Patrick lays out legislative priorities
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Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick outlined his goals for the upcoming legislative session, calling them “general concepts,” according to the Austin American-Statesman.
With an estimated $27 billion surplus, the Legislative Budget Board voted last week to boost the Legislature’s spending capacity by 12.3% — the largest increase allowed under the state constitution. But that still leaves the Legislature having about $14.5 billion in the piggy bank above its spending limit.
Consequently, property tax reduction is one of Patrick’s priorities. He is calling for a hike in the homestead property tax exemption from $40,000 to $60,000, as well as an expansion of personal property exemptions for businesses, the Statesman reported.
Other priorities include strengthening the state’s power grid, boosting border security and law enforcement measures, such as increasing pay for sheriffs and a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence for anyone who uses a gun while committing a crime.
Patrick stressed that the Legislature has the ultimate say.
“So much of what I’m laying out today is not specific, because it’s really up to the members to write the bills in the Senate and the House,” Patrick said. “We have an extraordinary opportunity, like we have never had before, to chart the future of the state of Texas.”
Report: Private border wall could collapse
A U.S. Department of Justice report kept secret for more than a year and produced by the global engineering firm Arcadis concludes a private border wall along the Rio Grande in Hidalgo County is in danger of collapsing if the area receives extreme flooding. The report, obtained by ProPublica and The Texas Tribune, concludes the wall built by Fisher Industries doesn’t meet basic international building code and industry standards. Its foundation is far shallower than previous border walls built by the federal government. The feds reached a settlement with Fisher Industries last May requiring that the fence be inspected quarterly, that bollards be removed, and that a gate be maintained to allow for the release of floodwaters.
An attorney for Fisher Industries said the company “strongly disagrees” with the report. However, several civil engineering experts say the settlement ignores the report’s conclusions. Alex Mayer, a civil engineering professor at the University of Texas at El Paso, said the agreement overlooks what he termed the wall’s flawed design, as pointed out by the report.
“It just shows the shoddiness of the whole effort. It worries me even more,” Mayer said.
The two news organizations spent 15 months trying to obtain the Arcadis report, which confirms their earlier reporting about the privately built wall’s potential flaws.
COVID-19 cases rise in state
The number of COVID-19 cases in the past week in Texas rose to 21,026, with 43 deaths reported by the Coronavirus Resource Center at Johns Hopkins University. That is more than double the number of new cases reported the previous week. There are 1,750 lab-confirmed COVID-19 hospitalizations throughout the state — also an increase, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.