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Featured, left: Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, takes questions from local journalists on Thursday, August 18, 2016, at the Legislative Report Card luncheon, hosted by the Rio Grande Valley Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, at the Embassy Suites in McAllen.

Photograph By MARK MONTEMAYOR

A plan that would better protect Texans from being jailed because they are too poor to pay fines for Class C misdemeanors and legislation that would would make it harder for local governments to increase property tax rates have been filed by Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, for action by the Texas Legislature in the coming months. Canales, who was reelected on November 8, 2016 to his third two-year term, on Monday, November 14, 2016, officially began introducing many of his proposals for the 85th Texas Legislature, which returns to work on Tuesday, January 10, 2017, for its 140-day regular session. “My proposals and upcoming votes during the upcoming legislative session are based on what is right and just,” said Canales. “But just as important, my staff and I are here to help constituents from all walks of life to learn the state legislative process so they, too, can be effective players at the Texas Capitol without having to leave home.”

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Protecting the poor from being jailed for traffic tickets, making it more difficult for property tax rates to increase, among bills filed by Rep. Canales

By DAVID A. DÍAZ
Legislativemedia@aol.com

A plan that would better protect Texans from being jailed because they are too poor to pay fines for Class C misdemeanors and legislation that would would make it harder for local governments to increase property tax rates have been filed by Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, for action by the Texas Legislature in the coming months.

Canales, who was reelected on November 8, 2016 to his third two-year term, on Monday, November 14, 2016, officially began introducing many of his proposals for the 85th Texas Legislature, which returns to work on Tuesday, January 10, 2017, for its 140-day regular session. 

“My proposals and upcoming votes during the upcoming legislative session are based on what is right and just,” said Canales. “But just as important, my staff and I are here to help constituents from all walks of life to learn the state legislative process so they, too, can be effective players at the Texas Capitol without having to leave home.”

Canales said he will probably eventually author around 50 piece of legislation.

Two of his proposals are in response to growing concerns locally and statewide:

• House Bill 351, relating to the discharge or waiver of fines and costs imposed on indigent defendants; and

• House Bill 345, relating to the calculation of the ad valorem rollback tax rate of a taxing unit.

‘THE POOR FACE GREAT HARDSHIPS WHEN CITATIONS RESULT IN FINES”

HB 351 would allow municipal court judges and justices of the peace to reduce/waive fines or order community service in place of a fine at the time of sentencing, in an effort to ensure that they are not needlessly issuing warrants for Texans involved in low-level offenses such as traffic tickets,” said Canales.

Currently, these local judges can waive a fine and/or substitute community service for the fine after a defendant comes back to court to prove they cannot afford to pay the fine.

“We have too many Texans statewide who are struggling to pay rent and groceries, then they wind up getting ticketed for the most minor offenses, such as traffic violations. But many of them get thrown into jail so that local governments, including the State of Texas, can collect tens of millions of dollars in fines every year,” Canales explained. “The valuable resources of our judicial and law enforcement professionals, and especially our jails, should remain focused on putting violent criminals, thieves and robbers behind bars, not on poor people charged with an offense whose only punishment is a fine.”

According to Canales’ HB 351, “if in imposing a fine and costs the justice or judge determines that the defendant has insufficient resources or income to pay the fine or costs, the justice or judge may require the defendant to discharge all or part of the fine or costs by performing community service as provided by Article 45.049.”

A comprehensive study prepared by the City of Houston and published on March 1, 2016, titled “Mayor Sylvester Turner, Transition Committee on Criminal Justice”, found that poor residents in the nation’s fourth largest city were being unfairly treated. This is a serious issue that affects economically-disadvantaged Texans statewide,” Canales noted.

In the four-county Rio Grande Valley, up to 36 percent of residents live in poverty, according to a recent article by the Texas Tribune (https://www.texastribune.org/2016/01/19/poverty-prevalent-on-texas-border-low-in-suburbs/)

The Transition Committee on Criminal Justice also reflected that “when people receive traffic citations or fine-only misdemeanor citations, the economically well off can easily just pay the fine and be done with the process.

“From going to various pay centers around the city, or using a 24-7 payment machine in the court building, or paying online, or at the courthouse, or by mail, resolving one’s debt to the court is a trivial annoyance for the well off—an annoyance that still stands as an insufficient deterrent to dangerous driving,” the Transition Committee on Criminal Justice continued.

“The poor, however, face great hardships when citations result in fines. State law requires judges to account for indigence in setting punishment; judges can waive the fine and court fee and offer alternatives like community service, reduction of fines, and fine waivers for poor defendants. However, data suggests these alternatives are infrequently offered,” the report further found.

The entire report is available online at:

(https://www.houstontx.gov/mayor/transitionreports/criminal_justice.pdf).

PROVIDING VOTERS GREATER POWER TO BLOCK PROPERTY TAX INCREASES

Protecting homeowners from higher property taxes is the mission of his House Bill 345, Canales added.

“HB 345 lowers the amount that local governments – cities, counties, school districts and special districts – can raise their property tax rates before citizens can require a vote on such an increase,” said Canales. “We are talking about increasing the power of the Texas voters to set a stricter limit on how much their property taxes can go up.”

A property tax is determined by the value of the property, according to “The Texas Property Tax System”,  which is a publication by The Real Estate Center, Texas A&M University (https://assets.recenter.tamu.edu/Documents/Articles/1192.pdf).

“To generate a given amount of property tax income, the taxing unit must establish a tax rate — that is, the dollar amount of tax a person will pay for each dollar amount of property value owned,” the Texas A&M publication explains.

