Here’s a quick recap of what happened this week:

High Profile Bill Signings

Gov. Abbott held two ceremonial bill signings this week.  First on Monday in Denton, Abbott signed the Save Women’s Sports Act, which requires athletes at public colleges and universities to compete in sports corresponding to their biological sex.  The ceremony took place at Texas Woman’s University but was not without controversy.  Outside the ceremony, dozens of people from the LGBTQ community and its supporters protested the bill signing saying that the bill unfairly targets the transgender community.  Abbott was joined by former college swimmers Paula Scanlon and Riley Gaines at the signing.  The bill takes effect September 1st.

On Wednesday in New Caney in Montgomery County, Abbott was joined by Lt. Governor Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dade Phelan as he signed the legislation passed during the summer special session reducing state property taxes.  The package of bills provides a total of $18 billion in property tax relief over the next two years, with homeowners saving about $2,500 on their property tax bills over the next two years.

Highlights of the legislation include:

1)  $12.7 billion to reduce the school property tax rate by an additional 10%;

2)  $5.3 billion to expand the homestead exemption from $40,000 to $100,000 ;

3)   a 3-year pilot project to limit the increase in appraisals to 20% for non-homestead residential and commercial properties valued at lower than $5 million;

4)   a “hold harmless” provision that entitles school districts to receive additional state aid to fill any funding gap that is a result of reducing the school property tax rate and increasing the homestead exemption;

5)   a doubling of the franchise tax exemption which would eliminate the franchise tax for 67,000 small businesses;

6)   the creation of three new elected positions on certain local appraisal boards, and

7)    a prohibition on local taxing units reducing or eliminating an existing local option homestead exemption for four years following the increase to the homestead exemption.

NOTE:  Several of these provisions – including raising the homestead exemption, limiting the increase in appraisals, and the revision of the membership on appraisal boards – require amending the state constitution and are therefore subject to voter approval.  The proposed amendments to the state constitution will appear on statewide ballots as Proposition 4 in this November’s general election.

State Abortion Law Rulings

Last Friday, a state district judge in Austin issued a temporary injunction to the state’s abortion ban that would allow for exceptions to the state’s nearly complete ban on abortions if there are complications threatening the life and health of the mother.  The decision stated that the state Attorney General cannot prosecute doctors who are using their good faith judgement to terminate a pregnancy under certain conditions related to the health of the mother or if it is determined the fetus would not survive after birth.

After the injunction was issued on Friday, the state appealed the ruling to the Texas Supreme Court on Saturday and the bans laid out in the original law were immediately put back in place, thus blocking the injunction only a few hours after it was put in place.  The stay by the state Supreme Court puts a hold on the ruling at the state district court level until a final decision is issued by the state Supreme Court.  A hearing on the matter has been set for March of 2024.

Record Heat, Heat, Heat

Austin has now had 51 straight days of temperatures over 100 degrees this summer, including the last 35 days in a row.  One local TV station – with guidance from the European Computer Weather Forecast System – predicts Austin will experience 100-degree days until at least August 21st, meaning at least two more weeks of extreme heat.  The Dallas and Houston areas will have temperatures over 100 degrees until at least August 18th.  And, there is little to no rain in the forecast basically anywhere in the state for the next several days.  Excessive heat warnings have been issued throughout the state and wildfire dangers are on the rise.

The Texas A&M Forest Service has increased its Wildfire Preparedness to level 4, meaning the service is increasing its commitment to the resources needed to combat the fires.  According to the service, 8,500 acres have burned in the state since August 1st and there are currently 11 active fires across the state.  70% of the counties in the state have burn bans in place.

Another record was set for electricity demand just before 5PM yesterday as demand eclipsed 85,000 megawatts.  New records for demand were also set on Monday and Wednesday of this week.  Despite the temperatures that continue to bake the state, the grid is operating under normal conditions with the grid reporting over 90,000 megawatts of power available.  If you are interested in monitoring grid conditions, go to the ERCOT website:

Harris County Judge Taking Leave of Absence

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced on Monday she was taking a leave of absence from her position and has checked herself into an inpatient facility to receive treatment for clinical depression.  Hidalgo checked into the facility in late July and said she plans to return shortly after Labor Day.  Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis – the longest tenured member of the court — will assume the duties of county judge in Hidalgo’s absence. Several members of the court as well as Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner issued statements of support and well wishes to Hidalgo.

As Harris County Judge, Hidalgo serves as the chief executive officer of the state’s largest county and is presiding officer of the Harris County Commissioners Court.  She was reelected in November of 2022 to a second term, defeating challenger Alexandra del Moral Mealer by 16,000 votes out of over 1,000,000 total votes cast.  More than 20 lawsuits have been filed challenging the results of the 2022 Harris County elections after claims of election irregularities including shortage of paper ballots, ballot scanners not working, and illegal ballots being cast due to residency issues. The first of those trials recently got underway in Houston.

Border News

A Congressional oversight committee held hearings this week on the alleged conflicts between the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) and federal agents involved in border operations.  In testimony to the committee, the DPS however said they are working well with the border patrol agents and are not attempting to interfere with any federal agent that is doing their job.  The DPS went on to testify that the claims of extreme behavior by the DPS officers – pushing migrants back in the river and withholding water from migrants — are being investigated but as of now, there is no evidence that the allegations are true.

