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Featured: Speaker of the House Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, shakes hands with Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg and calls the House District 40 lawmaker “bold and fearless” following the Wednesday, June 12, 2019 ceremony involving Gov. Greg Abbott signing into law the Texas Property Tax Reform and Transparency Act of 2019. Seated, from left, are: Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, R-Houston; Gov. Greg Abbott; Bonnen; and Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock. Standing, from left: Sen. Dawn Buckingham, R-Lakeway; Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe; Canales; and Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond. The event took place outside of Wally’s Burgers in Austin.

Photograph By DYLAN MATTHEWS

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Rep. Canales, who helped shape the Texas Property Tax Reform and Transparency Act of 2019, says measure returns “power to the people”

By DAVID A. DÍAZ
Legislativemedia@aol.com

The Texas Property Tax Reform and Transparency Act of 2019, which was signed into law on Wednesday, June 12, 2019 by Gov. Greg Abbott, “returns power to the people” says Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, who attended the bill-signing ceremony in Austin, and was one of the 10 state lawmaker who shaped the final version of the legislation, which is an historic and sweeping measure that includes restraining increases in local property taxes on homes and businesses.

“During our efforts to pass this proposal, we in the Texas Legislature received constant pressure to leave things as they were, to continue allowing politicians and bureaucrats the power to raise property tax rates – which increases property taxes – without a vote by the people,” Canales said. “Well, I told them I represent the people, and together, the people and the Legislature were going to fix a broken system that has for too long allowed rogue governments, through uncontrolled tax increases, to take away the American Dream of owning and keeping a home.”

Canales was called “bold and fearless” by the Speaker of the House Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, for his performances on many key legislative priorities, such as the Texas Property Tax Reform and Transparency Act of 2019.

Senate Bill 2, the legislation named the Texas Property Texas Reform and Transparency Act of 2019, was authored by Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, Chair of the Senate Committee on Property Tax, and sponsored by Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, Chair of the House Ways and Means Committee.

Canales, Chair of the House Committee on Transportation, was a cosponsor of SB 2.

The author is the legislator who files a bill and guides it through the legislative process (also called the primary author). The sponsor is the legislator who guides a bill through the legislative process after the bill has passed the originating chamber. The sponsor is a member of the opposite chamber of the one in which the bill was filed.

The cosponsor is a legislator who joins with the primary sponsor to guide a bill or resolution through the legislative process in the opposite chamber. A cosponsor must be a member of the opposite chamber from the one in which the measure was filed.

“We made it clear from the outset of this session that our goal was not to simply mask the problem of skyrocketing property taxes, but to make transformative changes that would provide meaningful and lasting reform,” said Abbott. “Because of the work by legislators this session, we are ensuring that Texas remains the best state in the nation to live, work, start a business, and raise a family. By signing Senate Bill 2 into law, we are making tremendous strides to provide long-awaited relief to Texas homeowners and businesses.”

The governor hosted the bill signing at Wally’s Burger Express in Austin, a family-owned business founded in 1980 that has been struggling due to skyrocketing property taxes. Just this year, Wally’s property taxes increased 44 percent, Abbott said.

In addition to Canales’ presence at the bill signing ceremony, Abbott was joined by Robert Mayfield, the owner of Wally’s Burger Express, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, Speaker of the House Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton; Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, Sen. Dawn Buckingham, R-Lakeway Hills, and Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock.

Canales said he was the first Democrat to publicly sign up as a supporter of Texas Property Tax Reform and Transparency Act of 2019, but other Democrats later voted for it, including the Rio Grande Valley state legislative delegation in the House and in the Senate.

According to Abbott:

• Senate Bill 2 lowers the property tax rollback rate to 3.5% for cities and counties. Any increase to this rollback rate in cities, counties, and some special districts will require voter approval and automatically trigger a tax ratification election. This rollback rate will be renamed the voter approval tax rate going forward; and

• SB 2 also requires taxing units to post their budgets, tax rates, and tax rate calculation worksheets online. The bill makes numerous improvements to the appraisal and protest process, such as prohibiting an Appraisal Review Board (ARB) from increasing the value of a taxpayer property above its initial value, increasing training requirements for ARB members and arbitrators, and entitling taxpayers to the evidence the appraisal district plans to present at their ARB hearing free of charge.

Among its many key advances, SB 2 provides the first change in the rollback rate in 38 years by lowering it from 8 percent to 3.5 percent for cities and counties. This means as appraised values go up, property tax rates must come down, according to Betancourt.

