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House scraps sweeping school finance plan as deadline looms

🕐 4 min read

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Tensions in the home stretch of Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s first legislative session both eased and escalated Thursday night when he signaled an end to a bitter tax cut stalemate while Democrats tried running out the clock on an anti-gay marriage bill.

Midnight is the deadline for House bills to get a first full vote. Measures that don’t are considered dead — though there’s always the chance of being revived as amendments over the next final two weeks.

For now, the House has given the final OK to the most contentious anti-abortion bill of the session and abruptly scrapped an ambitious $3 billion plan to overhaul the way the state pays for public schools. The moves came amid stalling tactics from Democrats trying to upend a GOP-backed push to block gay marriage in Texas even if the U.S. Supreme Court legalizes it.

Abbott wouldn’t comment on that fray but did deliver potentially good news for both parties: a possible deal on a contentious tax cut fight that has divided House and Senate Republicans for months. He said a resolution could come early as Friday — which would cool speculation that lawmakers will work overtime this summer.

Abbott didn’t divulge details, but his comments signaled that a deal would deliver property tax cuts sought by the Senate and not a House-backed sales tax cut.

“I think the property owners of the state are frustrated with the taxes they have to spend on property taxes,” said Abbott, when asked about the possibility of a $10,000 school property tax exemption. “And this is a way that we can reduce the burden on property owners.”

Abbott has vowed to sign more than $4 billion in tax cuts for businesses and Texas residents before the Legislature adjourns on June 1.

Democrats, meanwhile, were busy slow playing a House bill prohibiting state, county and local officials from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Gay marriage was banned under an amendment to the Texas Constitution approved by voters in 2005, but the proposal by Republican Rep. Cecil Bell of Magnolia is designed to further shield the state from a possible high court ruling superseding that.

Some Republicans gave up on bills on their own. Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, chairman of the powerful House Public Education Committee, began laying out a bipartisan plan he described as a near-total teardown of the current school finance system — but pulled it back moments later.

He said passing the plan could be largely ceremonial since “the Senate will almost certainly not even consider it.” Democrats denied that Aycock’s bill was a victim of their efforts to slow other measures.

“I don’t think it’s necessarily a political maneuver or collateral damage. We wouldn’t have put so much time into it to have it become a victim of that,” said El Paso Democratic Rep. Marisa Marquez, who co-wrote the school finance bill and said it took more than a year to hammer out.

Texas is embroiled in its sixth major lawsuit since 1984 challenging funding for classrooms as insufficient and unfairly distributed among school districts in wealthy and poor parts of the state. A state district judge has already declared the system unconstitutional, and if the Texas Supreme Court upholds that decision on appeal, it will order the Legislature to devise a new plan.

Also Thursday, the House gave final approval to severely restricting rules for teens seeking abortions without the required parental consent, doing so without debate after hours of heated back-and-forth that stretched deep into the previous night.

The proposal by Victoria Republican Rep. Geanie Morrison limits the so-called judicial bypass process letting girls younger than 18 get a judge’s permission to have an abortion without telling their parents in extreme cases — including when doing so could lead to possible domestic violence. The law had been in place since 1999, and was praised by advocates as effective and fair, helping about 300 teens a year obtain abortions.

Morrison’s measure has been cheered by anti-abortion groups, which have pushed the Republican-controlled Legislature to find further abortion victories in a state that already has some of the nation’s strictest rules against it.

Opponents are particularly worried by a provision requiring qualifying teens to present a government-issued ID to undergo abortions — which they likened to Texas law requiring voters to show picture IDs at the polls, and argued that it will ensure fewer women undergo the procedure.

Associated Press writer Paul J. Weber contributed to this report.

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