I’m told this ordinance is unconstitutional.
People are passionate about their positions. People are confident about their positions. But that does not always mean that they are right about their positions. While it is true that for years many have said that “abortion is a constitutional right” citizens throughout the United States have had a hard time finding the ‘right to abortion’ mentioned anywhere in the text of the United States Constitution. This is because nowhere in the Constitution does it come out and say, “abortion is a Constitutional right” or that “women have the right to an abortion.” It’s just not there. People act like abortion is a constitutional right because of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade in 1973, but members of our current Supreme Court have questioned the validity of that ruling and other rulings which have followed that decision. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has even gone as far to call Roe v. Wade “farcical” and stated that the Supreme Court “can reconcile neither Roe nor its progeny with the text of our Constitution” and that, because of this, “those decisions should be overruled.”
In November of last year several attorneys throughout the State of Texas signed onto a letter responding to the objections of the Mayor, City Council, and Olson & Olson – which was the law firm with family ties to Planned Parenthood which was hired by the City of Lubbock to review the proposed Lubbock Ordinance Outlawing Abortion. That letter reads,
“Mayor Pope and several city council members have been asserting that the proposed ordinance violates the federal Constitution, but they are mistaken. Abortion is not a constitutional right, and there is no language anywhere in the Constitution that even remotely suggests that anti-abortion laws are unconstitutional. Although the Supreme Court invented a right to abortion in Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973), the Court’s holding merely prevents states or localities from enforcing abortion bans until Roe is overruled. It does not prevent states or localities from enacting abortion bans, so long as the city’s enforcement of its ban is delayed until the Supreme Court overrules Roe. The proposed ordinance is consistent with Roe because it specifically prohibits the city or its officials from enforcing the ordinance until they obtain a declaratory judgment from a court that the enforcement of the ordinance will comport with Supreme Court precedent. Instead, the ordinance allows the abortion ban to be enforced only through private citizen suits, and enforcement mechanisms of that sort will not expose the city to any liability. See Okpalobi v. Foster, 244 F.3d 405, 426–29 (5th Cir. 2001) (en banc).”
The Sanctuary Cities Ordinance which has been drafted specifically for Lubbock is not defying the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade. Instead of defying Roe v. Wade we are working within the confines of Roe v. Wade. Nobody is saying that women cannot get an abortion. All we are saying is that abortion, which is the murder of an innocent child, is not allowed within the city limits of Lubbock, Texas. A letter signed by Senators and Representatives across Texas, encouraging municipalities across Texas to consider the ordinance, states this well when it said,
“The Sanctuary City for the Unborn ordinance outlaws abortion within city limits, declares abortion to be murder, and protects municipalities from abortion providers setting up shop within the city’s jurisdiction. The ordinance does not defy federal law, but enables cities to take bold action for Life while remaining within the existing legal framework of Roe v. Wade. The ordinance does not contradict the United States Constitution; rather, the language is intentionally and carefully drafted to protect both tiny Texans from abortion and cities from costly lawsuits. Since there is some immediate enforcement, through civil liability, the ordinance serves as an important deterrent to the abortion industry from moving into their jurisdiction. Importantly, the ordinance does not penalize women who seek or undergo abortions, but places the penalty on the party who most deserves it — the abortionist and the industry profiting from the unjust procedure.”
I’m told we will be sued and spend millions as a city defending this.
That statement is based on the assumption that this is either a losing battle or a battle which, if it can be won, is not worth the cost. Before we go any further I think it should be said anytime we stand against the abuse of innocent children, in the womb or out of the womb, it is a battle worth fighting. I do not believe Lubbock is a city where the majority of their residents are okay with children having their limbs ripped from their bodies and their skulls crushed. Which person, in their right mind, actually wants children to have their arms and legs ripped from their bodies and skulls crushed in Lubbock, Texas? No matter what the cost, defending innocent children from violent acts from taking place in the city of Lubbock is more than worth it. It is certainly worth far more than the money spent on a public park. Children are Lubbock’s future and if it is allowed for children to be murdered in the city of Lubbock what does that say about Lubbock’s vision for the future of their city? Should babies be allowed to be murdered by abortion in Lubbock or should babies not be allowed to be murdered by abortion in Lubbock? It is a simple question.
