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Texas Ends Legal Challenge to Tax Cuts, Increased Teacher Pensions

In what seems to be a coordinated effort between the governor, attorney general and secretary of state, six lawsuits challenging voter-approved property tax cuts and increases to teachers’ pensions have been blocked.

Legal challenges that threatened to upend Texas voter-approved property tax cuts and increases to retired teachers’ pensions appear to have been squashed by a coordinated effort between the governor, the attorney general and the secretary of state.

The secretary of state’s office has declared the 13 voter propositions approved on Nov. 7 a part of the Texas Constitution, according to legal filings in Travis County. The court documents indicate Gov. Greg Abbott seized upon a legal technicality to thwart six lawsuits challenging the results of the recent election.

Property tax cuts that could save homeowners hundreds on their tax bills next year and thousands of dollars for cost-of-living increases for retired teachers could have been in limbo while the lawsuits moved through courts in Travis County and a likely appellate process.

Some legal experts, however, say a judge’s ruling is still required to bring an end to the election challenges.

A group of election activists challenged the election results, accusing the state of using uncertified polling machines that exposed the election to voter fraud. In six nearly identical lawsuits, they called for courts to nullify the Nov. 7 results and hold a new one using paper ballots only.

The lawsuits came to light in a flurry of action Friday at the Capitol when the Senate rushed passage of a bill aimed directly at the lawsuits. The House never took up the bill, and it died as a special legislative session came to a close Tuesday.

The effort now appears unnecessary.

On Monday, Abbott canvassed the election, notifying the secretary of state’s office that he had certified results for all of the voter propositions. On Tuesday, the secretary of state’s office filed motions in the lawsuits indicating the measures are now part of the state constitution.

The election challenges would have held up implementation of the amendments. But the office of the attorney general discovered that the lawsuits had “citation and return of service” that gave incorrect deadlines for the secretary of state to respond, according to legal filings.

Typically plaintiffs can correct suits with proper citations. However, Texas law requires all subpoenas in challenges to elections to be served before the governor certifies the results.

Since the results have been certified, they are no longer subject to new legal challenges.

“This Court will never see a simpler example of mootness,” the legal filings from the secretary of state’s office read.

Two of the lawsuits were filed by Jarrett Woodward, a San Antonio resident who has previously sued over electronic voting machines in Bexar County.

Woodward said in an email that he had no comment on the latest filings.

Randy Erben, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin, said even if the law appears to be on Abbott’s side, dismissing the cases will require a ruling from a judge.

“The canvas ends the debate, but … the court may come back and say there’s nothing the matter with the service or there’s some exception or ameliorating factor,” Erben said.

©2023 The Dallas Morning News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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