AUSTIN — Gov. Greg Abbott named as his emergency priorities education reform, teacher pay, school safety, property tax reform, mental health services and disaster response in his Feb. 5 "State of the State" address to a joint session of the Texas Legislature.
The House and Senate may schedule committee hearings on bills related to items on the governor's priority list before the 60th day of the legislative session, which hits on March 8. Consideration of all other legislation must wait until after that date, except for House Bill 2 and Senate Bill 2 — the state budget — which is already in the works.
Abbott gave lawmakers something to cheer about when he said, "When you combine our legislative accomplishments with our record-breaking prosperity, you have elevated Texas to rarified status and I am proud to tell you that the state of Texas has never been better."
Abbott touched on a number of other issues that need attention and funding, such as Hurricane Harvey recovery and disaster readiness, law enforcement and public safety, border security, mental health and services for military veterans.
In a news release, Abbott pointed out that half of the issues on his list "deal directly with public education, more if you count property tax reform, which is inextricably linked with school finance."
Tax panel receives input
The Senate Property Tax Committee on Feb. 6 held its first public hearing of the 86th session of the Texas Legislature to consider SB 2, a proposal to cap local property tax growth at 2.5 percent for most taxing entities and automatic ratification elections if an entity wishes to exceed the cap. There is an exemption in the bill for entities that take in less than $15 million in revenue per annum.
“We're going to solve this problem,” said Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, author of the bill. "We're going to be here until we do." Bettencourt said property tax bills have pushed many homeowners out of their neighborhoods and kept many others from buying homes, and passing a state law to lower the rollback rate is a way to change what is happening locally.
Much of the testimony given by panel after panel of witnesses in the three-hour hearing was in favor of the cap. Testimony given in opposition to setting the cap at 2.5 percent mostly focused on the potential of negative outcomes the low cap might cause, such as cutbacks in needed services and a reduction in local control.
Hegar distributes revenue
Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar on Feb. 6 announced he would send cities, counties, transit systems and special purpose taxing districts $953.9 million in local sales tax allocations for February.
The amount is 4.6 percent more than the amount returned to governmental bodies in February 2018.
These allocations are based on sales made in December by businesses that report tax monthly; October, November and December sales by quarterly filers; and 2018 sales by businesses that report tax annually.
Revenue total increases
Comptroller Hegar on Feb. 4 announced state sales tax revenue totaled $2.8 billion in January, an amount 6 percent greater than the total reported in January 2018.
Growth in sales tax collections was primarily due to continued strong spending in oil- and gas-related sectors. Collections from restaurants also grew, while those from retail trade were flat relative to a year ago, Hegar said.
Measles: new cases reported
Seven measles cases have been confirmed in Texas this year, according to information posted Feb. 7 by the Texas Department of State Health Services.
Measles is a contagious respiratory illness spread by contact with an infected person through coughing and sneezing.
Measles, a rash that begins as flat, red spots on the face, spreads down the neck and trunk to the rest of the body. Other symptoms include a high fever over 101 degrees, cough, runny nose and red, watery eyes. Anyone who believes they have measles should contact their health care provider as soon as possible, the DSHS said.
The DSHS and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend children get a dose of measles vaccine at 12-15 months of age and again at 4-6 years. The measles vaccine is about 97 percent effective after two doses. Children too young to be vaccinated or who have only had one dose of vaccine are more likely to get infected.
Ed Sterling is director of member services for the Texas Press Association.