Could the city of Lubbock be sued? Will the city of Lubbock be sued? Anything is possible. We live in a day and age where people can be sued for anything. But what are we talking about here? What we are talking about the murder of innocent children by abortion in Lubbock, Texas. If someone sues the city for attempting to stop the murder of innocent children by abortion whose side do you want to be on? Do you want to be on the side of the people suing the city who are wanting to murder innocent children or do you want to be on the side of those who are being sued seeking to prevent the murder of innocent children? To date, twenty-three cities in Texas have passed ordinances outlawing abortion within their city limits because they did not want babies to ever be murdered by abortion in their cities. In February of 2020, the ACLU filed a lawsuit against seven Sanctuary Cities for the Unborn only to withdraw their lawsuit in May of the same year. Every one of the seven Sanctuary Cities for the Unborn were represented at no cost to the cities and the taxpayers by Jonathan F. Mitchell – the former solicitor general for the state of Texas. The lawsuit from the ACLU did not cost the seven cities which were sued or their taxpayers one cent, the cities were well represented and defended, and abortion continues to remain banned in every city which was sued.
If the ordinance is voted to be accepted by the citizens of Lubbock on May 1st and the City of Lubbock faces a lawsuit as a result of the adoption of this ordinance there is an attorney who is willing to represent the city at no cost to the city and taxpayers. That attorney is Jonathan F. Mitchell, the former Solicitor General of Texas. So no, it does not have to cost the city anything if they choose to accept the offer of an expert attorney who was a law clerk of Justice Scalia, has experience before arguing cases before the Supreme Court of the United States, and has been quoted in court opinions by Supreme Court justices. Concluding Points The passing of this ordinance is not an attempt to try to run Planned Parenthood out of town. The passing of this ordinance is an attempt to prevent and therefore stop the murder of innocent children by abortion from taking place within the city limits of Lubbock, Texas. If Planned Parenthood would like to offer access to typical health care services for low income women this ordinance does not prevent them from doing that. All this ordinance does is seek to prevent the murder of innocent unborn children by abortion within the city limits of Lubbock, Texas.
The Effort To Outlaw Abortion in Lubbock, Texas
Twenty-three cities throughout the State of Texas have passed enforceable ordinances outlawing abortion within their city limits. Right now there is much interest in the City of Lubbock to pass an enforceable ordinance outlawing abortion within their city limits. If the City of Lubbock passes the Sanctuary City for the Unborn Ordinance before another city does so then the City of Lubbock would become the twentieth city in the nation to pass an ordinance outlawing abortion within their city limits. Because the Lubbock Ordinance Outlawing Abortion will be voted on by the people of Lubbock on May 1st, 2021 and since several other cities will be considering passing an ordinance outlawing abortion between now and then it is likely that Lubbock will not be the twentieth city but a higher number.
The major points of the Lubbock Ordinance are:
1) The Lubbock Ordinance immediately outlaws abortion within the city limits, preventing abortions from taking place within the city limits. The main walk away from the ordinance is this: The Lubbock Ordinance states, “It shall be unlawful for any person to procure or perform an abortion of any type and at any stage of pregnancy in the City of Lubbock, Texas” (Section D1) and “It shall be unlawful for any person to knowingly aid or abet an abortion that occurs in the City of Lubbock, Texas.” (Section D2)
2) The proposed Lubbock Ordinance, like the other Sanctuary Cities for the Unborn ordinances, are enforceable. The Lubbock Ordinance has two major enforcement mechanisms: the public enforcement mechanism (Section E) and the private enforcement
mechanism (Section F).