Tax Code sec. 26.07 allows voters to petition for an election to repeal a tax rate adopted by a taxing unit that exceeds the unit’s rollback tax rate, according to the House Research Organization, which is the nonpartisan research arm of the Texas House of Representatives. A petition for a rollback election must be signed by a certain percentage of the taxing unit’s registered voters and be submitted to the governing body of the taxing unit within 90 days of the tax rate’s adoption.

In general, the property tax tax is a real estate ad-valorem tax, calculated by a local government, which is paid by the owner of the property. The tax is usually based on the value of the owned property, including land.

Also, SB 2 has an estimated $930 million dollars of taxpayer savings in fiscal year 2024 alone, and is part of a larger package of reform legislation, House Bill 3, that includes an additional $5 billion for property tax relief, but also major changes to the Texas school finance system.

“This is a journey that I started on with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and 300 other taxpayers when we came to the Texas Capitol in 2003 as constituents to ask for property relief,” said Bettencourt. “It’s the first major property tax reform in nearly four decades, and that says it all. As JFK (former President John F. Kennedy) said, ‘Victory has 1,000 fathers, while defeat is an orphan.’”

Canales, who also serves as Chair, House Committee on Transportation, congratulated Bettencourt and Burrows on their leadership roles on behalf of property tax reform and open government associated with SB 2.

“I appreciate Sen. Bettancourt’s reference to the 1960s by quoting President Kennedy, a Democrat and one of the greatest presidents in our nation’s history,” Canales said. “To borrow another famous saying from that epic decade of the 1960s, Senate Bill 2 also returns ‘power to the people.’”

The legislation will improve the transparency and efficiency of the property tax system by providing taxpayers with real-time access to tax information, revising required notices, using easier-to-understand terminology, and making the process generally more taxpayer friendly, according to the House Research Organization, which is the nonpartisan research arm of the Texas House of Representatives.

The House District 40 state representative’s growing influence in the Texas Legislature has continued to makes its presence known during the 86th Texas Legislature in many ways, including being appointed by Speaker of the House Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, on Friday, May 10, 2019, to the 10-member Conference Committee on Senate Bill 2.

“I am honored to have been selected by Speaker Bonnen to serve on the House Conference Committee to SB 2, the property tax reform bill,” said Canales. “Like many of my constituents, I am frustrated by ever-rising property taxes. The property tax system is needlessly confusing, and there is real fear from my constituents that they won’t be able to pay next year’s bill.”

The high-powered group of five senators (including Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen) and five state representatives (Canales and Rep. Ryan Guillén, D-Rio Grande City), were empowered by Patrick and Bonnen to come up with a final version of SB 2 for action by the full 181-member Texas Legislature.

A conference committee is a committee composed of five members from each chamber appointed by the respective presiding officers to resolve the differences between the house and senate versions of a measure when the originating chamber refuses to concur in the changes made by the opposite chamber.

“It is imperative that the House and Senate work together to address the issue of rising property tax values by balancing the needs of our local governments, with the ability of Texans to afford their ever-increasing property tax appraisals,” Canales added.

He was also selected earlier this year by Bonnen to serve as Chair, House Committee on Transportation, which has substantial power over the fate of highways, airways, waterways, and railways vital to economic prosperity and safety in the Lone Star State.

Canales also made Texas legislative history by becoming the first Mexican American to become Chair, House Committee on Transportation, which also has jurisdiction over governmental entities, including the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles, the Texas Department of Transportation, and the Texas Transportation Commission, which administer and distribute billions of dollars every two years for projects statewide.

Property tax reform is one of the most high-profile issues during the 86th Texas Legislature, which ended its 140-day regular session on Monday, May 27, 2019.

Also according to the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts:

The Texas local property tax is just that — a local tax, assessed locally, collected locally and used locally.
More than 4,100 local governments in Texas — school districts, cities, counties and various special districts — collect and spend these taxes.

Several types of local governments may tax your property. Texas counties and local school districts tax all nonexempt property within their jurisdictions. You also may pay property taxes to a city and to special districts such as hospital, junior college or water districts.

The governing body of each of these local governments determines the amount of property taxes it wants to raise and sets its own tax rate. Many, but not all, local governments other than counties contract with their county’s tax assessor-collector to collect the tax on their behalf.

Abbott, Patrick, and Bonnen had made property tax reform one of their top priorities for the regular session.

In Dallas, the average property tax bill now exceeds $5,000 and Houston is right behind them, also according to Betancourt.

