House leadership has been forced to back down after proposing a tactic that would have blocked all property tax reform and relief amendments. Their capitulation to grassroots opposition signals that House leadership may have fewer than 20 Republican supporters.

On Wednesday, the House Calendars Committee moved to schedule SB 1, the property tax reform bill, for a floor vote on Saturday. The committee also proposed an unprecedented “calendar rule” that would have blocked all amendments to the bill. That rule was important because the House Ways & Means Committee has significantly watered down SB 1 and so the rule, if adopted, would have prevented any efforts to improve it.

Grassroots groups were quick to organize opposition to the proposed rule, and on Thursday morning, Calendars Committee Chairman Todd Hunter (R–Corpus Christi) announced that he was backing down and would not pursue it.

That’s an extraordinary development given the low threshold for adopting the rule. Normally, calendar rules require ratification by two-thirds of all members in order to be adopted. However, because SB 1 is a tax bill, the calendar rule limiting amendments could have been adopted with only 76 votes.

One could assume Democrats would oppose efforts to strengthen the tax reform bill and so they could be counted on to vote as a bloc in support of the rule. That means leadership only needed to whip 20 Republican votes on a procedural matter in order to keep their plan on track.

They couldn’t do it.

This development is a sign that grassroots Texans are becoming substantially more savvy about the legislative process. Either Republican members close to Straus know that their constituents would understand that a vote for the calendar rule would be a vote against property tax reform and relief, or House leadership simply no longer has 20 Republican supporters.

This does not mean, however, that taxpayers are in for smooth sailing on the property tax reform issue.

After Hunter announced he was backing down on the rule, State Rep. Jason Isaac (R–Dripping Springs) went immediately to the back microphone to ask parliamentary inquiries about whether House leadership would attempt to recommit SB 1 to committee, the process used by House Speaker Joe Straus to kill property tax reform during the regular session.

Both the chair and assistant parliamentarian Shalla Sluyter refused to give Isaac straight answers, and when he attempted to lodge a standing objection to such a motion, they refused to accept the objection.

Though conservatives won the opening skirmish, Texans should stay tuned to the House through Saturday to see whether property tax reform will overcome further obstruction tactics from House leadership.

Tony McDonald

Tony McDonald serves as General Counsel to Texas Scorecard. A licensed and practicing attorney, Tony specializes in the areas of civil litigation, legislative lawyering, and non-profit regulatory compliance. Tony resides in Austin with his wife and daughter and attends St. Paul Lutheran Church.

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