3) The public enforcement mechanism establishes fines against the abortionist (Section D1, E1) and anyone who aids and abets the abortionist (Section D2, E1) for any abortion which takes place within the City limits of Lubbock. The ordinance is clear that these fines cannot be imposed unless it is determined that the individual seeking to impose the penalty upon the one who committed the unlawful act will not create an “undue burden” on women seeking abortions (Section E2b), the person, corportation, or entity who committed the unlawful act of abortion lacks standing to assert the third-party rights of women seeking abortions in court (Section E2c), or Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey is overturned (Section E2a). This is only one section of the ordinance and the enforceability of this one section is not immediate, but dependent upon other factors. Unlike the public enforcement mechanism, the private enforcement mechanism is immediately enforceable. (Section F4)
Under the section entitled “Private Enforcement” the Lubbock Ordinance states, “Any person, corporation, or entity that commits an unlawful . . . other than the mother of the unborn child that has been aborted, shall be liable in tort to a surviving relative of the aborted unborn child, including the unborn child’s mother, father, grandparents, siblings or half-siblings. The person or entity that committed the unlawful act shall be liable to each surviving relative of the aborted unborn child for: (a) Compensatory damages, including damages for emotional distress; (b) Punitive damages; and (c) Costs and attorneys’ fees.” Section F-4 clearly states, “The
citizen-suit enforcement action . . . may be brought on or after the effective date of this ordinance.”
4) It also cannot be stressed enough that the Lubbock Ordinance does not go against Roe v. Wade (1973), Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992) or any Supreme Court ruling, but works within those rulings and current federal and state laws to go as far as we legally can go to prohibit and restrict abortion access under the confines of the undue burden standard which was set by the United States Supreme Court in Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992).
5) The Lubbock Ordinance does not penalize the mother of the unborn child that has been aborted. As it says in Section E3, “Under no circumstance may the penalty described in Section E(1) be imposed on the mother of the unborn child that has been aborted.”
6) The Lubbock Ordinance contains an exception for the life of the mother. This can be found in Section D3 which says, “It shall be an affirmative defense to the unlawful acts described in Sections D(1) and D(2) if the abortion was in respoonse to a life-threatening physical condition aggravated by, caused by, or arising from a pregnancy that, as certified by a physician, places the woman in danger of death or a serious risk of substantial impairment of a major bodily function unless an abortion is performed.”
7) Some have erroneously stated that the Sanctuary Cities for the Unborn Ordinance does not immediately outlaw abortion since the “public enforcement” is dependent upon the overturning of Roe v. Wade or a variety of other factors. This is not the case. Section E4 clarifies the fact that abortion is outlawed period, even if the public enforcement is delayed upon other factors. Section E4 states, “The
non-imposition of the penalties described in Section E(1) does not in any way legalize the conduct that has been outlawed in Section D, and it does not in any way limit or effect the availability of the private-enforcement remedies established in Section F. Abortion remains and is to be regarded as an illegal act under city law and a criminal act under state law, except when abortion is necessary to save the life of the mother. And abortion remains outlawed under both city and state law, despite the temporary and partial inability of city and state officials to punish those who violate the abortion laws on account of the Supreme Court’s decisionmaking.“ Remember, if an abortion takes place within the city limits of Lubbock upon the passing of this ordinance, the law is being broken. And while it is true that “public enforcement” is delayed upon other factors, “private enforcement” can immediately take place for any abortion taking place upon the passing of the ordinance because abortion is immediately outlawed within the city limits upon the
8) Abortion is not healthcare. Dr. Karysse Trandem is an obstetrician and gynecologic surgeon who has been board certified for the last seven years and is practicing. Through her practice she has seen patterns of distress in women who have had abortions. She has done research at the National Institutes of Health in Washington, D.C. and the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland and she has been able to compile the risks to women who undergo an abortion. At the Lubbock March For Life Dr. Karysse Trandem
shared with those in attendance at the march that “Healthcare is not abortion.” Dr. Trandem explained, “The risks to women are four-fold. (1) Breast Cancer. Women who have one abortion have a 30 – 40% increased risk of breast cancer in their lifetime. (2) Preterm Birth. Women who have a surgical abortion have a 36% increased chance of having a preterm birth because their cervix was damaged from an abortion. (3) Uterine Damage. There can be a hemorrhage that occurs when an active pregnancy is separated from the wall of the uterus. That can lead to severe hemorrhage, even death, and scarring that prevents future pregnancies. (4) Mental Health Issues. Women who have one abortion have an 81% increased risk of having emotional health problems that stays with them for the rest of their life. Like depression, anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder, and a higher rate of suicide.”