“Throughout the state, home and business owners were being crushed by property taxes which can grow two to three times faster than their income rise,” said Betancourt. “This is not a partisan issue because it is an everybody pays issue. This reform keeps the dream of home and business ownership alive not just for the Texans who are but also the Texans that are yet to be.”

UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS RIO GRANDE VALLEY PARTNERS WITH TEXAS A&M UNIVERSITY AND UT MEDICAL BRANCH IN GALVESTON FOR COURSE IN “ONE HEALTH APPROACH”

Students from three universities, including the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, traveled across Texas to get field experience in outbreak investigation and learn about the One Health initiative, as part of a cooperative course between UTRGV, Texas A&M University and The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.

“There are different activities planned at every single campus,” said Dr. Christopher Vitek, UTRGV Associate Professor of Biology, announced on Wednesday, June 5, 2019. “We’ll take all these different activities as if it’s an actual outbreak – an actual unidentified case – that they’re working to resolve.”

As part of the course, students talked to fake patients and learned how to communicate with the media.

The three-week class started its first week at UTRGV, with the investigation of a sick cow that led students to collect ticks near Rio Hondo and conduct laboratory work at the United States Department of Agriculture Cattle Fever Tick Research facility on Moore Air Base in western Hidalgo County.

Marco Cabrera, a UTRGV biology graduate student from Roma, said he enjoyed the opportunity to work with students from other universities who shared mutual interests.

“I decided to take this course because I’m interested in the prevention and control of infectious diseases,” he said.

Texas A&M doctoral student Edward Davila said he was excited about the opportunity to get practical, real-world experience.

“I’m a very hands-on learner,” he said, “so I appreciate the fact that they’re going to take us out into the field.”

Some students may already be familiar with sampling methods and laboratory techniques, he said, but hands-on reinforcement is always useful.

“It’s something we’re all going to be able to take back and use again when we go back to our respective campuses,” he said.

Davila, whose background is in public health, was also interested in learning about the One Health initiative, described as an inter-professional health approach.

“So you combine work from different fields and you try to solve complex problems, mostly related to public health,” said Dr. Dennis Bente, a UTMB Associate Professor, who started the course.

The fields can include human health, animal health and environmental health.

“I think the location of UTRGV is just ideal to address some of those One Health questions, being so close to the border. That’s just one of the many reasons why we wanted to work with UTRGV,” Bente said.

UTRGV’s Vitek said the Rio Grande Valley has unique health issues, like people going to Mexico for medical treatment, and animals sold at flea markets.

“These are all concerns that are relevant to the spread of disease that could impact human and animal health,” he said.

Bente agrees, and hopes students in the course will see the big picture.

“If they can take one thing away, it’s how complex some of those issues are,” he said.

This is the second year the universities have partnered for the course, and Bente said last year’s students provided lots of positive feedback about the simulation-based learning.

“They loved it,” he said.

Vitek said they have made some changes, after hitting a few bumps the first year.

“This is a new way of doing it, with these multiple institutions involved. But it was something that the students had never experienced before, and they really enjoyed it,” he said.

Vitek said they hope to expand the program, possibly as a continuing education course with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or state health services.

About UTRGV

The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) was created by the Texas Legislature in 2013 as the first major public university of the 21st century in Texas. This transformative initiative provided the opportunity to expand educational opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley, including a new School of Medicine, and made it possible for residents of the region to benefit from the Permanent University Fund – a public endowment contributing support to the University of Texas System and other institutions.

UTRGV has campuses and off-campus research and teaching sites throughout the Rio Grande Valley including in Boca Chica Beach, Brownsville (formerly The University of Texas at Brownsville campus), Edinburg (formerly The University of Texas-Pan American campus), Harlingen, McAllen, Port Isabel, Rio Grande City, and South Padre Island. UTRGV, a comprehensive academic institution, enrolled its first class in the fall of 2015, and the School of Medicine welcomed its first class in the summer of 2016.

VIDEO by María Elena Hernández

PHOTO GALLERY by David Pike:https://utrgv-umc.photoshelter.com/galleries/C0000k9t5gy9BMEc/G0000XkYXh02OpvM/20190514-Tick-Identification-DP

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Cristie Ingram and María Elena Hernández contributed to this article. Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, who is the Chair of the House Committee on Transportation, represents House District 40 in Hidalgo County, which includes portions or all of Edinburg, Elsa, Faysville, La Blanca, Linn, Lópezville, McAllen, Pharr 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. For more on this and other Texas legislative news stories which affect the Rio Grande Valley metropolitan region, please log on to Titans of the Texas Legislature (TitansoftheTexasLegislature.com)

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