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Capital Highlights

Abbott, Patrick spar over tax relief


Gov. Greg Abbott late last week warned lawmakers to be prepared for several special sessions to pass a tax reform bill that he will accept, as well as a school voucher plan that failed to pass during the regular session.

Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick are at odds over how to deliver more than $17 billion in property tax relief, the Austin American-Statesman reported.

During the first special session, called immediately after the regular session ended May 29, the House of Representatives quickly passed a tax relief bill that Abbott supports, then adjourned. The governor said the measure could result in eventually eliminating property taxes. The Senate has not taken action. Patrick, who presides over the Senate, countered that eliminating all property taxes would result in local sales taxes more than doubling to 19%.

“Whenever sales taxes underperform, property taxes will immediately go back up,” Patrick tweeted. 

Speaking before the Texas Public Policy Foundation last Friday, Abbott proposed reducing the overall tax burden through population growth and an expanded business market paying taxes.

“Texans want to own their own property, not rent it from government,” Abbott said.

Scott named interim attorney general

John Scott, who most recently served as Texas Secretary of State under Abbott, has been appointed the short-term interim Texas attorney general after Ken Paxton was forced to step aside while awaiting trial in the Senate. Paxton was impeached by the Texas House on May 27.

“John Scott has the background and experience needed to step in as a short-term interim Attorney General during the time the Attorney General has been suspended from duty,” Abbott said.

Scott also worked as a deputy attorney general under Abbott, overseeing all civil litigation undertaken by that office, then served as chief operating officer of the Health and Human Services Commission. Paxton’s trial in the Senate is slated to begin no later than Aug. 28, according to the Texas Tribune.

Legal heavyweights to prosecute Paxton

Two well-known Houston attorneys have been hired to prosecute the impeachment case against Paxton. Dick DeGuerin and Rusty Hardin have more than 100 combined years of courtroom experience, the Statesman reported.

“The people of the state of Texas are entitled to know whether their top cop is a crook,” DeGuerin said. For his part, Hardin implored the Senate to make the proceedings public. That body plans to adopt rules of engagement for the trial on June 20.

Paxton, a three-term Republican, was impeached by a lopsided margin in the House. Impeachment is the rough equivalent of a grand jury indictment. The Senate will act as a court to determine his guilt or innocence of the 20 articles of impeachment. It requires a two-thirds majority to convict Paxton, whose wife, Angela Paxton, is a state senator.

DeGuerin has defended a number of high-profile clients, including former U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay and singer/songwriter Billy Joe Shaver.

PUC chairman resigns from panel

Peter Lake has resigned as chairman of the Texas Public Utility Commission, effective July 1. Appointed in the aftermath of the widespread outages caused by Winter Storm Uri in February 2021, Lake oversaw the overhaul of the embattled commission, including adopting weatherization standards for power plants and rebuilding the beleaguered Texas power grid, according to The Dallas Morning News.

“Together we’ve overcome sometimes seemingly insurmountable challenges and delivered on our promise to Texans that we’d keep the lights on,” Lake said in a statement. 

Meanwhile, another PUC commissioner appointed last August to the five-member board was unanimously confirmed by the Senate in the closing days of the regular session. Kathleen Jackson of Beaumont previously served on a number of boards and commissions, including the Texas Water Development Board.

Final COVID-19 workers’ comp report

The workers’ compensation division of the Texas Department of Insurance has issued its final update of COVID-19 worker’s comp claims. By April 30, insurance carriers reported nearly 100,000 COVID-19 claims and 472 fatalities. A little more than half of the overall claims and of the fatalities involved first responders and correctional officers.

Because of the low number of new claims, no further updates are anticipated.

Historic investments made in higher education

Texas higher education leaders appear pleased with funding allocated by the Legislature during the regular session, with a record $5 billion allocated for the next two years.

“The 88th Legislature showed Texas’ commitment to expanding opportunity through higher education and our determination to be at the forefront of higher education research, development, and innovation,” said Commissioner Harrison Keller of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

Several bills overhauled and increased state funding for community colleges and established the Texas University Fund to increase the state’s investment in research at the state’s public universities. Several other programs should expand access to higher education, including the Texas Leadership Scholars Program, as well as increased funding for student financial aid.

Texans, beware of poison hemlock

Students of philosophy and history may recall the Greek philosopher Socrates was forced to drink a concoction made of hemlock, resulting in his death. The beautiful but deadly plant has been spotted in Texas, according to a story in the Houston Chronicle. A Dallas-area woman has taken to social media to warn about some weeds she pulled up and the severe adverse reaction that quickly occurred. Only a quick shower and a trip to the emergency room saved her life.

Poison hemlock has a smooth, green stem and an umbrella-shaped cluster of white flowers. All parts of the plant are extremely toxic to both humans and livestock, according to Texas A&M Agrilife. It can grow up to 10 feet tall. It is reportedly especially common in the Edwards Plateau region of the state west of San Antonio and Austin along creeks and bottomlands.

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.

Capital highlights, Texas politics, Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, taxes, hemlock


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