9) If the ordinance is adopted by the City of Lubbock and the City of Lubbock faces a lawsuit as a result
of the adoption of this ordinance Attorney Jonathan F. Mitchell, the former Solicitor General of Texas, is
willing to represent the city at no cost to the city and taxpayers.
10) The Nine Findings mentioned in Section A outline the basis of why the Lubbock Ordinance Outlawing
Abortion Within the City Limits is even possible. The Nine Findings address the Unrepealed State Law Basis
(A1-3), the Separation of Powers Basis (A4-5), the Texas Murder Statute Basis (A6), the Texas Health and
Safety Code Basis (A7), and the Local Government Code Basis (A8-9).
11) Those who we have elected to make laws at our State Capitol in Austin, Texas have passed legislation
which supports cities passing legislation on the local level which prohibits abortion within their jurisdiction.
This is something many of our senators and elected officials have voiced their support of as we join with
them at our local level in making sure babies are not murdered in our cities. (See Elected Official Letter)
For more information about the Sanctuary Cities for the Unborn initiative visit http://www.sanctuarycitiesfortheunborn.com/
Lubbock Area Town Hall October 8 2019 630pm-730pm
Dunbar College Preparatory Academy 2010 E 26th St, Lubbock, TX 79404
State Propositions: Please visit this site for detailed information on State Propositions.
By: Kathy Rollo
Andrew Welch is a teacher with fewer than three years experience in the classroom. He writes he has good and bad days, that it’s a humbling experience, and his confidence is often tested. These are not surprising reactions considering the pressure teachers face to educate our next generation of producers and leaders. What is surprising is Andrew is in his second career. He had another high-pressure job before transferring his skills to the classroom — he was a police officer for 32 years.
How interesting that a career policeman considers teaching just as stressful as maintaining law and order. The skill sets for both professions have many similarities. Teachers and police officers must have the ability to remain calm under pressure, communicate effectively, and have the power of persuasion.
There is also a significant difference in the compensation for these professions. In Texas, the average teacher salary is $57,000 while police officers on average earn about $62,500 per year. Believe me, police officers earn every penny and then some. Teachers do, too. That’s why I’m elated that the 86th Texas Legislative Session adopted the Texas Plan for school finance reform.
So these are the headlines from this compromise plan between the Texas House and Senate. The state will infuse about $4.5 billion into the classrooms to accelerate student achievement. That’s a significant increase to the basic allotment per child. The state currently allots base funding of $5,140 per student. The Texas Plan will increase that number to $6,160, a 20 percent increase. It will cover the cost for full-day prekindergarten for economically disadvantaged students and adopts higher reading standards so students are reading at grade level by third grade.
Teachers, librarians, counselors, and nurses will get a much deserved salary increase with priority given to educators with five years or more experience. The more than $2 billion increase gives the school districts flexibility on how to offer these salary increases. It also creates a merit/incentive plan for high-quality teachers to receive additional pay. It invests in professional development and mentoring programs so more educators can attain a high-quality status and school districts can retain them.
The state is increasing its share of the school finance requirements to lower your property taxes. Currently the state shoulders a 38 percent share; it’s increasing to 45 percent. That’s more than $5 billion in property tax relief. It also ensures taxpayer dollars are used wisely, requiring efficiency audits before districts can go to the voters with a tax increase.
The current school finance system is being modernized, lowering the recapture payments, improving equity, and allowing districts to keep more of the money earned from local property taxes.
I’m thankful for the hard work and sense of responsibility that went into crafting this reform. Senator Charles Perry and Representatives Dustin Burrows, John Frullo, and Ken King played significant roles in making this happen and safeguarding the interests of Lubbock ISD and all school districts in our region.
The hard work is well underway for the Lubbock ISD finance team, led by Chief Financial Officer Jeff Baum, to develop a budget for the 2019-2020 school year that conforms to the mandates of the Texas Plan. It’s an intense and time-sensitive undertaking because those numbers have to be calculated in time for the Lubbock ISD Board of Trustees to adopt an efficient and viable budget. The budget will be presented June 20.
