Sixteen years ago, during my last year of law school, I clerked for an attorney in downtown Austin.
Periodically, a research assignment would send me to the State Law Library, requiring a stroll up Congress and across the lush capitol grounds. The Seventy-eighth Legislature was in session that spring, the area bristling with an electricity of competing passions and ideas about the future of our state. For a political-science-law-student-nerd, the bustle and energy was inspiring because what happens in Austin during the 140 days of a session, changes Texas.
This week the Eighty-sixth Legislature wrapped up its work. I was fortunate to spend quite a bit of time watching this session in person, sometimes with other Stephenville colleagues, sometimes on solo missions to be better informed and involved about the decisions (and deciders) affecting our families and businesses back home.
The big-ticket highlights of the session are indeed big for us, particularly the property tax reform measure under SB2 that will require our county and city taxing units to obtain voter approval before receiving 3.5% more property tax revenue than they received the previous year. Under HB3, our school districts see a compression of their rates to automatically hold tax revenue growth to no more than 2.5% over the previous year.
Why do compression rates matter? Because when property appraisals continue to soar each May, and taxing jurisdictions’ rates remain virtually stagnant each September, the net effect for taxpayers is a bigger tax bill at year end. Compression rates impose new, lower caps that tap the brakes on that cycle of automatic revenue growth and interject a better voter approval process.
This fall, thanks to the persistence of Republican leadership in both chambers, voters will also get to weigh in on a constitutional amendment prohibiting a state income tax on individuals. (The last time Erath County voted on whether to allow a new tax, we were pretty emphatic in our turnout, so I’m looking forward to a strong reunion tour, my people.)
Another welcome change for us fans of limited government and private property rights came under HB347: no more forced annexations. Now voters in both our municipalities and any proposed annexation areas get to approve (or deny) adding territory to a city—a long overdue protection for property owners on both sides of the ETJ line.
Personally though, the best part of this session came when my 11-year-old Sophie and her classmate Kenley had the privilege of serving as Honorary Pages in the Texas House of Representatives. The girls spent the morning on the House floor, learning about the legislative process, pushing the vote buttons for their Representative, and taking a turn swinging the Speaker’s gavel. In the afternoon, they met with their Senator and learned about the steps for a bill to become law.
As their day at the capitol was winding down, the late afternoon sun pushing through shutters into the Senate Gallery, Sophie leaned over and whispered to me: “when I grow up, I’m going to be a representative or senator!”
She’d felt it: the electricity and energy of government in action.
Sixteen years ago, I knew exactly how she felt walking through that building—and I carry that spark still.
Because what happens in Austin, changes Texas. It changes Texans.
And I can’t think of many things more important for the future of rural Texas than making sure the next generation understands the magnitude of that responsibility and learns how to engage and advocate.
Or maybe that’s just my inner political nerd, thrilling at the possibility of raising a political nerd to hang out with me under the dome.
Either way: God Bless Texas.
Shelby Slawson--attorney, business owner, and passionate community advocate--is a member of the E-T’s community columnists. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.