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Capital Highlights

Abbott vetoes bills; feud with Patrick grows


Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick claimed last week that Gov. Greg Abbott is sabotaging the Senate’s work because of their ongoing feud over which approach to property tax reform is best, The Dallas Morning News reported. Abbott vetoed three bills by Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, who has been Patrick’s point senator on increasing homestead exemptions in order to provide tax cuts. As of Friday afternoon, he had vetoed 31 bills.

Abbott has threatened a string of vetoes if the House and Senate can’t agree on a compromise on property tax relief. In each veto proclamation, Abbott has issued the following statement: “This bill can be reconsidered at a future special session only after property tax relief is passed.”

Patrick took issue with that. “The governor’s suggested threat today to veto a large number of Senate bills is an affront to the legislative process and the people of Texas,” he said.

Will the state’s electric grid hold this summer?

Much of Texas is in the throes of a sweltering heat wave, prompting concern that the electric grid will be strained as Texans try to keep cool. However, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which operates the grid, predicts it will be able to handle forecast peaks in energy usage, the Austin American-Statesman reported.

The biggest factor is demand for air conditioning of homes and businesses, according to Robert Hebner, director of the University of Texas Center for Electromechanics.

“Any rapid change in temperature causes great difficulty. If you have a gradual change, (companies) usually adjust to it fairly well,” Hebner said. “This summer, there's a good chance they've anticipated well enough that we'll be able to get through.”

The first official day of summer is Wednesday, June 21.

New law bans paper license plates

Temporary paper “dealer tags” will soon be a thing of the past after Abbott signed House Bill 718. The new law phases out the tags and requires dealers to issue $10 metal plates to buyers purchasing vehicles, the Houston Chronicle reported.

Paper Texas tags have been criticized by law enforcement officials for years, since they are easy to fake and often used on vehicles used to commit crimes. A report by KXAN in 2021 found that selling of fake Texas tags had become a $200 million illicit business.

The Department of Motor Vehicles has until December of next year to come up with a plan for creating and distributing metal plates to dealerships. The law itself goes into effect on July 1, 2025.

Bill restricting local control signed into law

Cities and counties will be further restricted from implementing ordinances or regulations on issues normally addressed by the state after Abbott signed House Bill 2127, the Statesman reported. According to the bill’s language, it is a means to “provide statewide consistency by returning sovereign regulatory powers to the state where those powers belong.”

Previously, regulations put into place by cities were unenforceable if found to be in violation of a state code. An oft-cited example is an Austin ordinance passed in 2018 aimed at forcing most private employers in that city to provide sick leave. However, that ordinance never took effect since courts ruled it unconstitutional.

Opponents of HB 2127 fear it will further erode local governments’ power to handle community issues.

“We barge into bedrooms, locker rooms, boardrooms, examining rooms and now city council meetings,” Sen. Sarah Eckhardt, D-Austin, said during the debate. “We should be doing our job rather than micromanaging theirs.”

Abbott praised the bill’s passage, tweeting after the signing that he “signed a law to provide a new hope to Texas businesses struggling under burdensome local regulations.”

Murder rap now possible for fentanyl distribution deaths

Several bills were signed into law last week to fight fentanyl overdoses by classifying those deaths as poisonings, allowing universities to use opiod reversal drug Narcan, and implementing felony charges for producing and distributing fentanyl.

“This law makes clear that any person who causes a death by unlawfully manufacturing or delivering fentanyl can be prosecuted for murder in the state of Texas,” Abbott said. Nearly 2,000 Texans died last year after taking fentanyl, sometimes unknowingly because it was mixed with other drugs.

Despite the passage of these bills, some family members of overdose victims expressed disappointment that a bill that would no longer classify fentanyl test strips as drug paraphernalia did not make it out of the Senate.

Distracted driving deaths on the rise

Distracted driving has killed more than 2,000 people in Texas since 2017, and the number of deaths attributed to it increased by 10% in 2022. Approximately one of every six crashes on Texas roadways in 2022 was attributed to distracted driving, according to the Texas Department of Transportation.

“Texting, adjusting audio or navigation systems, or scrolling on a social media site can wait until you're safely parked,” said Marc Williams, TxDOT executive director. “We're urging Texans to make the right choice and put the phone away.”

It has been illegal since Sept. 1, 2017, to read, write or send a text while driving in Texas.

Drivers are urged to put phones away while driving, to pull entirely off the road to use a phone, and to avoid eating or drinking until parked.

Gary Borders is a veteran award-winning Texas journalist. He published a number of community newspapers in Texas during a 30-year span, including in Longview, Fort Stockton, Nacogdoches and Cedar Park. Email: gborders@texaspress.com.


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