The message has been sent that educators like Andrew Welch are appreciated and admired. They will be better compensated for their dedication and passion to teach your children. The Texas Plan is not perfect, but it is an honest and good faith effort to make significant improvements to how our children are educated and reward those who are charged with that sacred duty.
Although the Texas Legislature has yet to put the finishing touches on the budget for the next two years and forward it to Gov. Greg Abbott for his signature, it is important to take time and recognize the efforts of the West Texas delegation for yeoman advocacy on behalf of the Texas Tech University School of Veterinary Medicine.
Some of the best news of the session, as far as West Texans are concerned, broke late more than a week ago with the announcement that the budget included a $17.4 million appropriation for the vet school for the 2020-2021 funding cycle. There had been some angst, albeit little appearing in public view, over the House originally appropriating $17.4 million and the Senate version including roughly $4 million.
A conference committee hammered out budget differences with the larger number prevailing in the final version that is expected to be sent to the governor for approval before the session ends Monday.
That the state needs a second vet school is a undeniable. The reasons have been articulated in this space several times since the session launched in January. The need is pronounced. The Texas Tech approach will be novel and effective.
Much of the credit for the original vision casting of a Tech vet school must go to former Texas Tech System Chancellor Robert Duncan, current Chancellor Tedd Mitchell and TTU President Lawrence Schovanec, and each would be quick to share credit with an array of elected, civic and effective leaders in Amarillo, Lubbock and certainly Austin.
To its credit, Texas Tech has never made pursuit of a vet school a competition with Texas A&M, home of the state’s only current vet school. Tech leaders have repeatedly praised A&M’s impressive track record of excellence – as they have repeatedly said there is room for a second school. The school’s sensible, restrained and logical approach to a statewide challenge has served it well.
Tech officials have simply laid out the facts and let the numbers do the talking. It should not be lost on people that the school’s desire to serve all of West Texas is an important piece of the vet school narrative. Just as the Texas Tech University HSC has an expansive footprint across the region, so also will the vet school serve an entire region while having impact upon an entire state.
It is fair to say the vet school has been the top priority of the region’s legislative delegation, and they have kept their eye on the ball throughout. A large contingent issued a joint statement after the budget allocation became public.
In a moment where someone might be tempted to claim outsized credit in a moment of political theater, the statement was attributed to State Sens. Charles Perry of Lubbock; Kel Seliger of Amarillo and Jose Rodriguez of Amarillo. Also part of the extensive communique were State Reps. Four Price and John Smithee of Amarillo, Dustin Burrows and John Frullo of Lubbock, Ken King of Canadian, Drew Springer of Muenster and Drew Darby of San Angelo.
“The Legislature has always recognized the value of robust and competitive university systems to meet the needs of a growing state that has an integral role in the success of our nation and global economy,” the statement began as it was reported in our story.
“The Texas Tech University School of Veterinary Medicine will help address the shortage of large and mixed animal veterinarians in rural parts of the state. The addition of a second veterinary school will enhance the ability to meet the demand for a growing population and secure the food supply.”
In addition to the work of Duncan, Mitchell and Schovanec, lawmakers also recognized the efforts of former chancellor Kent Hance as well as “fellow legislators and thousands of others who supported the vet school,” according to our story.
Make no mistake, this was a historic moment for Texas Tech and for the entire state. According to statistics, there are only 180 large-animal veterinarians serving rural Texas counties – that’s 3 percent of the state’s registered veterinarians. From day one, Tech has emphasized focusing its program on this huge gap, using what it calls a distributive model as opposed to on-site education, meaning veterinarians will partner with the school in a variety of creative ways.
There are still steps ahead, but receiving this important legislative financial stamp of approval marks a milestone development in a dream that has been years in the making. A regular mantra over the past couple of months has been the lawmakers’ insistence that interested constituencies trust the process. That meant being confident in elected leaders not only doing their job in representing the region’s interests, but to also navigate political contours, challenges and outright opposition associated with efforts to bring a second vet school online.
