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Texas legislators pass most — but not all — of Abbott’s priorities in final flurry of lawmaking

Two men talking on the Texas House floor
Evan L'Roy
for The Texas Tribune
Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan listens to a colleague while presiding over the chamber on Monday night, shortly before the Texas Legislature ended its third special session of the year.

Lawmakers approved new political maps and decided how to spend COVID-19 relief money. But they didn’t pass bills about vaccine mandates or the criminal penalty for illegal voting.

The Texas Legislature adjourned from its third special session of the year early Tuesday morning after a final flurry of activity that included an agreement on how to spend billions in federal COVID-19 relief funds, approving a negotiated new congressional map and signing off on a last-minute proposal that will put to voters whether to increase the homestead property tax exemption.

In an 11th-hour effort to deliver on property tax relief, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s top priority for the session, the Senate fast-tracked a constitutional amendment to raise the state’s homestead exemption for school district property taxes from $25,000 to $40,000. That bill sailed through both chambers Monday evening with bipartisan support within hours of it being filed and heads to Texas voters in May.

For the average Texas homeowner, that would translate to roughly $176 in savings on their property tax bill, said state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, the Houston Republican who authored the bill.

The primary focus of the most recent 30-day special session was to redraw the state’s political maps for the next 10 years, based on new population data from the census. But Gov. Greg Abbott also instructed the Legislature to pass laws on a variety of other priorities and unfinished business from previous legislative sessions this year. While most of his agenda items were passed into law, state lawmakers did not heed his call to advance legislation to prohibit vaccine mandates by any Texas entity, including hospitals and private businesses. Abbott’s executive order banning the vaccine mandates, however, is still in effect.

House members also balked at Abbott’s call to increase the penalty for illegal voting. Earlier this year, the Legislature passed a sweeping elections bill that will reduce the penalty for illegal voting from a second degree felony to a Class A misdemeanor, effective in December. But in late September, Abbott, who already signed the bill into law, asked lawmakers to reverse the change in the most recent special session.

Patrick, who presides over the Senate, rallied behind Abbott’s call and pushed the upper chamber to pass the bill quickly. But House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, hit the brakes on the measure, saying in a statement that his chamber would not relitigate the issue.

Abbott so far has given no indication of whether he will call another special session to tackle his unfinished agenda items.

Abbott did not mention the end of the current special session and the fate of his priorities at a speaking event with the Kingwood TEA Party in the Houston suburbs on Monday night.

Asked if a fourth special session would be necessary, Abbott declined to say.

The Texas Tribune provided this story.