The Back MicThe Back Mic: Property Tax Plan Breakdown, School Safety Artificial Intelligence Push, Locality Association Lobbyists Blasted

This week — a breakdown of the Texas House and Senate property tax plans, a new push for a slice of the state’s school safety funding, and local government lobbyists criticized in committees.
March 17, 2023

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Breakdown of Chambers’ Property Tax Plans

The Texas House and Senate have a disagreement on property tax relief — specifically how to address appraisals — playing out in the public square. Both chambers held committee hearings on their favored bills: appraisal cap reduction and expansion in the House, and a homestead exemption increase in the Senate.

Below is a breakdown of their respective plans.


  • $17.3 billion total package
  • $12 billion for $0.25 compression of school district rates in 2024-25 biennium
  • $5.3 billion for continuing previous levels of rate compression
  • Lowers appraisal cap to 5 percent and expands it to all real property, including businesses
  • Requires tax assessors to create escrow accounts for taxpayers upon request


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  • $16.5 billion total package
  • $5.4 billion in new school district rate compression
  • $6.1 billion in continuing previous levels of rate compression
  • $3 billion to raise the standard homestead exemption from $40,000 to $70,000
  • $500 million to increase the over-65 homestead exemption from $10,000 to $30,000
  • $450 million to increase business personal property tax exemption from $2,500 to $25,000
  • $1.05 billion to create an inventory tax credit, up to $400 million per year in total
  • Lowers the maximum compressed rate of school district rates from 90 to 80 percent, reducing the number of schools subject to recapture

Nothing is final yet, and the respective chambers must now jockey for position and figure out a way to compromise before sine die.

Groups Pitching Artificial Intelligence Strategy for School Safety

Multiple companies are pushing for the Texas Legislature to include artificial intelligence (AI) video monitoring services in what school districts may use their safety allotments to purchase.

Both House Bill 3 and Senate Bill 11, the two chambers’ school safety priority bills, grant school districts $15,000 per campus to be used on security measures.

Companies like Motorola Solutions and ZeroEyes have hired registered lobbyists in Texas. All offer video monitoring services to school districts, using artificial intelligence to monitor potential threats such as guns or unauthorized personnel on campuses.

One company, SparkCognition, which has not hired a registered lobbyist, held an event on Thursday at the Capitol in the House Members’ Lounge informing members and staffers of their product. Paired with their artificial intelligence, cameras installed in schools could monitor and track various factors relating to safety. The tech has been deployed in warehouses, oilfields, and banks — now schools are beginning to see its utility.

In an interview with The Texan, SparkCognition’s Chief Marketing Officer Stephen Gold said he sees AI monitoring as a proactive solution amidst more traditional responses, such as fences, etc.

“Look, you’ve got somewhere between two and 20 minutes on a typical situation before it escalates,” Gold said. “So if you can identify something in the first 30 seconds — provide a notification alert for authorities — there’s a really high probability it’s not going to advance to something more critical.”

Gold says the addition of new cameras at schools isn’t necessary, and it’s already in place at Liberty Hill School District campuses with more to come.

“What we do is we take a feed, and we analyze all that in real-time,” he concluded. “You can send out an alert or an alarm or trigger an automated lockdown procedure the minute something is detected.”

Committee Hearings Blast Local Government Associations

Local government associations — organizations that lobby the Legislature on behalf of political subdivisions — were denounced in committees this week.

Sen. Mayes Middleton’s (R-Galveston) Senate Bill 175, heard in the Senate State Affairs Committee, would prohibit political subdivisions from using tax dollars for lobbying activities, defined as hiring anyone who must register as a lobbyist under Chapter 305 of the Government Code. It’s in part aimed at entities like the Texas Municipal League (TML) that represent its local government members and lobby on legislation before the House or Senate.

Hank Dugie, the now-Galveston County Treasurer who ran on a platform of eliminating the office, criticized the Texas Association of Counties (TAC), telling the committee, “I have long been a fan of the services provided by local government associations…like their risk pool management and bill tracking they provide. But their lobbying that they do is horrendous.”

“TAC has intervened [in the effort to eliminate the treasurer’s office] and told different legislators and staff, misrepresenting themselves, by saying that Galveston County and the treasurer is against the item,” Dugie added. “I am the treasurer and I support Senate Joint Resolution (SJR) 28.” SJR 28 would put the elimination of the office up for a vote in Galveston County.

On the other side of the rotunda, Rep. Jared Patterson (R-Frisco) took aim at TML, which testified against his legislation HB 471 in the House Business & Industry Committee on Monday. That bill would require localities to provide health benefits to policemen, firefighters, and emergency medical technicians injured on the job.

TML testified that the bill is “duplicative of workers comp[ensation],” which is insurance-based, and said that “paid sick leave doesn’t work for small communities” because of the size of the payout required.

“I’ve sat on this committee for two previous sessions and I’ve seen TML wait until the very last moment to throw up a red flag about a bill and not work with the bill author to actually come to a solution,” Patterson said, closing on HB 471. “We got an email from TML on Thursday of last week, having worked on this issue for years, [telling us] they don’t like Section 1 [and] have no recommended language to address it or anything.”

Another instance occurred during the lengthy hearing on his local preemption bill, which TML testified against, when Rep. Dustin Burrows (R-Lubbock) tweeted, “Listening to TML lie and confuse [about HB 2127] has never made me want to ban taxpayer funded lobbying more than today!”


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Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson is a senior reporter for The Texan and 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.