A weekly column from Sen. Robert Nichols
Even though many House members and some State Senators are still in Washington, D.C. to break quorum, special session continues in Austin. The State Senate has enough members at the Capitol to continue working on important legislation we've been called to address. Though these measures cannot be finally passed until the House has a quorum, the Senate's work continues.
Here are five things happening around your state:
- Elections bill passes the Senate
The Texas Senate passed Senate Bill 1 this week, which seeks to prevent fraud and ensure that our elections are secure. Importantly, this bill is about making it easier to vote and harder to cheat. The bill expands eligibility for assistance for those who are disabled. It creates uniform voting hours and expands voting hours in over 60 counties. It ensures that if you're in line to vote when polls close during early voting, you'll be able to vote that day. Currently, that is only offered on election day. It also makes it easier for registrars across the state to coordinate when a voter moves to another county.
The bill makes it harder to cheat by requiring voter ID for mail-in ballots. The bill also prohibits drive-thru voting except in specific circumstances and 24-hour voting. It requires video and livestream capabilities inside vote counting centers in large counties. The bill also prohibits vote harvesting. In all, this bill maintains the integrity of our elections while making it easier for Texans to vote.
- Senate Bill 6 and Senate Joint Resolution 3 pass the Senate
This week, the Senate passed SB 6 and SJR 3 by Senator Huffman. These two bills seek to reform the bail system in the state. Currently, habitual and violent offenders have repeatedly been released on multiple felony personal bonds. Some of those offenders go on to commit violent crimes while out on bond. This bill would enhance public safety by preventing the release of those accused of violent crimes or sex crimes by instructing judicial officers to more thoroughly evaluate background information. It modifies the rules for fixing bail amounts for those accused of more significant community harm.
- Senate passes bill to grant 13th check to retired teachers
The Senate passed Senate Bill 7 by Senator Huffman this week which would give a 13th check to our retired educators and school administrators. The bill directs the Teacher Retirement System to distribute a one-time payment of up to $2,400 by January 2022. The bill was unanimously passed by the Senate Finance committee and on the floor of the Senate. We are committed to helping our retired teachers and administrators who have given so much to the children of this state. The ability to give retired educators bonus checks in back-to-back sessions is indicative of the financial strength of the state and our commitment to taking care of them.
- Property tax relief bills pass the Senate
This week, two property tax relief bills and one senate joint resolution passed the Senate. Senate Bill 8 seeks to allow a homeowner the benefit of the homestead exemption the year they acquire the property. Currently, when a Texan purchases a home, they have to wait until January of the following year to receive the benefit of their homestead exemption. This bill would allow homeowners to start claiming their homestead exemption the year they acquire the property.
Senate Bill 12 and its enabling language in Senate Joint Resolution 4 propose a constitutional amendment authorizing the Legislature to provide school maintenance and operation (M&O) tax rate compression for Texans who are over 65 or are disabled. When the school finance reform bill passed in 2019, the state provided additional funds to school districts in return for lower local school tax rates. However, the elderly and disabled did not receive that reduction. This bill and the accompanying SJR would provide that relief.
- Social media censorship bill passes Senate
The Senate passed Senate Bill 5 this week which imposes disclosure requirements for social media companies and requirements to provide certain user complaint procedures. While social media companies have a duty to censor content on their website that is violent or sexual in nature, they should not censor users based on their viewpoints. Under this bill, large social media platforms would be prohibited from censoring a person or the content they post based on that person's views. If the site does block or restrict a user, they can file suit against the site or the Attorney General's office can bring suit on behalf of a user or group of users.