WEEK IN REVIEW
SENATE, HOUSE CONTINUE TAX CUT NEGOTIATIONS
(Austin) — Members of the House and Senate continue to try to find a compromise between each chamber's preferred method of delivering billions in tax relief to Texans. The Senate has made property taxes a priority, passing a bill to provide more than $2 billion in tax cuts by raising the homestead exemption. The House is looking at reducing the sales tax to achieve roughly the same amount in tax cuts. Where they agree is on the state franchise tax; both chambers have passed plans to cut the franchise tax rate. Governor Greg Abbott has said he would not accept a budget that didn't include tax cuts, but he has largely stayed out of negotiations between the Senate and House. The state budget bill remains in conference committee as negotiators work on a compromise on that must-pass piece of legislation.
Though many of the bills relating to the session's top issues have already passed the Senate, lawmakers continued this week to work on passage of other key pieces of legislation. Monday, the Senate approved a bill that would protect the identities of pharmacies that supply drugs used by the state to execute prisoners. Senator Joan Huffman of Southside Place says that such pharmacies have faced harassment from anti-death penalty advocates, which could make obtaining the necessary drugs harder and harder. "I think it had a chilling effect on reputable pharmacies wanting to provide these compounds to the state of Texas and it's been very difficult for the state to procure these compounds," she said. Her bill, SB 1697, would exempt the identities of entities that supply, transport or manufacture execution drugs from disclosure under the Texas Public Information Act. The exemption is not automatic, and any requests for information made under the act would be vetted by the Attorney General to make sure that the information is indeed protected under the proposed law.
On Tuesday, the Senate passed two bills that intend to increase student safety at Texas public schools. The first of these, SB 1169 by New Braunfels Senator Donna Campbell, would add suicide awareness and prevention training to new teacher orientation training. "Educators are often in a position to notice warning signs in students before others," she said. The Texas Education Commission would also be required to develop a suicide prevention training program for current teachers.
The second bill is aimed at keeping teachers who are possible sexual predators from moving from school to school unnoticed. Senator Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa of McAllen said that the state is only notified of sexual misconduct by a teacher if there are criminal charges filed. In situations where parents decline to press charges or administrators simply fire the teacher, the Texas Education Agency has no idea that a possible sexual assault took place. Hinojosa's bill, SB 1058, would require schools to report to the TEA when they have strong evidence that sexual misconduct on the part of a teacher occurred, even if charges are not filed. "This would allow TEA to take enforcement action against the teacher and provide safety and protection to our students in our public school system," he said.
Both bills now head to the House for consideration.
The Senate will reconvene Monday, May 18 at 11 a.m.