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No bills are finally dead yet, but some are starting to smell funny


By Ross Ramsey

While all the guv’s horses and all the guv’s friends were trying to put tax swaps together again — along with the rest of the education and property tax legislation they’re worried about — less famous bills have been getting green around the gills.

Yesterday, the House spiked the legislation that would have raised sales taxes and lowered property taxes. The day before, the Senate abandoned the idea, opting instead for smaller property tax cuts funded by diverting existing severance taxes and previously uncollected sales taxes. It’s a smaller benefit, but it saves lawmakers from voting for higher sales taxes.

It also means they’ll have less money to solve the problems in front of them, and some hard choices to make. The House will probably open negotiations with the Senate by asking whether they’d prefer spending money on pay raises for teachers or on (smaller) property tax cuts combined with a cut in the unpopular Robin Hood taxes collected from local school districts.

All of that had, and still has, leadership attention. Few issues do, and supporters and authors are in distress.

While nothing is really and truly dead while the Texas Legislature is still in town, the parking lot outside the legislative cemetery is filling up fast.

Legislation that started in the House is the first to hurt; the authors of those 4,911 bills and joint resolutions already have their initial results. If they didn’t get out of committee by Monday night, that’s a final resting place. If they made it out of there but didn’t get onto the House’s agendas for this week, that’s a final resting place. And the House bills and joint resolutions (that’s what they call constitutional amendments at this stage) that haven’t come to a vote in the full House by midnight Thursday have also gone to that big filing cabinet in the sky.

The bills are dying. But the ideas and proposals in them could reappear before the session is over. Some continue on in Senate versions. Others will be recast as amendments to legislation that’s still ambulatory.

Most of the legislation filed this year won’t pass. That’s normal. And this week’s deadlines in the House don’t affect Senate bills; those will start sailing to the dustbins weekend after next. And they’re not necessarily the issues that you’ve been hearing about from state leaders.

Some examples, some frozen and some still in motion, from under the radar:

• Texas nursing homes, contending they have a $945 million funding shortfall and that 25% of their facilities could close, are waiting on legislation that’s still mired in committee. Senate Bill 1050 is similar to programs operating in 43 other states. It wouldn’t cost the state money, but it would require instituting what’s been pegged as a “granny tax,” a phrase that strikes fear in the hearts of some influential Texas politicians.

• Rural Texas has been trying to boost the availability of broadband access outside of Texas cities and suburbs. A study done by Microsoft — and touted by rural broadband promoters — estimates 14.6 million Texans don’t access the internet at broadband speed. The Federal Communications Commission, using a different measure, says 1.8 million Texans don’t have access. House Bill 2423 passed the House 122-8, but it’s currently parked in a Senate committee waiting for a hearing.

• Rural sheriffs want a law requiring local mental health authorities — LMHAs — to interview and assess inmates who show signs of mental health issues. The law already says that should happen, but doesn’t spell out the requirements. And officials like Jackson County Sheriff A.J. Louderback are pressing for HB 601: “You’ve got to come here,” he said of the LMHAs. “You might not like it... but we need help here.” That one’s set for a hearing this week.

That’s just a few. The list goes on and on like that, bill after bill, like the old detective show that ended each episode with the line, “There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them.”

Legislation hanging by a thread in these final three weeks of the session has been talked about — or ignored — during the first 17 weeks of the session without advancing. Some of it never had a chance. Maybe a few of these will get through. Maybe. Those hearses outside the cemetery are lining up.

This article originally appeared at The Texas Tribune.

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