WEEK IN REVIEW
PROPERTY TAX CUTS PASS SENATE UNANIMOUSLY
(AUSTIN) — The average homeowner could expect to see their property tax bill come down $800, says the author of a bill that received unanimous support from the Senate on Wednesday. Houston Senator Paul Bettencourt said the savings are even better for Texans aged 65 or older who own their own home. His SB3 would raise the homestead exemption from $40,000 to $70,000, allowing homeowners to deduct that amount from the value of their home before assessment. "This is off-the-chart, incredible property tax relief for millions of Texas homeowners," said Bettencourt. The bill also raises the special over-65 exemption from $10,000 to $30,000, giving those homeowners a total exemption of $100,000 and saving the average senior homeowner more than $1000. Another bill by Bettencourt, SB 4, further compresses local school property tax rates by more than $5 billion. The Senate also approved SB 5, by Flower Mound Senator Tan Parker, which increases the business personal property tax exemption to $100,000 and offers a 20 percent tax rebate on business inventory. In all, the body approved $16.5 billion worth of tax cuts this week.
In committee this week, the Senate Business and Commerce Committee on Thursday continued its work toward improving the state electric grid, looking at ways to increase the capacity of dispatchable thermal generation, such as natural gas plants. SB 6, by committee chair and Georgetown Senator Charles Schwertner, seeks to incentivize the creation of a new, reserve fleet of natural gas plants as a last-resort reserve of electricity before rolling blackouts would become necessary. The measure calls for 10,000 megawatts - enough to power more than two million Texas homes - of new natural gas generation. These insurance plants would sit idle until power reserves reached critical levels, only coming on to stabilize the grid and going off-line as soon as conditions improved. "It would be a true back-up," said Schwertner. "This program, with these ten-thousand megawatts, would serve as an insurance policy that Texans can count on…that in times of crisis, it would be there for them."
Tuesday, the Senate Education Committee took up a bill that looks to improve pay and working conditions for the state's public school teachers. SB 9, by Conroe Senator and committee chair Brandon Creighton, would give every teacher in the state a $2,000 annual pay raise, with teachers in rural districts serving less than 20,000 students receiving a $4,000 raise. Creighton said rural teacher salaries lag behind their urban colleagues by tens of thousands of dollars in some cases. The bill also gives teachers more of a hand in classroom discipline, allowing them to dismiss disruptive students after one incident and requiring the teacher's written consent before the student was allowed back in the classroom. "Our goal is to make sure teachers have a say in the plan that's established for the disruptive or dangerous student that is revolving in and out of the classroom and creating the lack of a learning environment," said Creighton.
The committee next considered a sweeping school choice bill, SB 8, also by Creighton, that would create an education savings account program. Titled "The Parents Bill of Rights," it would permit parents to apply to receive up to $8,000 from the state to pay for private school tuition, tutoring, or other approved education support programs. Additionally, students could freely transfer between school districts, subject to capacity, and the bill would ban instruction of sexual orientation or gender identity in public schools. Creighton said he believes discussion of these sensitive topics are best left between parents and their children. In rural areas, when a student takes advantage of the ESA program and leaves the public system, the school district would be compensated by $10,000 each year for two years.
The Senate will reconvene Monday, March 27 at 2 p.m.