seeking Leverage on Vouchers & Property Tax Relief, Gov. Abbott Has a Veto Tantrum

Sunday was the last day for Gov. Greg Abbott to exercise his veto authority, stopping any bills passed during the regular session from becoming law. In an attempt to punish certain legislators who did not vote for private school vouchers or his preferred property tax relief plan, Abbott vetoed 76 bills passed by the Legislature, a record high during his tenure in office.

After a bill is passed by the Legislature, the governor has until the 20th day after the Legislature adjourns to sign or veto a bill. If the governor does not sign or veto a bill, then the bill becomes law without his signature. 

Typically, a short statement from the governor about why he believes the bill should be vetoed is included in a bill’s veto proclamation. Instead, the veto proclamations for many bills that were vetoed this session included the sentences, “At this time, the Legislature must concentrate on delivering property tax cuts to Texans,” or “This bill can be reconsidered at a future special session only after education freedom is passed,” despite the fact that many of the bills he vetoed had nothing to do with property taxes or education.

As we have covered in previous editions of the Hotline, the Texas Senate has refused to pass Abbott’s preferred property tax relief plan, instead opting for its own plan to allocate $12 billion in property tax relief. Abbott brought the Senate back for a special session, yet the special session still remains in limbo as the Senate still refuses to adopt Abbott’s property tax relief plan. 

Abbott citing this disagreement in his veto proclamations is a clear indication that he intends to bully the Senate to get his way on property taxes, opting for the stick instead of the carrot. Of the 76 bills vetoed by the governor, 54 of them are Senate bills. Of the 54 Senate bills vetoed, the governor specifically cited disagreements over property tax relief as his reason in the veto proclamations for 45 of them (or 80%).

While the Texas House quickly acquiesced to the governor’s plan for providing property tax relief during the first special session, the House remains opposed to private school vouchers (“education freedom,” according to Abbott). While the Senate passed a voucher bill early in the regular session and even went so far as to derail a school funding bill by tacking on a voucher, the House never caved to the pressure from the governor on the issue of private school vouchers.

Of the 22 House bills vetoed, nine (or 41%) of the governor’s veto proclamations mentioned “education freedom” as a reason for the veto. Of the 24 House Republicans who voted against vouchers in the Texas budget, 12 of them (50%) had bills that they either authored or sponsored vetoed by the governor. 

Despite Texas House members’ strongly stated opposition to vouchers, Abbott has stated his intention to call a special session to take up the issue of vouchers, likely in September. It is unclear whether Abbott’s strategy of bullying members of his own party will help him win the voucher votes he desires.

Of the 76 bills vetoed, only 18 (24%) veto proclamations included no mention of vouchers or property tax relief. 

Unsurprisingly, Abbott’s vetoes sparked the ire of legislators. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who has been publicly feuding with the governor over property tax relief for weeks, chimed in on Twitter to attack Abbott for his thinly veiled attempt to bully the Legislature.

Most of the bills that were vetoed did not significantly affect public education (which is unsurprising considering so few positive public education bills passed during the regular session.) One bill that would have improved higher education in Texas, SB 200 by Sen. Sarah Eckhardt (D-Austin), was vetoed by the governor who cited the lack of property tax relief as the reason in the veto proclamation. This bill would have made it easier for students to receive an “academic fresh start” after struggling academically and leaving an institute of higher education 

The vast majority of the bills were not considered controversial and received strong bipartisan support. Despite the fact that these bills received overwhelming support when they were passed by the Legislature, legislators have no recourse to override the governor’s veto. 

Gubernatorial vetoes can only be overridden during the session in which they passed. Because most of these bills were vetoed after the Legislature adjourned Sine Die, the Legislature had no opportunity to override the governor’s veto. Two-thirds of both the House and Senate could override a veto, but the governor typically waits until after the session has adjourned to issue his vetoes in order to avoid such a possibility.

Senate Sets Paxton Impeachment Trial Rules

While the Texas Senate remains locked in a special session stalemate with the governor and House over their dueling property tax relief plans, senators have also begun to set rules for the impeachment trial for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. 

After the House approved 20 articles of impeachment against Paxton during the final days of the regular session, Paxton was temporarily removed from office and will now stand trial before the Texas Senate. If the Senate votes to convict Paxton, he will be permanently removed from office. If the Senate votes to acquit Paxton, he will be reinstated as attorney general. A two-thirds vote is required to convict Paxton.

The 29 pages of trial rules adopted by the Senate by a 25-3 vote lay out a process that is similar to standard courtroom procedure, with each side being given 24 hours to present their case before the Senate, which would act as the jury.

Sen. Angela Paxton, Ken Paxton’s wife, will sit on his jury, but the rules prohibit her from voting on any issues and from participating in any deliberations on whether he should be convicted or acquitted. Because she is still sitting on the jury, however, her presence keeps the two-thirds threshold for conviction at 21. Had she been removed from the jury instead of prohibited from casting a ballot, the threshold would have been lowered to 20 votes.

The trial rules state that Paxton’s trial must begin on or before Sept. 5.

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