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Texas House Democrats upset with 'do over' on HB2 ,HB 3

By J. Lyn Carl,

Austin – The "do over" on public school reform and property tax relief legislation that went nowhere during the First Called Session of the 79th Legislature will exclude participation of the very people who will be affected, according to a group of House Democrats.

Both the House and Senate have the two bills on a fast track, with both moving out of committees on the first day of the Second Called Session. At a press conference today, House Speaker Tom Craddick (R-Midland) and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst announced they expected the bills on the floor early next week, indicating perhaps a quick end to the second special session.

The "do over" will not even allow public testimony on the bills, lamented Rep. Pete Gallego (D-Alpine). He said there will be "no public participation" with not a single teacher nor a single taxpayer allowed to testify. "What does that say about the process? What does that say about who's driving the train and where the train's going?"

Gallego said he hopes taxpayers who believe in representative democracy are watching, because "they won't like what they see." He blasted the Republicans, calling it "ridiculous" when a "Republican super majority" can't agree on a bill. He said "until and unless" there is some agreement, the members of the legislature shouldn't be held hostage while taxpayer money is spent when there is not even an outline, much less an agreement on a bill.

He said throughout the first called session, the leadership kept saying how "close" they were on hammering out an acceptable bill, adding "The deal never comes. I want to see the deal." Gallego said without real debate, the result "will not be a good deal for the people of Texas."

HB 2 as it passed out of the conference committee during the First Called Session "won't pass court muster," said Rep. Garnet Coleman (D-Houston), referencing a district court judge's decision that the school finance system is unconstitutional. "If you're going to do a bill," he said, "do one that solves the problems." He said a bill that does not solve the problems is "Not progress - that's politics."

Regarding the property tax relief bill, Coleman said any version of HB 3 still taxes "close to 90 percent of the people more than they were taxed before and gives a tax cut to wealthy property owners." He said that the additional $7,500 in homestead exemptions that is part of the previous bill "is basically a loss on the equity note."

Coleman said the two sides are talking about agreement "on bad policy." Attention, he said, has moved from "substance" to "whether we have an agreement." He called both HB 2 and 3 "bad public policy."

Rep. Scott Hochberg (D-Houston) noted that the reason there are not thousands of angry taxpayers and teachers at the capitol protesting the bills is because they all have jobs. The lobby, on the other hand, is "beating on the doors" at the capitol, he said.

"Why all the arm-twisting if this is such a good bill?"


For more KERA coverage of Texas government issues, visit KERA's Voter's Voice page.