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North Texas Lawmakers Talk Impeachment, Property Taxes, School Choice

A group of state lawmakers from North Texas weighed in Tuesday on the impeachment of suspended Attorney General Ken Paxton, the ongoing standoff over property tax cuts and other hot-button issues at the Capitol.

Reps. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake; Victoria Neave Criado, D-Dallas; and Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, joined Tribune political reporter James Barragán in Dallas for a discussion on the regular session, which ended last week.

But legislative debates are far from over. Gov. Greg Abbott immediately called a special session on property taxes and border security — and he has suggested it will be one of several overtime rounds.

Here are some highlights from the event:

Paxton impeachment

In the final days of the regular session, the House voted 121-23 to impeach Paxton, alleging a yearslong pattern of misconduct and lawbreaking. The vote was bipartisan, with 61 Democrats and 60 Republicans supporting Paxton’s impeachment. Paxton now awaits a trial in the Senate, which could vote to remove him from office if supported by two-thirds of senators.

The lone Republican on the panel, Capriglione, was among those who supported impeachment. He said he does not think “anyone’s above the law, whether you’re elected or you’re not,” and he emphasized the House played a role that was similar to that of a grand jury.

“I think we voted because there was sufficient evidence that it should go to a trial,” Capriglione said. “I think he’s going to have his day in court, and we’ll see what happens then.”

House leaders say the impeachment was sparked by Paxton’s request for a taxpayer-funded $3.3 million settlement with whistleblowers who were fired from his agency after reporting Paxton’s behavior to law enforcement in 2020. Panelists said they hope the whistlblowers eventually get paid, expressing concern about a potential chilling effect on future whistleblowers.

“Bottom line, I would like to see the whistleblowers be compensated when all this is resolved,” Turner said. “And I think ultimately they will be.”

Property taxes

The House and Senate are at loggerheads over the best way to deliver property tax relief. For the current special session, Abbott told lawmakers to focus only on “compression,” or sending billions of dollars to school districts to help them lower their tax rates. The House quickly obliged Abbott last week, but the Senate has resisted. The upper chamber wants to additionally raise the homestead exemption, or the part of a home’s appraised value that is exempt from property taxes.

“I don’t know how that is going to get resolved,” Turner said. “I don’t know what the next step is, but I hope that homeowners in my district … will see some meaningful property tax relief — in whatever form it takes — here before too much longer.”

Capriglione noted the House has “tried multiple, multiple times” to find a path forward on the issue. The chamber initially prioritized tightening appraisal caps, or the rate at which a property’s appraised value can grow, but later agreed to increasing the homestead exemption as well.

Capriglione also addressed a concern with the compression-only approach — that the state may not have enough money years from now to sustain it.

“I believe, given inflation, given the economy of Texas, we’ll have those dollars in the future years to hold those [school districts] and to be able to hold them harmless effectively,” Capriglione said.

School choice

Abbott has said another issue for a future special session is “school choice,” or allowing parents to use taxpayer dollars to send their kids to private schools. He pushed hard for it during the regular session but could not get it through the House, a historical roadblock to the proposal.

The Democrats on the panel made clear that the proposal is a nonstarter for them.

“I think the House on a bipartisan basis rejected that multiple times,” Neave Criado said. “I know there are constant attempts to bring back different iterations of a voucher scheme. For us, ensuring the dollars are in our public schools is really, really essential.”

Capriglione took more of an optimistic view, noting the House has only taken “test” votes on school-choice programs since he has been in the chamber. And he argued those votes have shown there is growing acceptance for the idea.

“From a voucher perspective, the worst I ever saw the vote was last session,” Capriglione said, “and I would say that probably this session was the closest it ever had been.”

Source: The Texas Tribune