We salute the local delegation for its leadership in this matter and for its ability to build consensus with colleagues in both chambers, making sure others saw the vet school not as some prized parochial possession, but instead as an incubator of innovation that would have transformational impact across the state.
The future of Texas Tech and the Lone Star State is brighter because of those efforts.
Governor Greg Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and Speaker of the House Dennis Bonnen today released the following joint statement:
“Texans are fed up with skyrocketing property taxes. At the beginning of the legislative session, the Governor, Lt. Governor and Speaker laid out an agenda for property tax relief through the passage of Senate Bill 2 and House Bill 2 to limit property tax growth. In addition to that effort, today we are introducing a sales tax proposal to buy down property tax rates for all Texas homeowners and businesses, once Senate Bill 2 or House Bill 2 is agreed to and passed by both Chambers. If the one-cent increase in the sales tax passes, it will result in billions of dollars in revenue to help drive down property taxes in the short and long term.”
Application deadline is June 3 for family farms and ranches started in 1919 or earlier
Today, Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller invited Texas farmers and ranchers to apply for the Texas Department of Agriculture’s (TDA) Family Land Heritage (FLH) program, which since 1974 has paid tribute to families who have kept their land in continuous agricultural production for at least 100 years. Families are asked to submit their applications for recognition in the 2019 FLH registry by Monday, June 3. At the 44th annual recognition ceremony at the Texas Capitol this fall, Commissioner Miller will honor farms and ranches established in 1919 or earlier.
“Buried deep in the roots of our great state lays a rich agriculture heritage from the farmers and ranchers who came before us,” Commissioner Miller said. “The Texas Department of Agriculture Family Land Heritage program acknowledges Texas families who have paved the way by dedicating their lives to agriculture. Family farms and ranches are the cornerstone to the success of our state’s agriculture industry, and without them agriculture would not be the powerhouse that today drives a $110 billion Texas industry.”
To be eligible, farms and ranches must be owned and operated by the descendants of the founder, either through blood, marriage or adoption. At least 10 acres of the land must have been in continuous agricultural production for the past 100 years or more.
“As an eighth-generation farmer and rancher, I am honored to recognize the men and women who fought to help Texas agriculture flourish, and I encourage future generations to follow their lead in continuing to keep our agricultural legacy alive,” Commissioner Miller said.
To date, TDA has recognized more than 5,000 farms and ranches, including 228 for 150 years of operation. Seven ranches have been honored for 200 years of operation. There is no cost to apply.
By: Shannon Najmabadi
City mayors extended an olive branch. Witnesses spoke uninterrupted. A House Democrat said he appreciated the “frame and tone” set by a GOP chair.
When the Legislature’s priority property tax reform bill was rolled out by a House committee Wednesday, it was met with a tenor and pace that differed markedly from the more contentious proceedings in the Senate.
Absent the quick tempo and heated exchanges that marked the upper chamber’s committee hearings on the legislation, a panel of state representatives deliberated its bill for nearly 12 hours, taking expert and public comments without proposing amendments. The proceedings were the latest sign of the lower chamber’s approach to the priority property tax package — which the chair of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee said they would “fully understand before we get into the debate and discussion.”
That, he said, “is how we have discussions in the Texas House.”
During the Senate committee’s proceedings, public testimony was largely limited to two minutes — a strategy designed to allow everyone who wished to testify the opportunity to do so, according to the office of state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, chair of the committee.
As the Ways and Means Committee meeting wore on Wednesday, some witnesses complained that homeowners hadn’t been called until well into the evening and that many had departed before their turn came.
But the thorough approach was set early in the day by committee Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, the committee chair who began proceedings on the reform bill by saying he hoped the 11-member panel would hear comments and “talk about ideas that can make the bill better in either direction.”
After, “the committee can collaborate and can work and try to come up with a bill that is right,” he said. “[We’re] not just trying to get something across the finish line as quick as we can.”
The Senate tax committee passed its version of the property tax reform bill, with amendments, earlier this month. It has not yet been debated by the full upper chamber. As drafted, both versions of the legislation would require that cities, counties and special taxing districts receive voter approval before increasing property tax revenues 2.5 percent more than the previous year. Revenue from new developments would not count toward the 2.5 percent threshold.
