Newspapers took a torpedo from a Memorial Day weekend sneak attack on public notice in SB 2, the high-profile property tax reform bill.
Legislative leaders, well aware that a firestorm would erupt if they operated under normal rules, avoided the messiness of public hearings, newspaper editorials and grassroots involvement with a parliamentary maneuver.
Late Friday afternoon the conference committee negotiating the differences between the House and Senate versions of SB 2 eliminated newspaper notice of final tax rates for community colleges, emergency service districts and hospital districts. That change had not been in either the House or Senate versions, so the next day the House and Senate passed a resolution to go "outside the bounds" of the versions they'd sent to conference and consider the conference version. Each chamber then took an up-or-down vote on the conference committee version with no further amendments. SB 2 sailed through both chambers in less than an hour.
If elimination of that particular type of notice sounds familiar, it's because in 2013 lawmakers voted to eliminate newspaper notice of final tax rates set by cities and counties.
Republican legislators — even those close to their hometown papers — dared not vote against a much-ballyhooed tax reform bill that was one of the GOP’s highest priorities. They knew leadership could punish them by supporting their primary opponents in 2020. Voting no wasn't a palatable option for a Republican holding an office that pays only $7,200 a year but offers a nice retirement package if you can keep getting re-elected.
Now they will have some explaining to do back home. Here's a link to a chart showing how House members voted.
Texas publishers will want to visit with them about the importance of newspaper notice. Some might even note the irony that the title of SB 2 is “The Texas Property Tax Reform and Transparency Act of 2019," yet without newspaper notice, SB 2 makes final tax rates less transparent than they are today.
That bit of bad news aside, there's a great deal to celebrate as the dust clears in Austin. Read about it in the June edition of Texas Press Messenger, coming out later this week.