You may have heard: Texas’ 84th Legislative session is underway. If you’re not deeply into politics or closely-tied to someone seriously involved, the legislature is a strange, often confusing and usually frustrating place.
Bills pop up and sometimes sit dormant for months. Others seem to quickly flow through unscathed with little notice. How do you know which bills to keep an eye on? How on Earth can one find out when and where these debates are happening during a tornado of legislative activity?
Yes, keeping track of things can be a pain. Yes, it’s frustrating to watch, no matter what political views you may hold.
And, yes, this stuff ultimately will affect you in ways large and small.
So, let’s look at a few things homeowners and real estate professionals may want to track. Then, we’ll show you a few tricks to keep up-to-date on specific issues.
In a Republican-dominated legislature, it’s little surprise that tax reductions are in the mix. There’s a push to limit the growth of property taxes as they relate to school district spending. There will likely be a move to cap the increase of residential property tax appraised values. And expect an effort to raise the state’s $15,000 homestead exemption on school district taxes.
And there will likely be another push to require full sales price disclosure on real estate transactions to more accurately set real estate values. But some real estate industry groups say that that may not include the seller’s concessions, which could dramatically impact the overall value in the transaction.
Of course, there’s much, much more. Here are a few ways to get a handle on it.
Subscribe to A Trusted Source
Find publications that you trust.
That may be a daily newspaper, such as the Austin American-Statesman, which dedicates a team of reporters to track issues. Or you may prefer even more ambitious political insight from publications like the Texas Tribune. Or you may wish to seek more independent voices offered by publications such as The Texas Observer and Texas Public Policy Foundation.
Stay on top of the legislative news like a lawmaker by checking in on the clippings provided to lawmakers.
You may also wish to subscribe to newsletters from specific special interest groups. That’s often the best way to stay up to date on a niche topic.
Those organizations, which hire lobbyists and fight for their industry interests, also often have legislative issue books that describe potential laws from their perspective. For example, the Texas Association of REALTORs outlines its wish list here.
Meanwhile, subscribe to the Maxavenue blog to stay up-to-date with major changes to laws impacting homeowners and other news and tips to help you get the most out of homeownership. Just click the envelope icon near the top right corner of this page.
Custom News Searches
Another way to stay on top of an issue is creating a Google news alert. Aim for specific phrases to filter your results. For example, if you want to track property tax legislation, consider setting a news alert that includes “property tax” and “Texas” and “residential” to focus your content and reduce the number of national stories or those that deal with commercial taxes.
Such alerts are also helpful if you’d like to monitor the statements of your elected representatives — or anyone, really. For example, if Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, represents you, consider setting an alert for his name to help track whether he’s representing your interests.
Remember, the old catch phrase “the squeakiest wheel gets the grease” is perhaps nowhere more applicable than in politics. Contacting lawmakers, especially on the Senate and House district level, can have a significant impact on how your representatives approach issues.
Digging Deep: Researching Issues On Your Own
For those who want more than what the newspapers, special interest groups and others are publishing, you can go get the raw information from the Texas Legislature Online.
The taxpayer-funded service lets you search bills by topic or search out specific bills by number or by the committee that is considering the particular bill.
Tracking bills takes a little practice. But once you learn the process with one bill, you’ll be equipped to set up a personalized way of monitoring the legislature.