Here’s a quick recap of what happened this week:
Will Grid Hold Up in Heatwave?
Sweltering heat expected this weekend will certainly strain the state’s fragile electric grid. As temperatures are predicted to reach well over 100 degrees in most parts of the state, the state agency that operates the grid says they are ready and will have enough capacity to generate the energy needed to keep up with demand. Peak load demand is predicted to be nearly 83,000 megawatts this weekend, and the agency is forecasting that they will have a capacity of 100,000 megawatts available. For all of the troubles and outages that occurred during the winter storm of 2021, the grid has performed well during extreme conditions in recent months. The grid held up during the ice storm last December and performed better than expected last summer when grid operators asked Texans to conserve during peak demand periods. The agency has issued a “weather watch” ahead of the weekend’s forecasted temperatures, meaning they could again ask residents to institute conservation measures to bring down demand as much as possible.
Special Session Update
The House remains adjourned Sine Die.
The Senate continues to meet and even has a calendar of bills for floor consideration related to prayer in school and posting the Ten Commandments in all public school classrooms. However, they gaveled in on both Tuesday and Thursday of this week to do nothing more than immediately adjourn after taking no action. They stand adjourned until Tuesday, the day they are scheduled to take up and consider the rules for the Paxton impeachment trial.
Lt. Governor Dan Patrick is once again stepping up efforts to bring the House back to session. He held a news conference in Houston yesterday to again tout the benefits of the Senate property tax plan as compared to the House plan. As a reminder, the House plan simply calls for tax rate compression, or a reduction in the rate that school districts can charge homeowners and businesses. The Senate plans adds an increase in the homestead exemption to $100,000. Patrick blasted the House Speaker for not only prematurely adjourning the House before an agreement could be reached, but also accused him of favoring businesses over homeowners by not including the homestead exemption in the House plan.
As we now complete the third week of a special session that has produced nothing, Gov. Abbott has softened his initial stance on how to reduce property taxes. Abbott initially endorsed the House’s compression only plan. But on Tuesday of this week, he changed his tune to encouraging House and Senate leaders to craft a compromise. Abbott went on to say – at a bill signing ceremony on Tuesday – that if the House and Senate do strike a deal on property tax relief, he would sign the compromise legislation. If lawmakers do not reach a compromise by the end of this current 30-day special session, then Abbott will call them in again immediately to continue to address the issue.
This special session is scheduled to end on June 27th.
Abbott Threatens Vetoes
But, as the week has gone on, the battle between the Governor and Lt. Governor has escalated and Abbott has once again changed his outlook. A day after Patrick held his press conference urging the House to return to Austin to hammer out a compromise, Abbott raised the stakes by threatening to veto any bills he has not signed yet. Abbott has until this Sunday, June 18th to either sign or veto the bills passed by the legislature this session. At a bill signing ceremony, Abbott told reporters “the bills that have not been signed face the possibility – or probability – that they are going to be vetoed”. This is Abbott’s way of trying to force the House and Senate to reach a compromise on property tax reductions. He is saying that if a compromise is not reached, then he could veto any legislation not signed to date.
Abbott began the veto process late Wednesday, continuing into Thursday be vetoing several pieces of legislation, most of which had nothing to do with property tax legislation. He vetoed a bill to create a groundwater district near Bastrop, another relating to security deposits for apartment tenants, one relating to charitable raffles held by wildlife conservation associations, and another relating to increasing penalties for altering fuel pumps for the purpose of stealing the gasoline. In each veto proclamation, the Governor stated that while those bills were worthy, they were not as important as property tax reductions and therefore receiving a veto. The veto proclamations also contain the same qualifier that “the bill can be reconsidered in a future special session only after property tax relief is passed.”
Patrick immediately fought back – on Twitter – saying that it was incomprehensible that Abbott would destroy the accomplishments of the Senate this session and his threat was “an affront to the legislative process and the people of Texas.” Patrick went on to say that Abbott clearly did not want tax relief for homeowners. Stay tuned, as this very public spat between the state’s top two elected officials becomes nastier by the day.
As of yesterday, there are 236 Senate bills and 108 House bills that still await action from Abbott.
Phelan Names Education Committee
Abbott has made no secret of the fact that he will call several special sessions this year to try and pass major issues that failed during the regular session. One of those issues is school vouchers, where state tax dollars are used for private school tuition. The Senate passed a voucher program during the session along party lines, but the House never brought up a voucher proposal for a vote. In anticipation of a special session this fall on vouchers, House Speaker Dade Phelan has appointed the Special Committee on Educational Opportunity and Enrichment. The 15-member committee will be chaired by current Public Education committee chairman Brad Buckley, a Republican from Killeen. Phelan has called on the committee to study equal educational opportunity, improving outcomes for public school students, and modernizing school accountability measures. Most of the members of the committee have been voucher opponents in the past, but it remains to be seen how or if the committee will craft a voucher proposal. The committee must report any recommendations to the full House by August 10th.
