Sign up for The Brief, The Texas Tribune’s daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news.
Two Republican state lawmakers from the Panhandle offered their views Thursday on a host of issues from the regular legislative session — plus the current special session in which the chambers are paralyzed over property tax relief.
Reps. John Smithee and Four Price, both of Amarillo, took part in a discussion with Texas Tribune reporter Jayme Lozano Carver in Amarillo. They also were joined by Keralee Clay, senior vice president of the Amarillo Area Foundation.
Here are highlights from what the two legislators had to say:
Property tax cuts
Smithee expressed some irritation with the stalemate over property taxes, saying it is clear what a compromise could be.
The standoff is rooted in the Senate’s insistence on increasing the homestead exemption, the part of a home’s appraised value that is exempt from taxation. Gov. Greg Abbott asked lawmakers to focus only on cutting property taxes through what’s called compression — sending state funds to school districts to help them lower their tax rates. The House quickly obliged Abbott in the special session and left town, while the Senate has remained in session and has been holding out for its preferred plan.
“The solution, in my view, is obvious,” Smithee said. “You raise the homestead exemption — maybe not to $100,000, but higher than it is now — and you compress the rate. If you do those two, you have a deal, everybody gets to go home, and there’s some reduction of property taxes when you get your tax bill this fall.”
Smithee added that such a compromise is likely — “and it’s somewhat frustrating it hasn’t been done already.”
Abbott has said he will call a special session later this year for another one of his priorities that did not get approval in the regular session: allowing public money to be spent on private schools.
At least until this year, Price and Smithee have both been part of a coalition of rural Republicans and Democrats who have resisted such efforts, worried about the impact on public schools that are the lifeblood of their communities. They both reiterated their concerns Thursday, but they also acknowledged the debate is far from over.
“We’ll see where it goes, but the [House] votes aren’t there right now,” Smithee said.
Price pointed out that House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, appointed a special committee Monday that will likely try to find a way forward on vouchers. And he expressed hope that lawmakers will be more mindful of the diversity of school districts across Texas.
“I feel like there’s going to have to be a little more give and take, compromise, thought given to, ‘Let’s address a problem where that problem actually exists,’ if we’re going to do anything to move forward,” Price said.
Related to education, Clay expressed disappointment about the lack of legislative interest in early childhood education and child care. She noted how crucial brain development is for children up to age 5 and that people have trouble getting back to work because of the lack of affordable child care.
“So there’s a lot of layers to early childhood education that is affecting many people, whether you have kids or not,” Clay said.
The House voted to impeach now-suspended Attorney General Ken Paxton last month, but Price and Smithee were among 23 Republicans who opposed it. Both said the process was flawed, and Smithee was one of the most vocal opponents during the House debate.
With a Senate trial pending, Paxton’s lawyers have argued the House process was so shoddy that the Senate should effectively dismiss the articles of impeachment from the outset. Smithee agreed Thursday.
“My view is that what the Senate should do is what the lawyers say they should do, is dismiss the impeachment and send it back to the House for further proceedings,” Smithee said. “I’m not saying that the evidence isn’t there or couldn’t be there, but I think it has to be developed and you have to go through the normal process.”
Price did not go as far, but he reiterated the reasons for opposing impeachment.
“Doing it the way it was done felt a little rushed and not in accordance with the way I’d like to see a precedent set,” Price said.
Toward the end of the event, both lawmakers got audience questions challenging them on their support for some of the more contentious bills of the regular session. One of them was Senate Bill 14, which bans gender-affirming care for transgender children. Abbott signed it into law earlier this month.
Price noted that he sits on the committee that heard the legislation and said he listened to testimony that was eye-opening. He said he learned of, “in many cases, irreversible, life-changing decisions that are being made at a young age, and sometimes the parents were in disagreement on it.”
Smithee also said he was struck by the stories he heard while exploring the issue, particularly from people who sought such treatment but later regretted it.
Disclosure: The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.
Stories like the one you just read come to life at The Texas Tribune Festival, the Tribune’s annual celebration of big, bold ideas happening Sept. 21-23 in downtown Austin. For just a little bit longer you can grab a discounted ticket to this year's event, but act fast — savings end on May 31! Buy now and save.