According to legislative research, current Texas law requires each taxing unit to calculate and publish a rollback tax rate. The rollback tax rate provides the taxing unit approximately the same amount of revenue it spent the previous year for day-to-day operations plus an extra eight percent cushion, and sufficient funds to pay its debts in the coming year.

The rollback tax rate is commonly referred to as a revenue cap. Lowering the cap from eight percent to five percent – which is proposed by Canales’ HB 345 – will provide property taxpayers some relief from their overall tax burden by limiting the tax rate that local taxing jurisdictions may set in order to generate  revenue.

In general, property taxes are local taxes that provide the largest source of money local governments use to pay for schools, streets, roads, police, fire protection and many other services. Texas law establishes the process followed by local officials in determining the value for property, ensuring that values are equal and uniform, setting tax rates and collecting taxes.

Texas has no state property tax. The Legislature has authorized local governments to collect the tax. The state does not set property tax rates or collect property taxes on businesses or residences.

As of Friday, December 9, 2016, the following bills had been introduced into the legislative process by Canales:

HB 209
11/14/2016 H Filed
Relating to voter registration application forms in high schools.

HB 211
11/14/2016 H Filed
Relating to the participation of students under the supervision of the Texas Juvenile Justice Department in University Interscholastic League sponsored activities.

HB 213
11/14/2016 H Filed
Relating to requirements regarding electronic access to instructional materials provided in printed book format purchased for public schools.

HB 214
11/14/2016 H Filed
Relating to a recording of certain proceedings of the Texas Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals and the publication of the recordings.

HB 215
11/14/2016 H Filed
Relating to the rights of certain defendants who successfully complete a term of community supervision.

HB 217
11/14/2016 H Filed
Relating to the authority of certain persons to defer or abate the collection of ad valorem taxes on a person’s residence homestead.

HB 229
11/14/2016 H Filed
Relating to the electronic recording and admissibility of certain custodial interrogations.

HB 230
11/14/2016 H Filed
Relating to the eligibility of school bus drivers for unemployment compensation benefits.

HB 316
11/14/2016 H Filed
Relating to the extent of a defendant’s criminal responsibility for the conduct of another in capital felony cases.

HB 317
11/14/2016 H Filed
Relating to the consideration by certain employers of the consumer credit reports of certain employees and applicants for employment; providing administrative penalties.

HB 318
11/14/2016 H Filed
Relating to an appropriation of money from the economic stabilization fund to the fund for veterans’ assistance for grants to improve the level of health services provided to certain veterans.

HB 319
11/14/2016 H Filed
Relating to a distance learning program at The University of Texas at Austin School of Law.

HB 320
11/14/2016 H Filed
Relating to the additional tax imposed on land appraised for ad valorem tax purposes as qualified open-space land if a change in use of the land occurs.

HB 321
11/14/2016 H Filed
Relating to the development of a statewide motor vehicle registration program to prevent transnational motor vehicle theft; authorizing fees.

HB 322
11/14/2016 H Filed
Relating to the automatic expunction of arrest records and files for certain veterans and the waiver of fees and costs charged for the expunction.

HB 323
11/14/2016 H Filed
Relating to the award of court costs, storage fees, and attorney’s fees in a criminal asset forfeiture proceeding.

HB 324
11/14/2016 H Filed
Relating to the recording and disclosure of certain grand jury proceedings that involve a governmental employee.

HB 325
11/14/2016 H Filed
Relating to the expunction of arrest records and files relating to certain nonviolent offenses.

HB 326
11/14/2016 H Filed
Relating to the payment of gratuities to certain employees.

HB 327
11/14/2016 H Filed
Relating to the sale of wine and beer on Sundays.

HB 341
11/15/2016 H Filed
Relating to requiring certain textbook publishers to offer electronic textbooks.

HB 342
11/15/2016 H Filed
Relating to notice provided to a court regarding certain defendants placed on state jail felony community supervision.

HB 343
11/15/2016 H Filed
Relating to a sales and use tax exemption for certain disabled veterans and surviving spouses of certain disabled veterans.

HB 344
11/15/2016 H Filed
Relating to the state’s burden of proof in certain criminal asset forfeiture proceedings.

HB 345
11/15/2016 H Filed
Relating to the calculation of the ad valorem rollback tax rate of a taxing unit.

HB 346
11/15/2016 H Filed
Relating to the expunction of arrest records and files relating to an offense for which an indictment or information was dismissed with prejudice.

HB 347
11/15/2016 H Filed
Relating to the establishment of a pilot program for the issuance of digital identification.

HB 348
11/15/2016 H Filed
Relating to the admissibility of evidence in an asset forfeiture proceeding and the seizure and forfeiture of certain property.

HB 349
11/15/2016 H Filed
Relating to the disclosure under the public information law of certain information related to parades, concerts, or other events open to the general public that are paid for with public funds.

HB 350
11/15/2016 H Filed
Relating to exempting textbooks purchased, used, or consumed by university and college students from the sales and use tax for limited periods.

HB 351
11/15/2016 H Filed
Relating to the discharge or waiver of fines and costs imposed on indigent defendants.

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Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, represents House District 40 in Hidalgo County. HD 4o includes portions or all of Edinburg, Elsa, Faysville, La Blanca, Linn, Lópezville, McAllen, Pharr, San Carlos and Weslaco. He may be reached at his House District Office in Edinburg at (956) 383-0860 or at the Capitol at (512) 463-0426.

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