Burrows seemed open to other rates Wednesday, but he explained why he filed the bill at 2.5 percent.
“If property taxes continue to go up year after year at 8 percent, they will double in nine years,” he said. “At 4 percent, it takes now 17 years to double, 35 to quadruple. And at 2.5 percent, it takes 28 years for somebody’s property taxes to double, and 56 years for them to quadruple.”
An election trigger could be tied to a price or wage index — or based on “simple math,” Burrows said.
Currently, voters can petition to have an election if revenue growth surpasses 8 percent, a figure supporters of the legislation say was set during a period of high inflation in the 1980s.
The reforms are a big-ticket item for state leaders. Though they are unlikely to reduce individual tax bills — a concern for residents who say their incomes have not kept pace with rising property values — they could tamp down the rate of a jurisdiction’s property tax revenue growth.
The legislation also proposes a battery of modifications to how properties are appraised, with an aim of making the process more transparent and less subjective.
Still, as Burrows noted Wednesday, the 2.5 percent election trigger has “captured most of the headlines,” and several witnesses were asked Wednesday to help identify a more palatable number.
“Do you think 8 percent is where it ought to be, or do you think it should be lower?” Burrows asked Amarillo Mayor Ginger Nelson.
“I think we’re engaging in that conversation with you guys,” she responded, listing a number of factors she thought should be taken into account.
Two dozen big-city mayors proposed using a formula to tailor the trigger to each jurisdiction, in a letter to the committee chair dated Feb. 26. Six mayors testified on behalf of the group, stressing they were remarking “on” the bill — a neutral position — not against it.
Bettencourt noted a new attitude coming from mayors Thursday.
“The Mayors came in with solutions this time because they just said NO last time,” he said. “That’s progress.”
Despite the generally placid tone Wednesday, the hearing exposed some of the party-line fissures that have animated the property tax reform effort so far. Mayors were questioned by GOP lawmakers about why having an election trigger would force them to cut their budgets. Municipal leaders said population growth and unfunded mandates were tying their hands. And many homeowners, who supported a trigger at 2.5 percent, spoke of their difficulty paying rising tax bills on top of other expenses.
Near 11 p.m., the Speaker of the House, Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, walked through the hearing room to greet lawmakers and watch the proceedings.
In 2017, property tax proposals left the House and Senate at an impasse during both the regular and special sessions. The lower chamber proposed that an election be triggered at 6 percent revenue growth, while the upper chamber pushed for 4 percent.
In a move Bettencourt has jokingly called a “compromise,” Gov. Greg Abbott pitched a 2.5 percent rate in advance of the 2019 session. A poll from Quinnipiac University, released this week, found voters largely supported the idea of requiring local governments to get voter approval before “increasing property taxes” more than 2.5 percent.
Still, lawmakers’ public support for the 2.5 percent threshold has appeared to wane. Republicans have cast the figure as a starting point. Prominent Democrats on the committee — state Reps. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, and Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin — have said the figure is a non-starter.
“For the number now to shift downward by a point and a half to 2.5,” Martinez Fischer said, “my natural reaction and response to that is, ‘Well, my 6 becomes 7.5.’”
And a major component of the reform package has yet to be unveiled. The bulk of property taxes statewide are levied by school districts, with state dollars flowing in after local revenue has been accounted for. The property tax reform proposal has inserted placeholder language for schools, as lawmakers’ wait on sprawling public education bills to be filed.
Martinez Fischer, who sits on the Ways and Means Committee, said of the lower chamber’s approach: “we don’t care about getting it done first; we care about getting it done right.”
“Everybody seems to want to live this policy through the lens of 2017,” he said. “I take the mayors at their word that they’re going to work hard, they’re going to come up with a collective solution. I take the chairman at his word that he wants our input and is hoping to make this bill better.”
Members of the House Committee on Ways and Means listen to testimony on HB 2 on Feb. 27, 2019. Miguel Gutierrez Jr. / The Texas Tribune