87th LegislatureIssuesStatewide News16 Pre-Filed Bills Worth Watching as the 87th Legislative Session Approaches

Pre-legislative session bill filing has begun. Check out some notable legislation submitted in the first week.
November 12, 2020
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Pre-filing for the 87th Legislative Session began this week and, so far, 710 bills have been submitted by legislators. Below are some of the most notable.

Property Taxes

House Bill 35 – Rep. Valoree Swanson’s (R-Spring) legislation would institute a turnout requirement for a political subdivision to increase property taxes via voter approval. For a locality that wishes to raise the property tax rate above the limits set by Senate Bill 2 and HB 3 of 2019, the proposition must pass by a constituent vote in which more than 25 percent of registered voters cast ballots.

HB 59 – An elimination of school districts Maintenance & Operations (M&O) property tax rate is on the table with Rep. Andrew Murr’s (R-Junction) legislation. Independent school district (ISD) property taxes make up the lion’s share of a property owner’s tax burden, and the M&O rate is most often the largest contributor to an ISD’s tax rate.

The bill would also create a commission to facilitate the transition.

The Texan Mug

HB 529 – Appraisals are the other part of the property tax equation and despite limitations set last session, tax bills will continue to rise, especially as appraisals increase disproportionately to the taxpayer’s ability to pay. Rep. James White’s (R-Hillister) bill would cap year-to-year appraisal increases at 2.5 percent, as opposed to the current 10 percent limit.

Abortion

HB 44 – A stiffening of penalties for performing already outlawed abortion methods would be instituted by Rep. Swanson’s bill. For a physician who performs these types of abortions, a first offense would be a Second-degree felony, punishable by two to 20 years in prison, followed by a First-degree felony for multiple offenses. An offender convicted of the latter can be punished with a minimum of five years in jail, up to a life sentence.

A civil penalty of up to $30,000 would also be codified as well as the ability of a friend of the victim to file such a lawsuit.

Marijuana

House Joint Resolution 28 – A proposed constitutional amendment by Rep. Lyle Larson (R-San Antonio) would legalize medical marijuana in Texas. It reads, “The legislature by law shall authorize and regulate the possession, cultivation, and sale of cannabis for medical use in this state.”

If passed by the legislature and signed by the governor, Texas voters would have to approve the measure to cement it into the state constitution — the election for which is set for November 2, 2021.

Elections

HB 49 & HB 120 – This year’s general election was the first major election in which straight-ticket, or straight-party, voting was no longer in practice since the legislature eliminated the option. Rather than checking one box indicating “Democratic” or “Republican,” voters had to vote in each race for their preferred candidates.

Many Texas politicos were worried this would depress down-ballot voting, but this election saw vastly higher turnout in all races with a small 1.5 percent difference in votes cast for president and cast in the senate race. That increased to 2.8 percent comparing votes cast for president and those cast in the Railroad Commission race.

Reps. Art Fierro (D-El Paso) and Ron Reynolds (D-Missouri City) filed the two bills to reimplement the practice.

HB 134 – Rep. Terry Meza’s (D-Irving) legislation would require the Texas Secretary of State (SOS) to implement an online voter registration application process. Currently, voters can only register by mail or in person at a local registrar.

HB 221 – One of the big legal fights in Texas this year concerned mail-in voting and the current limitations therein. Only voters over the age of 65, that have a disability, or will be out of town on Election Day may request an absentee ballot. The Texas Democratic Party sued the state to expand that capability to all eligible voters under the pretense that a lack of immunity to coronavirus classifies as a “disability” within state code.

Those lawsuits failed, but Rep. Evelina Ortega’s (D-El Paso) prospective legislation would expand that ability to all eligible voters, similar to how early in-person voting is available to all registered voters.

HB 329 – Rep. Briscoe Cain (R-Houston) filed a bill that would require the SOS to purge noncitizen registered voters, who are not legally permitted to vote, from the rolls at least twice a year. To carry this out, the SOS would use the Department of Homeland Security’s database of noncitizen residents of the state and ensure they are also not registered to vote.

The law would also allow the SOS to audit county voter databases for any such instances.

Law Enforcement

Senate Bill 161 – After the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, which sparked nationwide protests and riots, a frequent call for reform has come regarding “qualified immunity” — a legalism that protects government officials, including police officers, from personal civic liability for violations of rights.

While proponents of the doctrine say it protects officers from frivolous lawsuits, opponents say it allows officers to avoid repercussions for violations they commit.

The bill by Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) substantially restricts qualified immunity, allowing citizens to bring forward suit against an alleged offense within two years of the incident. Additionally, it requires other officers to intervene when a colleague is committing a violation of the use of force.

There is a companion bill in the House authored by Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston).

HB 54 – Caught on Live PD, a popular reality television series, the death of Javier Ambler after an extensive car chase and officer’s use of tasers brought national attention to Williamson County. The sheriff has since been indicted for evidence tampering, a charge of which he denies.

Rep. James Talarico’s (D-Round Rock) bill would prohibit law enforcement agencies from partnering with reality television crews for and shows.

Emergency Powers

HJR 15 – Months of continued disaster declarations across the state have highlighted a catch-22 within state code: the only check on gubernatorial disaster powers can come from the legislature, which can only meet outside of the regular session if called upon by the very governor whose power they may wish to restrict.

A proposed constitutional amendment authored by Rep. Drew Springer (R-Muenster) — who’s currently running in the Senate District 30 special election against Dallas salon owner Shelley Luther — would require the governor to convene a special session after 21 days of continuous disaster declaration.

If passed by the legislature and signed by the governor, Texas voters would have to ratify it by a majority vote in 2021.

HB 340 – Another bill by Rep. Briscoe Cain (R-Houston) would strip an emergency code provision that allows the governor to restrict the “control of the sale, transportation, and use of alcoholic beverages, weapons, and ammunition” under a declared disaster.

To see a rundown of gun-specific pre-filed bills, visit here.

Healthcare

HB 171 – For nearly a decade, Texas has declined to expand its Medicaid program under Obamacare which would increase the Federal Poverty Level income limit to receive health coverage under the program. For an analysis of the issue, visit here.

Rep. Diego Bernal’s (D-San Antonio) bill would enroll Texas in that federal program. Such a measure has been shot down every session since it became an option, but some Republicans are becoming increasingly friendly to the idea, such as former House Speaker Joe Straus.

Governor Abbott has indicated no such change of heart thus far.

HB 484 – A burgeoning movement in healthcare involves patients spurning traditional, insurance-based healthcare coverage and opting for direct care models. Direct care is any medical service that operates outside of the insurance-and-government facilitated model.

But Rep. Matt Shaheen’s (R-Plano) bill would establish a direct care program for Medicaid recipients. Patients on Medicaid, rather than go through the typical route, would be able to visit direct care doctors. 

Many direct care physicians deliberately reject Medicaid business because of its costliness and regulatory burden.

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Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson is an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.