Special session is underway
The first called session of the 87th Legislature is underway, and this special session is certainly special.

Legislators from both chambers conducted lengthy public hearings over the weekend. Since then, the Texas Senate has passed a number of bills in that chamber (more on that below).  

But the big news is that the business of the House came to a halt when enough members of that body left the state in order to cause that chamber to lose the necessary quorum to conduct business. The loss of a quorum means that the House may not meet to conduct business, pass bills, meet for committee hearings, etc. Remaining members voted to place a call on the House, which means that state law enforcement authorities may compel the attendance of House members, including by means of arrest. At this time, about 60 members of the Texas House and nine members of the Texas Senate are in Washington, DC, visiting with members of the US Congress. Texas law enforcement authorities do not have jurisdiction outside of Texas.  

So that means that the House may come to order for the invocation each day, and then they will stand at ease as they are unable to conduct business until they have a quorum. The only motions that are in order when the body lacks a quorum is to place a call on the House or to adjourn.

The Texas Senate, with 22 members present (18 Republicans and 4 Democrats), has a quorum and is continuing to conduct business as usual. However, regardless of how many bills the Senate may pass, House passage is also required for any bill to become law. The Senate is continuing to work in the hope that enough members of the House return.

Where is all this heading?
That’s anyone’s guess. The House Democrats in DC have said they will not return until they are certain that their presence in Texas could not be used as a means to pass the elections bill to which they are opposed. That could mean their stay in our nation’s capital will last until the final day of this special session—August 6. However, Governor Abbott has promised to call another special session once this one concludes if legislators don’t pass priority legislation, so they could either return or extend their stay at that point. 

What does that mean for schools? 
For the time being, it doesn’t seem any legislation will ultimately pass this special session—which means nothing changes for schools. But if something changes and legislators do return and begin conducting business in the Texas House again, here are the bills to be aware of on the move in the Texas Senate:

SB 1 (Hughes) – Elections
Changes the provisions in law regarding voting by mail (or from a car), polling places, poll watchers, and elections in general. SB 1 is very similar to the conference committee report version of SB 7 from the regular session, which was not adopted in the House. There are no provisions in the bill that passed the Senate that specifically impact school district and/or bond elections.

SB 2 (Perry) – School and college sports
Requires that student athletes at both the school/UIL and college level compete based on biological sex, determined at or near birth and listed on the individual’s birth certificate. SB 32 was also passed, and that bill is very similar to SB 2, but it only pertains to UIL (not college athletics). SB 32 is identical to SB 29 from the regular session.

SB 7 (Huffman) – 13th Check for TRS Retirees
Provides a “13th check” to TRS retirees (capped at $2400), similar to what was adopted in 2019. This is a one-time supplemental payment for retirees in lieu of a cost of living adjustment. The estimated state cost for this provision is $701 million.  

SB 8 (Bettencourt) – Homestead exemptions for buyers
Provides home buyers the opportunity to receive the benefit of the homestead exemption if purchasing a home on which the exemption was not provided in the prior year. This will be accomplished through a refund from the school district for the portion of the year for which that new owner qualifies for the exemption. Christy Rome testified on behalf of the Coalition on Saturday in favor of this bill, which provides further property tax relief and requested specific language be added to the bill to fully reimburse districts for any tax refund given under this new provision and a change to financial accountability provisions so that no district is penalized for not collecting taxes schools would not be allowed to collect. A floor amendment was adopted to address both those issues before the bill was finally passed by the Senate.

SB 12/SJR 4 (Bettencourt) – Property tax compression for elderly/disabled
Extends the property tax relief granted by HB 3 in 2019 to the elderly and disabled homeowners on the frozen levy that were denied this relief due to how HB 3 was written. SJR 4 is the constitutional amendment that would have to be approved by voters before the new provision could take effect. Christy Rome testified on behalf of the Coalition on Saturday in favor of the bill and the tax relief it provides over 65 and disabled property taxpayers, and she also requested that specific language be added to the bill to ensure school district state aid and recapture calculations reflect that the state is fully covering the cost of this change, as well as language to ensure all parties have the necessary data to ensure calculations are correct and fair. Floor amendments were adopted by the Senate to satisfy both requests before the Senate was finally passed by the Senate. If passed, LBB projects the state cost to be approximately $200 million.

SB 72 (Huffman) – Instruction/materials for prevention of abuse
Requires public schools to provide instruction and materials relating to the prevention of child abuse, family violence, and dating violence. You may recognize this bill as SB 10 (West) from the special session or as SB 1109 (West/Anchia) from the regular session. Since Senator West is not present in Austin, the Senate took action to advance a different version of his bill, authored by Senator Huffman. Governor Abbott vetoed SB 1109 from the regular session because it did not include an opt-out for parents for their child. This new version of bill requires that parents be given advance notice regarding the instruction and materials students are to receive and their ability to opt-out.


In addition to the possibility of House members returning and these bills being passed before August 6, if there is another special session called by the Governor and these issues are on the call again, it stands to reason that the Texas Senate will likely pick up exactly where they left off with the bills that body passed during the special session. Of course, there is also the possibility that there will be no further specials until the one on redistricting in the fall. It's all unknown at this point, but now you're in the know on the bills listed above.

One issue the Senate has not yet taken up is Article 10 appropriations, which must still be addressed by both chambers before August 31 or the legislative branch of state government will not be funded. (Well, either that or the courts rule that the Governor's veto of Article 10 was unconstitutional.) So far, both chambers have passed that appropriations bill out of committee, but neither chamber has passed it during the special session.

Right now, the House seems to be coming to order daily at 11:00 a.m. to pray for a quorum. The Senate stands recessed until 11:00 a.m. on Friday, July 16.

Senate State Affairs Committee to hear CRT bill Thursday
The Senate State Affairs Committee will meet on Thursday, July 15, beginning at 9:00 a.m. to hear Senate Bill 3

SB 3 relates to social studies curriculum, and it is very similar to the Senate version of the “Anti-Critical Race Theory bill” from the regular session. As you may recall, the bill that was ultimately sent to the Governor’s desk was not the version preferred by the Governor or Senate leaders, but rather the House version which was full of many amendments.  

This new Senate bill updates civics and social studies curriculum and instruction and prohibits the teaching of critical race theory and its elements, and it seeks to strike many of the specific individuals documents, and movements added to law during the regular session as curriculum requirements.

The bill prohibits teachers, administrators, or any other public school employee from being required to engage in training, orientation, or therapy that presents any form of race or sex stereotyping. It also prohibits the teaching or course requirement that includes the concept of one race or sex being inherently superior to another; or that one race or sex should be held to blame for actions committed in the past by other members of that race or sex.

If you would like to view the hearing on SB 3, you can tune in live Thursday morning or catch it later in the archives.

School district budgets, tax rates, and elections
Tis the season for adopting school district budgets and tax rates (and therefore determining whether the adopted tax rate triggers an election). Just in case it is helpful for your district as you navigate all that, we have updated our document on School District Budget, Tax Rate, and Election Procedures with the timeline for 2021.
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