Photo: Mike Ward / Houston Chronicle
AUSTIN — Gov. Greg Abbott’s veto total for the year hit 50 on Thursday as his staff announced a final round of vetoes of bills approved during the recently completed legislative session, including the continuation of a women’s health advisory committee and a tree-replacement law.
Abbott also signed into law bills that could fine law enforcement agencies that don’t promptly report police shootings to the state, will license specialists who treat children with autism, will allow providers of state child-welfare services to reject placements based on religious preferences, allow “autonomous” or driverless vehicles, as well as changes to laws governing craft-beer breweries.
He also signed a measure that will set a grace period for unpaid school-lunch accounts — the so-called “lunch shaming” bill.
The vetoes are the most since 2007. Among the reasons for rejection include that they duplicated current law, would create costly and unnecessary new bureaucracy or that they would be too burdensome or unfair to taxpayers.
One bill that would have tweaked the licensing of electrical contractors was killed because it was “the exact same bill” that Abbott said he vetoed two years ago.
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Abbott also vetoed:
- Senate Bill 1912 that would have established mental-health public defenders to ensure that defendants facing court action had proper representation. Abbott said current law already mandates appointed counsel, and called the expanded bureaucracy was “unnecessary.”
- House Bill 2783 that sought to plug a loophole in the state’s open-records law that forced some taxpayers to file a suit to get documents from recalcitrant agencies. Abbott said the measure created an incentive for lawsuits.
- Senate Bill 667 that would have expanded official monitoring of the state’s guardianship programs for elderly Texans. Abbott said he did so because it would have cost taxpayers an additional $5 million, and he already had signed several reform bills that should address problems.
- House Bill 3281 that would have extended an Austin program for homestead preservation districts and reinvestment zones. Abbott said it gave “special tax treatment to certain neighborhoods at the expense of other taxpayers.”
He also vetoed other bills that would have made it a crime to install a tire incorrectly or violate flood-plain rules, would have prohibited state licensing agencies from considering an applicant’s past criminal record, would have given preference to Indian tribes to purchase surplus state property and would have allowed elected officials to also serve as county elections administrators — a policy that Abbott said could improperly mix politics with the fair administration of elections.
Several bills were vetoed that deal with issues Abbott said he wants the Legislature to address in a special session set to begin July 18.
One was a bill extending the life of the women’s health panel — a state committee that provides recommendations on women’s health issues. It was vetoed because Abbott said it “does nothing more than extend the expiration date of a governmental committee that has already successfully completed its mission.”
“Rather than prolong government committees beyond their expiration date, the state should focus on programs that address more clearly identifiable needs, like my call for action to address the maternal mortality rate during the special session,” Abbott said.
Advocates for the panel quickly decried the veto. “Dismantling this committee is incredibly shortsighted, especially since the maternal mortality rates are skyrocketing across our state. Texas women deserve better,” said state Sen. Borris Miles, D-Houston, the author of Senate Bill 790.
A second was House Bill 2410, a measure allowing mail-in-only ballots in certain elections in some small counties. He said he wants lawmakers to enact a tougher mail-ballot fraud law during the special session.
Another was Senate Bill 744 , legislation that would have required municipalities to allow residents to plant new trees instead of paying tree-removal fees. Abbott has said he wants the Legislature to preempt cities from enforcing local ordinances regulating trees on private property.
Abbott also signed into law bills that could fine law enforcement agencies that don’t promptly report police shootings to the state, will license specialists who treat children with autism, will allow providers of state child-welfare services to reject placements based on religious preferences, allow “autonomous” or driverless vehicles, as well as changes to laws governing craft-beer breweries and a measure that will set a grace period for unpaid school-lunch accounts — the so-called “lunch shaming” bill.
The governor also signed into law the Sandra Bland Act, an effort designed to force local jails to ramp up mental-health supervision and training to prevent suicides like one in Waller County two years ago that made national headlines. The new law, which takes effect Sept. 1, requires that county jails divert people with mental health and substance abuse issues toward treatment, and it mandates that independent law enforcement agencies investigate jail deaths.