No More Paper License Plates
Under legislation passed this session, you will no longer be issued paper plates when buying a new car. Due to an increasing black market for fake temporary tags, the state will now require car dealers to hold a supply of the permanent, metal plates that will be issued to the buyer at the time of purchase. Temporary tags are being manufactured by criminals and then sold online so people could bypass registration fees and annual inspections, and use the tags for vehicles used in the commission of crimes. The DPS estimates that at least 2.6 million fake tags have been issued in recent years and have been linked to countless crimes. The legislature gave the Department of Motor Vehicles until March of 2024 to promulgate rules to ensure proper and smooth implementation of the new process, so the paper plates will be in place for at least another year.
Latest on Paxton Impeachment
In what legal experts are calling a conflict of interest, the Houston Chronicle is reporting that AG Ken Paxton owes Lt. Governor Dan Patrick $125,000 in outstanding campaign loans. Patrick – in his role as presiding officer of the Senate – will preside over the impeachment trial, but will not have a vote on whether or not to convict Paxton. Legal experts say the financial connection between Paxton and Patrick is significant, even though loans between campaigns are common in Texas. On the other side of the financial scale, AG Paxton has loaned his wife – state Senator Angela Paxton – over $600,000 for her campaign coffers.
The Austin real estate developer that is at the center of many of the allegations against Paxton was arrested last weekend at the request of the FBI. Nate Paul is being held in the Travis County jail and is charged with eight counts of making false statements to financial institutions. The US government is accusing Paul of overstating his assets in order to obtain loans, and is seeking $172 million in restitution from Paul. He will be arraigned on Friday morning in Austin. While Paxton is not named in the indictments against Paul, the accused could provide insights into Paxton’s activities.
The Senate is expected to consider rules for the impeachment trial as early as next week, with the trial set to begin no later than August 28th.
The Texas Democratic Party has launched a super PAC aimed at defeating US Senator Ted Cruz in 2024. The PAC – called Sensible Americans – has the goal of raising money to conduct research that will be used for digital ads and social media outreach. The theme of the activities of the PAC will be deemed “Lose Cruz”, and will begin by focusing on reminding voters of Cruz’s trip to Cancun during the 2021 winter storm. Super PACs operate independently of any candidate, and can raise unlimited funds. According to the operatives involved in the PAC, their goal is to raise funds “well into seven figures”.
In the race for mayor of Houston, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo has endorsed Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee. Hildalgo joins powerful Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis in endorsing Lee in the hotly contested race that includes state Senator John Whitmire, former Metro Board chair Gilbert Garcia and former city councilwoman Amanda Edwards. Whitmire can also tout high profile endorsements including Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia and state Senator Carol Alvarado.
A state appeals court has dismissed a defamation of character lawsuit brought forth by Republican donor Kelcy Warren against former gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke. Warren filed the suit during the 2022 race for Governor when O’Rourke consistently mentioned Warren in connection with the power grid collapse in 2021. O’Rourke had attempted to connect the profit made by Warren’s company when the demand for natural gas increased during the power outages with a subsequent contribution Warren made to Abbott’s campaign. The court ruled the statements made by O’Rourke were protected free speech under the First Amendment, and dismissed the case.
The moratorium on fundraising for members during and immediately after the session ends on Sunday. And members are going to take full advantage. Starting Tuesday, there are 43 members that have scheduled fundraisers here in Austin so they can replenish their campaign accounts. The semi-annual office holder report is due on July 15th, so most members want to show some fundraising activity on their first report of the year. Attendance at fundraisers so close to the session are generally pretty light, but that doesn’t stop members from trying to get at least one or two contributions from the lobby.
On Sunday – the final day Gov. Abbott can decide whether or not to veto or sign bills passed during the regular session – we will find out if Abbott follows through on his threat to veto hundreds of pieces of legislation in retribution for the House and Senate failing to craft a compromise on property tax reduction legislation this session.
Tuesday is when the Senate special committee related on the impeachment of AG Ken Paxton will present their recommended rules of procedure to the full body for consideration which will in turn determine the process for the impeachment trial.
Have a great Father’s Day weekend!! Stay cool and safe in the warm weather!!