This hearing highlighted part of the ongoing disagreements that the state of Texas has with the Biden administration regarding enforcement at the border.  This includes the deployment of the barrier buoys that have been placed in the river near Eagle Pass.  Despite the request by the US Department of Justice to have the border buoys removed from the Rio Grande River, they buoys will remain in place for at least the rest of August.  A federal court has set an August 22nd court date to hear the request from the DOJ, and has ruled that the buoys can remain in place until a decision is issued after the hearing.

Latest on Paxton Impeachment

Saturday was the final day to file all pretrial motions for the September 5th impeachment trial of suspended Texas AG Ken Paxton.  Paxton’s lawyers filed a total of 13 motions in an aggressive move to say the trial should not even take place.  All of the motions filed seek to dismiss all 20 articles of impeachment saying the charges are confusing and lack evidence.  This brings the number of pretrial motions filed by Paxton’s team to 20.  16 of the 20 articles of impeachment faced by Paxton include bribery and misuse of office all in relation to his relationship with Austin real estate developer and Paxton donor Nate Paul.  The other four are related to an ongoing felony case involving a federal indictment for securities fraud.  The House managers and their defense team have until August 15th to respond to the motions filed by the defense team.

And now possibly even more legal troubles.  The Austin American Statesman reported yesterday that federal prosecutors in San Antonio have seated a grand jury and have called witnesses that are associated with Paxton.  According to the story, the grand jury is investigating the ties between Paxton and Austin real estate developer Nate Paul.  Paul himself is currently under federal investigation for providing false information on federal financial statements and forms.  The federal grand jury appears to now be looking into the relationship between Paxton and Paul, and the sources of the story would not go into further detail.  Attorneys for Paxton say they have not received confirmation of this particular grand jury investigation.

Political Notes

Houston is a finalist for the 2028 Republican National Convention, with a decision likely in the next 30-45 days.  Houston is competing against Nashville and Miami for the right to hold the GOP’s every-four-year party where their candidate for President is made official.  Houston last held the Republican National Convention in 1992, when George H.W. Bush was nominated for his second term as President.  The convention would bring in an estimated 50,000 visitors to the city and would be held in either July or August of 2028.  General sessions would be held at the Toyota Center (home of the Houston Rockets) with additional events being held at the George R. Brown Convention Center and Minute Maid Park, home of the Astros.

The filing period for state offices doesn’t begin until November, but several members are already getting opponents for the 2024 cycle.  In House District 26 in Fort Bend County, Republican incumbent Jacey Jetton will again face Matt Morgan in the Republican primary.  Jetton narrowly defeated Morgan in 2020 when Jetton was first elected.

And speaking of rematches:  Republican Rep. Lynn Stucky of Denton will again face Andy Hopper in the Republican primary in 2024.  Hopper has announced he is again challenging Stucky, who beat Hopper by less than half a percentage point in 2022.  Rep. Stephanie Klick of Arlington will once again face David Lowe in the Republican primary next year.  Klick was forced into a runoff in 2022, but handily defeated Lowe by 8 points in the runoff.

Two Republicans are running for House District 34 to succeed outgoing Democratic Rep. Abel Herrero.  Tuloso-Midway School Board member Denise Villalobos and state Board of Education member LJ Francis will face off in the Republican primary.  Corpus Christi Councilman Roland Barrera is already running in the Democratic primary.  Former Nueces County Judge Barbara Canales is rumored to be considering a run in the Democratic primary as well.

And there was another retirement announcement this week as well.  Rep. John Raney, a Republican from Bryan, announced he will not seek reelection in 2024.  Raney was first elected in 2010 and currently serves on the Appropriations and Higher Education Committees.  The district is wholly contained in Brazos County and is solidly Republican.  The first name to surface was Fred Brown of Bryan, who held the seat for 10 years before retiring in 2010.  Brown announced on twitter immediately after the Raney announcement that he would seek a return to the legislature.  Businessman Larry Hodges of College Station and former Brazos County Sheriff Chris Kirk will also seek the Republican nomination for this seat.

And speaking of former members running, rumors out of El Paso have former Rep. Norma Chavez considering a run for the open seat currently held by Rep. Lina Ortega, who will not seek reelection in 2024.  Chavez held a House seat in El Paso for 14 years before being defeated in 2010.  This solidly Democratic seat will likely have a crowded field.  Former El Paso County Commissioner Vince Perez and former Capitol staffer Elisa Tamayo are also considering a run for the seat.

In one of the few seats that will be competitive in the November general election next year, former Democratic state Rep. Alex Dominguez has announced he will challenge Republican incumbent Rep. Janie Lopez in House District 37, based in the Rio Grande Valley.  Dominguez defeated longtime incumbent Rep. Rene Oliveira in 2018.  Lopez then flipped the seat in 2022.  In the Democratic primary, Dominguez will face Ruben Cortez, a former state Board of Education member from Brownsville, and Jonathan Garcia, a realtor from Brownsville.

What’s Next??

With the House and Senate have adjourned Sine Die, lawmakers are finally on a break that should last until the beginning of the Paxton impeachment trial in the Senate.  Upon completion of the trial, Gov. Abbott has promised to bring lawmakers back to Austin to consider legislation on school vouchers and other public education issues.

I will be traveling a bit over the next couple of weeks. And with the end of summer, many of the legislators and staff will be taking time off.  If there are any major developments, I will certainly pass them along.  Otherwise, I will resume the regular updates on September 1st.