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Dueling tax proposals in the Lege

April 19, 2023 - 00:00
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The Texas House passed a bill promising $17 billion in tax relief, a measure that is at odds with the Senate’s tax break plan, according to the Austin American-Statesman. The House bill would lower by half a home’s cap on appraisal increases. It passed overwhelmingly, 141-9. However, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Senate, said that body will not approve it, preferring its plan to raise property exemptions from $40,000 to $70,000.
In a press conference held Thursday, Patrick reiterated his opposition, saying appraisal caps do not have much effect on property tax bills.
“So let me be very clear, I’ve said before this session, I’ve said it at the beginning of session, I’ve said recently, you don't negotiate on bad math,” Patrick said. 
House Speaker Dade Phelan took a less confrontational stand. 
“I think we need to do what’s best for all Texans, and that is sit down and hammer out a compromise,” Phelan said in part. “We are ready, willing and able to do it in the Texas House.”

Parental book bill passes the Senate
The Texas Senate passed a bill last week that would require schools to inform parents of all books their children check out of school libraries, The Dallas Morning News reported. The bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Angela Paxton, R-McKinney, said she sponsored the bill after being contacted about sexually explicit materials in school libraries.
“I cannot unsee what I saw,” Paxton said on the Senate floor. “More importantly, a child cannot unsee sexually explicit materials, and this certainly shouldn’t happen in a school library, of all places.”
Critics say the bill could lead to politicized book bans and undermine the work of librarians. It requires school boards to create local library advisory panels made up mainly of parents. 
The bill now heads to the Texas House for consideration.

Drought conditions expand in Central, West Texas
Warmer temperatures and less rain in March expanded drought conditions throughout the central and western parts of the state, hydrologist Dr. Mark Wentzel of the Texas Water Development Board reported. More than two-thirds of the state is affected by drought, up five percentage points from the previous month. The exception is in the eastern portion of Texas, which is now drought free.
The La Niña weather system, which is at least partially responsible for drought conditions in the state for the past two-and-a-half years, is predicted to give way by fall to El Niño conditions, which tend to be wetter, according to Wentzel.
“Why are La Niña, neutral, and El Niño conditions important to Texas? Each of these conditions sets up different atmospheric circulation patterns that impact weather around the world, including Texas,” Wentzel wrote.

Hundreds apply for Houston ISD board of managers
With the Texas Education Agency taking over management of the Houston Independent School District, nearly 400 applications have been received to join the district’s Board of Managers. In a news release, TEA said it is looking for Houston residents with “a wide array of backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives who believe all children can learn and achieve at high levels when properly supported and who can work together as a governance team.”
“I am looking for Houstonians with wisdom and integrity who can be laser-focused on what is best for students,” Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath said. “It is exciting to see so many Houstonians express a willingness to help move the school system forward in service of students.”
The Board of Managers will hold public board meetings and has the same legal requirements and obligations as any elected school board, according to TEA.

More funding for community colleges?
A bill approved last week by the Texas House would allocate additional funding to the state’s 50 community college districts, the Statesman reported. The additional amount each district would receive would be based on several factors, including the number of degrees and certificates a college awards “that equip students for continued learning and greater earnings,” the Statesman reported. 
The bill is one of House Speaker Dade Phelan’s priorities and has more than 90 co-authors. 
“This would be the most significant state investment for community colleges in decades,” said Ryan Franklin, senior director of policy and advocacy for Educate Texas. 
Community colleges in Texas are funded by a combination of local property taxes, tuition and fees, state revenue, and various other sources. The bill guarantees a certain amount of funding for rural community college districts that are unable to raise as much in property taxes as urban districts.

More than 18,000 cattle killed in explosion
What is being called the deadliest barn fire for cattle on record left more than 18,000 cattle dead and one worker critically injured at a dairy farm in the Texas Panhandle, The Dallas Morning News reported. The fire swept through the holding pens of Southfork Dairy Farm in Dimmitt last week as the cattle were waiting to be milked.
“It's mind-boggling,” Dimmitt Mayor Roger Malone said. “I don’t think it’s ever happened before around here. It’s a real tragedy.
The cause has not been determined, but Castro County Sheriff Sal Rivera told KCBD-TV that overheating electrical equipment in the holding pens may have ignited methane gas. Photos and video posted on social media show a massive plume of smoke rising from the facility.
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: