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As a member of the North Texas Regional Chamber Coalition, the Richardson Chamber shares the Accountability Index of the 87th Regular Legislative Session.
As a coalition dedicated to advancing the vibrancy of the North Texas region, it is essential to communicate with members and other regional stakeholders as to how this critical legislative session concluded.
The Accountability Index is comprised of 17 recorded votes taken in one or both chambers. Records are based on the last recorded vote in the House and Senate Journals. These bills were carefully selected and approved by the coalition because they represent critical issues to the state and region. This report reflects record votes represented as a green checkmark for voting with RCC priorities and a red “X” for voting against the priorities.
In addition to the 17 recorded bills, we have included other priority bills that died in the legislative process. Details for those bills can be found on the readout following the chart of votes.
A major legislative success was the passage of HB 5, the omnibus broadband bill. Above, Bill Sproull, president of the Richardson Chamber and chair of the Governor’s Broadband Development Council, joins Jennifer Harris, also representing the council, to watch as Gov. Greg Abbott signs the bill.

Update: 6/15/21

Can’t get enough of Texas politics?  If you want a thorough recap of what happened in Austin during the 87th Texas Legislative Session, watch this recap.  Bill Sproull, CEO of the Richardson Chamber and Tech Titans, leads a lively discussion on what happened – and what didn’t – during one of the strangest sessions in memory with Drew Campbell, president of Capitol Insights and Chris Wallace, president and CEO of the North Texas Commission.

The Texas Tribune keeps a list of bills passed, failed and/or sent to Gov. Greg Abbott.

Texas Monthly just released its Best and Worst Legislators list. Our own Rep. Jeff Leach and Rep. Angie Chen Button made the best list.

Among the articles we’ve read this week, the Tribune looked at how much did and did not get done in response to the winter freeze. The article focused on a report by former PUC members, which lists how much still needs to be done. “For instance, lawmakers would require power plants to weatherize, but were more forgiving to the natural gas providers that fuel many of those plants. In their report — “Never Again: How to Prevent Another Major Texas Electricity Failure” — the former regulators said the state should require weatherization of power plant and natural gas systems, calling that their most important recommendation. They also said the state should require backup power at critical facilities; clear up the legal definitions of when demand-driven price increases turn into price gouging; raise building and energy efficiency standards and retrofit existing systems; increase funding and staffing at the Public Utility Commission; and improve planning and forecasting at the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which operates the electric grid that covers most of the state.”

What DID happen? Abbott has signed into law SB 2 and 3, which are meant to improve the state’s main power grid and change the governance of the agency that operates it. Calls for sweeping changes to Texas’ power infrastructure have amplified since February, when a catastrophic winter storm left more than 4.8 million homes and businesses without power for days. The state reports that 151 people died, though a BuzzFeed News analysis found the number of fatalities may be 700.

Senate Bill 3

  • Requires upgrades for power generators and transmission lines to make them better withstand extreme weather.
  • The Texas Railroad Commission and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas will conduct inspections of the facilities.
  • Failure to weatherize may result in penalties of up to $1 million.
  • Is more lenient toward natural gas fuel companies, which supply power plants. They will be required to weatherize only if deemed “critical” by regulators.
  • Leaves out any requirements to improve consumer infrastructure such as homes and pipes, which experts have called a significant oversight.
  • Likely won’t require companies to weatherize until 2022 at the earliest, and plans to help them pay for the upgrades were struck from the legislation during negotiations between Senate and House members.

Senate Bill 2

  • Shrinks the number of seats on ERCOT’s board of directors from 16 to 11, and the state’s top politicians would have a strong influence over the board.
  • A selection committee would appoint eight of the 11 board members. The selection committee would be made up of three people — one appointed by the governor, one by the lieutenant governor and one by the speaker of the House.
  • The committee would use an “outside consulting firm” to select the eight members.
  • Nine of the 11 ERCOT board seats would be voting members, handing politicians significant power over the ERCOT board.

Higher education funding: Texas’ public university officials and higher education leaders said they are breathing a sigh of relief after state lawmakers added a last-minute influx of $380 million in funding for four-year universities and health institutions at the end of this year’s legislative session, a welcome addition for many schools that have seen enrollments rise as they deal with the financial strain caused by the COVID-19 shutdown. The Tribune’s article continued: But community colleges aren’t feeling as lucky, as they lost tens of millions of dollars worth of state funding due largely due to enrollment declines during the pandemic. Leaders across two- and four-year schools also say they’re hoping to squeeze out some additional support for higher education in the expected special session later this year. The additional money for university enrollment growth was not originally included in the budget conference committee report negotiated by the Texas House and Senate, to the frustration of many university officials. But it was added by the time the budget was sent to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk. How much each university will receive from the late session boost depends on enrollment changes.

Jobless Texans who refuse work offers because they feel the job isn’t safe during the pandemic will no longer be able to receive unemployment benefits as of June 26, the Texas Workforce Commission announced. Since last year, special pandemic guidelines have allowed some out-of-work people to decline a job if it doesn’t have proper COVID-19 health or safety protocols — and still qualify for unemployment benefits.  The reversal of the guidelines is associated with the removal of COVID federal unemployment aid. Starting June 26, jobless Texans will lose access to a $300-per-week supplemental benefit through the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program. Abbott also cut off called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, which extended unemployment aid to gig workers, self-employed people and others who don’t traditionally receive unemployment benefits.

Texas businesses that require customers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 will be denied state contracts and could lose their licenses or operating permits under legislation Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law.  Senate Bill 968 includes a clause banning businesses from requiring proof of the vaccine from their customers. Those that violate the ban may not contract with the state, and state agencies that oversee various sectors of business may decide to make compliance with the state law a condition of getting licensed or permitted.

Speaking of vaccines: The Dallas Regional Chamber launched a COVID-19 vaccine awareness campaign in an effort to push the region over the threshold for herd immunity. The ‘Take Care of Business’ campaign aims to get 600,000 more North Texans vaccinated this summer so businesses can resume pre-pandemic levels of activity.

Cryptocurrency in Texas gest a thumbs up. The Texas Department of Banking sent out an industry notice  to let state-chartered banks know that they have the authority to provide custody, or safekeeping, services for virtual currencies. The clarification of the interpretation of Texas law comes shortly before Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is expected to hold a signing ceremony in the next two weeks for the “Virtual Currency Bill,” recognizing the legal status of virtual currencies, reported the Dallas Morning News. “Blockchain is a booming industry that Texas needs to be involved in. I just signed a law for Texas to create a master plan for expanding the blockchain industry in Texas,” Abbott tweeted out last week.

 

Federal news

An expansive bill, called the Innovation and Competition Act, aimed at reinvigorating America's technological footprint to counter China has passed the Senate and now heads to the House, where it faces a competing bill and somewhat murky future. President Joe Biden praised passage of the bill making generational investments in American workers. "This legislation addresses key elements that were included in my American Jobs Plan, and I am encouraged by this bipartisan effort to advance those elements separately through this bill," Biden said in a statement. "It is long past time that we invest in American workers and American innovation." The bill would boost funding for research and technology manufacturing to increase America's competitiveness, strengthen national security and grow the economy. It would pump more than $200 billion into U.S. scientific and technological innovation over the next five years. The bill, which originally began as the Endless Frontier Act, establishes a new directorate for technology and innovation at the National Science Foundation to ensure $100 billion is funneled to the development of artificial intelligences, semiconductors, robotics and high-performance computing. The expanded legislation would provide $52 billion in assistance to semiconductor manufacturing companies to make computer chips, which have been in a global shortage since last summer. The shortage has affected manufacturers and automakers that use the chips in vehicles, cellphones and video game consoles.

Inflation: U.S. consumer prices continued to climb strongly in May, surging 5% from a year ago to reach the highest annual inflation rate in nearly 13 years.

Jobless Claims: Unemployment claims fell to 376,000 last week from 385,000 a week earlier, bringing claims to the lowest level since the pandemic hit last spring.

Pres. Joe Biden is in the United Kingdom to meet with the G7. The governments see the three-day summit as an opportunity to rebuild relations among friendly states that were bruised during the Trump administration and to better confront the growing international assertiveness of China, Russia and other authoritarian states, according to the Wall Street Journal. Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged to deepen trade links, cooperate on health policy, and counter the influence of autocratic states.

Not dead yet: the Biden administration is still working all the angles to strike a bipartisan infrastructure deal. From The Hill: A bipartisan group of 10 senators announced an agreement on a ‘compromise framework’ to invest $1.2 trillion in infrastructure over the next eight years.”

87th Texas Legislature wrap-up

Oh, where to begin…. The session ended with lots of drama as promised.

Not only were there partisan politics, but there was lots of bickering between the three State leaders, all Republican. As several top priorities of the Governor, Lt. Governor and Speaker of the House were not approved, expect at least one special session in the coming months. Oh yea, and they still have to tackle redistricting.

SB 7: House Democrats effectively killed the “election integrity” bill when they walked out of the Capitol, breaking quorum in their chamber shortly before the final bill passage deadline at midnight.

HB 5: Both the House and Senate adopted the conference committee report on the legislature’s priority broadband expansion bill, after committee negotiators decided to house the Statewide Broadband Development Office in the Office of the Comptroller.

Winter storm Uri: The House and Senate finalized bills related to the fallout of Winter Storm Uri, although lawmakers seemed to acknowledge that more work remains on the state’s energy and power infrastructure. With the passage of SB 2, new rules will be set on the governance of the Public Utility Commission and ERCOT. Additionally, SB 3 passed, with limited weatherization requirements and a Jan. 1 deadline for the mapping of critical gas facilities. On the issue of debt securitization, both HB 1520 and HB 4492 passed. Despite a push by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, HB 4492 did not include a provision for a $350 credit for residential ratepayers in ERCOT’s service area.

SB 1: The House and Senate approved the Conference Committee Report for SB 1 late last week. The $248.5 billion total budget for the 2022-2023 biennium now heads to Governor Abbott who has line item veto power over appropriations matters. The budget has a projected balance of $11.6 billion for the Economic Stabilization Fund. A summary of the budget highlights can be reviewed here.

HB 4242: The Senate failed to act on legislation to extend Chapter 313 agreements under the Texas Economic Development Act. House bill 4242 was not taken up by the Senate thereby resulting in the economic development program’s expiration effective December 31, 2022. A more comprehensive bill related to streamlining Chapter 313 agreements, HB 1556, previously died in the House.

We’re not done yet….We’re compiling wrap-ups from several media and business sources and will put updates on the website. Plus we’ll keep you updated on special sessions.

Legislative update: 5/28/21

 Austin

It’s a thrill-a-minute on the floor of the Capitol as lawmakers frantically try to get as much passed, or not passed, before the end of the session at midnight, May 31.

So, here’s what’s happened this week, so far, but don’t hold your breath. Everything is up in the air until the gavel pounds sine die. We’ll send a session wrap-up early next week.

First, have some fun….a blooper reel from the Texas House of Representatives.

Texas House and Senate conferees have reached a consensus to expand broadband access into urban and rural communities. Now both the House and Senate must approve the negotiated bill before the governor can sign it into law. In the negotiated bill, the comptroller will oversee the new state broadband office with the help of a 10-person board of advisors. The board’s membership will include representatives from the tourism industry, the education community and both urban and rural areas, among others. The office will be tasked with detailing which areas lack connections; establishing a program to distribute grants for improved access; and creating a statewide plan with long-term goals. It will serve as a resource on digital connectivity and broadband and develop a plan that establishes long-term goals for improving access, adoption and affordability.

Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick are baiting each other via Twitter about possible special legislative sessions. Only the governor can call a special session. But Patrick wants one in June to address his pet projects that died this week due to House deadlines. Lawmakers are already expected to gather again this fall to take up redistricting, the once-a-decade redrawing of political maps that follows the release of new census figures. A special session can be pricey for taxpayers, costing upwards of $1 million. Patrick wants the Legislature to reconsider his transgender sports bill (SB 9), SB 10 that would block local governments from spending taxpayer funds to hire lobbyists and SB 12 that would have set new state-specific regulations on social media sites. Meanwhile, Gov. Greg Abbott urged lawmakers to finish their work in the final days of the session. However, the Senate did not pass HB 1600, a bill that would extend the life of certain state agencies, including the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE), which sets minimum licensing and training standards for Texas police officers. If lawmakers do not keep TCOLE alive, the agency will dissolve on Sept. 1.

The House, joining the Senate, has sent a final budget to Gov. Abbott. The House’s action concluded work on a spending plan that lawmakers say keeps their 2019 promises to better fund public schools. Including federal funds and investment income, the $248.6 billion, two-year state budget would spend about 5% less than the one Texas is living under – and which expires Aug. 31. Fears of a massive budget shortfall spiked last summer, then eased as state residents’ consumer spending rebounded. In 2019, lawmakers passed a budget that also called for spending $248 billion in “all funds.” However, federal coronavirus relief money that flowed to Texas since then has upped current-cycle spending to $262.1 billion – nearly $14 billion more than is authorized in the next budget, Senate Bill 1. House members also gave final approval to and sent Abbott a supplemental appropriations bill, House Bill 2. To maintain “headroom” under a constitutional spending cap, House-Senate budget negotiators increased the current cycle’s general-revenue spending by about $3 billion – adding $1 billion to a fund for property-tax relief and nearly $1 billion for shoring up the Employees Retirement System’s pension fund.

Texas’ largest corporate tax incentive program is at risk of expiring after state lawmakers missed a critical deadline and failed to advance a bill that would have extended the $10 billion program for another two years. The Legislature must renew the state’s Chapter 313 program before the session ends on Monday or it will expire in December 2022. Named for its place in the Texas Tax Code, Chapter 313 lets manufacturing and energy companies — including some of the world’s largest oil and gas firms — save millions in property taxes by slashing the value of their properties on the tax rolls of school districts for 10 years. Supporters say it’s a crucial economic incentive to attract new business to Texas. But the primary piece of legislation that sought to renew Chapter 313 — HB 4242 — never came up for a vote in the Senate. Some lawmakers questioned the cost and effectiveness of the program, and a coalition of critics from across the political spectrum lobbied against the bill and similar legislation. In each of the three prior sessions when the Legislature weighed whether to renew the program — which was first passed in 2001 — the bills sailed through the business-friendly corridors of the Capitol. “Chapter 313 was most certainly not an ideal program, but it was better than nothing — and now we’ve got nothing,” said Dale Craymer, president of Texas Taxpayers and Research Association, which has long been among the program’s top boosters.

Two education issues appear to be headed to the governor’s desk. Legislators removed a proposal from HB 1525 that would have forced school systems to save up to 40% of their federal pandemic aid until 2024. HB 1525 builds on HB 3, the landmark school finance bill from the 2019 legislative session. The requirement was inserted into a school finance cleanup bill earlier in May, leaving administrators worried they wouldn’t have enough funding to help students rebound from the pandemic.  It was removed on the floor of the Senate this week on the same day federal officials told Texas that such a move to “bank” pandemic aid could jeopardize the state’s compliance with the law governing those funds. The Senate’s amendment provide school districts with bonus funding for recovering student learning loss as demonstrated by STAAR results, a provision that was rejected earlier this month by the House. Texas school district leaders can continue planning virtual options for the fall after the Senate gave approval to HB 1468. If signed-off by the House, the bill will be sent to Abbott. The legislation would allow local districts to operate online schools that serve their own students and receive daily attendance funding in the same manner as brick-and-mortar campuses.

The Senate considered and approved HB 133 by Rep. Toni Rose (D-Dallas). As amended, the Senate bill would extend Medicaid coverage to new Texas mothers from two months up to six months postpartum or after a miscarriage. The version passed by the House in April would have granted coverage up to 12 months. The measures, which have broad bipartisan support, had easily passed the House and was sponsored in the GOP-led Senate by a Republican.

 

Washington, D.C.

A group of GOP Senators that have been negotiating with the White House on infrastructure rolled out a $928 billion counteroffer (memo) in hopes of extending the talks beyond their original Memorial Day deadline.  The Republican proposal looks to leverage existing funds to support traditional infrastructure verticals. It includes $257 billion in new spending for: (1) roads and bridges ($91 billion); (2) water infrastructure ($48 billion); (3) airports ($25 billion); (4) broadband ($65 billion); (5) railways ($22 billion); and (6) water storage efforts in the west ($6 billion).

Senators will hold a final vote on the bipartisan Endless Frontier Act. The vote on the roughly $100 billion technology innovation package could be close, as some within the Republican conference have expressed opposition to the measure.

The Senate will also take a procedural vote on a House-passed bill that would establish a commission to investigate the January 6 riot on Capitol Hill. Few Republican Senators support the bill and may filibuster, so Democrats are looking into other procedural options to get it OK’d.

House Ways and Mean Committee Ranking Member Kevin Brady (R-TX) and Rep. Jackie Walorski, the top Republican on the Worker and Family Support Subcommittee, unveiled a discussion draft that seeks to boost access to child care and paid family and medical leave. The draft legislative package seeks to incentivize employers to provide leave and close gaps in coverage. It also looks to leverage $50 billion in existing funds to support access to child care. Click to view bill text, a section-by-section summary, and a one pager from the North Texas Commission.

The Senate Finance Committee advanced (14-14) Chair Ron Wyden's (D-OR) Clean Energy for America Act (summary) — a package that contains a slew of clean energy tax incentives.  A description of modifications to the underlying bill can be viewed here.

The Small Business Administration (SBA) announced that it is accepting applications for its new Community Navigator Pilot Program. Established by the American Rescue Plan, this pilot seeks to leverage community navigators to help small businesses access SBA relief programs.

The Treasury Department announced that it has distributed $6.1 billion through the American Rescue Plan's Emergency Rental Assistance program for renters and landlords.

U.S. pipeline operators will be required for the first time to conduct a cybersecurity assessment under a Biden administration directive in response to the ransomware hack that disrupted gas supplies in several states this month, according to the Associated Press. The Transportation Security Administration directive being issued Thursday will also mandate that the owners and operators of the nation’s pipelines report any cyber incidents to the federal government and have a cybersecurity coordinator available at all times to work with authorities in the event of an attack like the one that shut down Colonial Pipeline.

The New York Times says President Biden will propose a $6 trillion budget that would take the United States to its highest sustained levels of federal spending since World War II, while running deficits above $1.3 trillion throughout the next decade. Documents obtained by newspaper show that Biden’s first budget request as president calls for the federal government to spend $6 trillion in the 2022 fiscal year, and for total spending to rise to $8.2 trillion by 2031.

Have a party? Get a shot! Groups of at least five people can now schedule a mobile COVID-19 vaccine clinic to come to a house, park, place of business, apartment — just about anywhere they want, and on evenings or weekends if necessary — by calling the state’s vaccine hotline. Texans can schedule a clinic for groups of five or more by calling 844-90-TEXAS and selecting option 3. Texans who can’t leave their homes or gather in groups can call that number and select option 1 to have a vaccine team visit their home.

5/21/21

Ten days to go. Remember there were more than 7,000 bills filed in this session? In the “why didn’t I find this page 130 days ago? category”, the Texas Tribune lists the statuses of all the key bills still active in the 87th Legislature.

Yes, there are adults in the room. The Texas House will break for two days in an apparent effort to force the Senate to vote on several bipartisan criminal justice and health care bills, reported the Dallas Morning News. With tensions rising as the 2021 session nears a close, the House employed the delay tactic Thursday after several members expressed their dismay that the Senate appeared to be blocking the passage of a number of bills that passed with near or total unanimous approval in the House. “The House is making our voices heard,” Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, said after the chamber gaveled out until Sunday. “We’d like to be given reasons as to why these bills are dying based on policy. And when you can’t get those answers, can’t get hearings, can’t get votes, it’s frustrating.”

Gov. Greg Abbott has notified legislators that allocation of Covid-19 federal funding will be added to a special session he will call this fall. He promised that they will have a say in how the money is spent, according to QuorumReport.com. This is a compromise after it was reported that an amendment requiring legislative oversight of the billions in funds was removed in committee.

Abbott issued an executive order this week forbidding local governments and public school districts from instituting their own mask mandates. “Texans, not government, should decide their best health practices, which is why masks will not be mandated by public school districts or government entities,” Abbott said in a release. “We can continue to mitigate COVID-19 while defending Texans’ liberty to choose whether or not they mask up.” He also has halted the $300 per week additional federal unemployment benefit.

Bills responding to the winter energy crisis are moving along. Only one, HB 16, has made it to Abbott’s desk. This bill would outlaw wholesale index products, such as Griddy Energy. SB 3, which advances to the House Calendars Committee, is the Legislature’s single most far-reaching response to this year’s winter storm. It was unanimously voted out of committee. As originally written, the legislation would create a statewide emergency system to alert Texans if power outages are expected, target renewable energy sources by protecting the natural gas industry, and require all power generators, transmission lines, natural gas facilities and pipelines to make upgrades for extreme weather — a process known as weatherization. The compromise would require weatherization of electrical generating plants and some natural gas wells and related pipelines and compressors. But in a concession to the oil and gas industry, a revised omnibus electricity measure would reduce how many natural gas facilities must be upgraded. A newly created interagency “supply chain security and mapping committee” would identify which chunks of the natural gas industry actually feed power generators – and only those would have to be weatherized, under rules to be set later. After SB 2154 receives a second approval from the House, it will head to the governor. It will ould expand the size of the Public Utility Commission from three to five members. An amendment to SB 713 will require the PUC and ERCOT be moved to the next Sunset cycle. Sunset works by setting a date on which an agency is abolished unless the Legislature passes a bill to continue it.

Both Houses have appointed conferees to reach a compromise on SB 7, the omnibus elections bill: Rep. Briscoe Cain, Rep. Terry Canales, Rep. Travis Clardy, Rep. Nicole Collier, Rep. Jacey Jetton, Sen. Bryan Hughes, Sen. Paul Bettencourt, Sen. Lois W. Kolkhorst and Sen. Beverly Powell.

The Senate passed Rep. Jeff Leach’s HB 19, which would make it harder to successfully sue commercial trucking companies.

Texas will ask U.S. health officials to extend for the next 10 years a federal health care funding agreement, worth billions of dollars annually and set to expire next year, that the state uses to help pay for health care for uninsured Texans. The state’s application for an extension will include three chances for the public to comment in the coming weeks.

HB 3979, the bill banning the teaching of critical race theory, will be debated in the Senate today.

###

5/14/21

The sounds you hear are the clock ticking down to the final two weeks of the 87th Texas Legislature and the flushing of hundreds of bills that didn’t make the deadline. Of the roughly 7,000 bills filed, just 150 have currently passed both chambers and been sent to Gov. Greg Abbott.

Cheers to the first bill the governor has signed. Gov. Abbott signed HB 1024 into law, making it legal for Texas businesses to sell alcohol to-go indefinitely. It’s effective immediately. The effort was designed to help struggling Texas restaurants recoup sales during the coronavirus pandemic. Selling alcohol for off-premise consumption — via pickup or delivery — afforded restaurants a new stream of revenue at a time when some had lost more than 50% of their business due to dining room shutdowns and, later, occupancy restrictions.

On a party line vote, Texas House State Affairs Committee votes out new version of SB10, cracking down on certain lobby activities. SB 10 would prohibit cities, counties, and other political subdivisions from hiring a third-party lobbyist to represent their needs at the Capitol. The bill was changed in committee from an outright ban on what critics call “taxpayer funded lobbying.” Instead, the substitute language incorporates transparency and reporting proposals marries that with a ban on government entities lobbying for or against rollback rates. In addition to that, SB10 would now ban any political subdivision, like a city or county, from reimbursing a registered lobbyist for food, beverages, and entertainment. SB 10 passed the committee on an 8-5 vote and will now go to the House Calendars Committee and likely then to the full House.

Rep. Angie Chen Button's HB 7 on the unemployment insurance rates small businesses would pay to replenish the unemployment compensation trust fund was signed by the Governor. The bill allows a longer time period to replenish the fund, smoothing the tax increase over time instead of placing the burden on employers all at once immediately following an unprecedented pandemic.

Rep. Jeff Leach’s HB 19, which would make it harder to successfully sue commercial trucking companies, has been placed on the Senate Intent Calendar.

Only a House vote is left standing between legislation that would increase oversight and accountability of Texas’ utilities agencies and the governor’s desk. SB 2 would require the board of directors of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas to live in the state, add criteria for some board members to be unaffiliated with electric generators and require that major procedural changes at ERCOT be reviewed by the Public Utility Commission. The House State Affairs committee also moved forward SB 2154, which would increase the size of the Public Utilities Commission from three commissioners to five and add requirements for membership, including state residency and relevant experience. HB 16 received final approval from the House; it would not allow residential or small-business electricity customers in Texas to sign up for electricity plans where wholesale prices for power are passed to customers.

Today, the House passed HB 1530 that would fund construction and renovations of buildings on college and university campuses across the state through Tuition Revenue Bonds.

Chairman Murphy abandoned his Chapter 313 revamp and postponed it to June. A conservative/liberal coalition was forming against the legislation, including an attempt to allow local voters to weigh in on the incentive deals in their communities. Chapter 313 reauthorization efforts now turn to HB 4242, proposes a two-year reauthorization of the program to give the Legislature time to study the issue during the upcoming interim.

Lawmakers in the House also advanced legislation that would limit the powers of the governor during a pandemic. HB 3 would give lawmakers more oversight of the governor’s emergency powers during a pandemic and specifically carves out future pandemics from how the state responds to other disasters, such as hurricanes. One amendment added during floor debate, for example, would require the Legislature to convene for a special session if a pandemic lasts longer than 120 days when lawmakers aren’t in session. The legislation if passed would represent a new check on the governor’s powers during a pandemic. Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, members from both parties have criticized the governor’s unilateral authority to issue mask orders, waive certain regulations and shut down businesses. House lawmakers must vote on it once more. The bill’s fate in the Senate remains unclear.

The state, cities, and counties of Texas will soon receive a $25 billion bonanza under the $1.9 trillion pandemic relief law signed by President Joe Biden in March. Dallas County will receive $512 million, and the City of Richardson will get another $18 million.

 

Washington D.C.

President Biden has met with the top four congressional leaders on his infrastructure plan. The top two Republicans on Capitol Hill told President Biden they would oppose raising taxes to pay for an infrastructure proposal, leaving a central issue in the talks unresolved. The two sides agreed to discuss areas where they could find common ground on the plan. Both sides have also disagreed on the overall size of the package. Later in the week, he met with a group of 10 Republicans, where they discussed two of the biggest sticking points: what is considered “infrastructure” and how to pay for a potential package.

U.S. tariffs have led to a sharp decline in imports from China and changes in the types of Chinese goods Americans buy, reports the Wall Street Journal. The tariffs, imposed by the Trump administration in 2018-19 to boost U.S. factory production, instead have encouraged U.S. companies to turn to Asian countries other than China for the likes of telecommunications gear, furniture and apparel. Vietnam has been an especially big beneficiary.

A bipartisan group of House lawmakers is drafting legislation that would provide as much as $500 million in annual grants to states and local governments to boost cybersecurity as financial fraud and ransomware attacks continue to cripple essential citizen services.

The Departments of Treasury and Housing and Urban Affairs (HUD) announced a $21.6 billion American Rescue Plan (ARP) funding tranche for emergency rental assistance. Treasury also issued new guidance that seeks to expedite funds to renters and target those that are most in need of assistance.

 

5/7/21

Austin
It’s a very busy work week in Austin as the clock ticks down to sine die on May 31.
Texas civics lesson: The legislature has entered the final month of the regular session. This marks the last week House committees will hear House bills although several committees have already shifted their focus to taking up Senate bills. Through last Friday, a total of five House and Senate bills had been sent to Governor Greg Abbott for consideration although multiple resolutions have also been forwarded to the governor. Three of those bills have been signed by the governor. Gov. Abbott has 10 days to act on any bill sent to him by the legislature. He can either sign a bill into law, veto a bill or allow the bill to become law without his signature. However, any bill sent to the governor within 10 days of final adjournment allows him to act on that bill at any time up until 20 days after final adjournment; the 20th day falls on Sunday, June 20th.
Under the state Constitution, the budget is the only bill the Legislature must pass before the session ends May 31. And a “pay as you go” provision, approved by voters in the 1940s, limits lawmakers to spending only those revenues forecast by the comptroller. Citing an accelerated economy in Texas, Comptroller Glenn Hegar as revised his revenue forecast. Hegar said that he sees an additional $3.1 billion in general-purpose revenue for the 2022-2023 cycle. Both chambers already have passed budgets for the next cycle. However, the new revenue estimate could enable House-Senate budget negotiators, who have just begun to meet, to make late-hour spending increases for both the state workers’ pension fund and higher educationBolstering Hegar as he upped his revenue estimates was April’s strong sales tax report. Last month, the sales tax, Texas’ revenue workhorse, spun off $3.4 billion, a single-month record. April’s collections, based on March transactions, soared 31.4% from the $2.58 billion collected a year earlier, at the height of the pandemic.
A plan to help finance power plant upgrades in the wake of the February power crisis has received preliminary approval in the Texas House. House Bill 2000 and the corresponding House Joint Resolution 2 would allocate $2 billion of state funds to help finance what could be expensive — and likely mandatory — upgrades to power plants in Texas to withstand more extreme weather conditions by providing electricity generators with access to grants and low-cost loans for the projects.
Following a setback on legislation to extend and reform Chapter 313 agreements in the Texas Economic Development Act, the House Ways and Means Committee advanced two related bills last week. HB 1556 and HB 4242 are on the House calendar for debate today. HB 1556 presents a more comprehensive revision of Chapter 313 agreements and involves the negotiations of stakeholders representing businesses and school districts while HB 4242 is a simple short-term extension of the current statute.
A bill that would make it harder to successfully sue commercial trucking companies is moving forward after a series of postponements on the House floor. According to the bill’s author, Plano Republican Jeff Leach, the legislation would create a fair framework that ensures victims in collisions involving commercial vehicles can have their day in court, while also protecting commercial motor vehicle operators from excessive lawsuits. On third reading Friday, the legislation, House Bill 19, passed 81-49 and has been referred to the Senate Transportation Committee for a hearing on May 12. “With passage of this bill, we will see commercial vehicle insurance rates fall in the state,” Leach promised during testimony to the House floor on Thursday.
With Census Bureau data delayed until September at the earliest, the once-in-a decade redrawing of Texas political maps is already off to a rocky start — all while Texans have been increasingly vocal in demands for increased public access to mapmaking, a process that’s historically been closed to the public. Since January, Texans have signed up in droves to testify virtually in regional hearings held by the Senate’s Special Committee on Redistricting. A 2013 U.S. Supreme Court ruling means the new maps will be the first in four decades that will not be subject to federal preclearance rules meant to safeguard against discrimination. As the House Redistricting Committee now takes up its own set of hearings in Texas, Democrats in Washington are pushing legislation that aims, in part, to put redistricting in the hands of independent commissions. The omnibus voting rights and election reform bill H.R. 1, or the “For the People Act,” has been hailed by civil rights activists as a major step towards ending partisan gerrymandering — the strategic redrawing of the maps based on voting data to ensure victories for one party.
The Texas Senate passed a last-minute resolution to instruct the Public Utilities Commission to act on scarcity pricing at its meeting this week, according to Quorum Report. SR 342 was described by sponsor Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, as “an important demonstration of our commitment to Texans. Ahead of the Commission’s hearing this Thursday, we must urge the PUC to significantly reduce the high system-wide offer cap,” said Schwertner, noting that SB 3 and SB 1278 also addressed the issue. “This resolution is another step in correcting ERCOT’s pricing algorithm so that we can fine-tune a viable competitive energy market that ensure reliability through dispatchable generation.”
A hot topic around the chamber is broadband access. HB 5, the broadband expansion bill, has been sent to conference committee. The House has named its conferees: Rep. Trent Ashby, Rep. Charles "Doc" Anderson, Rep. Christina Morales, Rep. Chris Paddie and Rep. Toni Rose. Senate conferees are Sen. Robert Nichols, Sen. Charles Perry, Sen. Kelly Hancock, Sen. Royce West and Sen. Juan Hinojosa. A recent article in the Dallas Morning News highlights the issue. “Dallas County Commissioner J.J. Koch is set to ask his colleagues Tuesday to position the local government as a leader in closing one of the worst digital divides in the nation. Koch, a Republican who represents northern Dallas County, will make his opening pitch with a report he commissioned that shows access to high-speed internet is far worse than imagined. Residents across the county, he and his researcher will say, are paying too much for too little — if they have any access at all. Among the most staggering data points: Three out of every 10 Dallas County homes don’t have access to the 2010 standard of broadband.”
And to wrap up this week’s look at the Texas Legislature, here’s a paragraph from Ken Herman’s column in the Austin American-Statesman: Not much legislation has been approved in both chambers. That's not all that unusual as each chamber focuses on passing its bills prior to considering the ones that come over from the other chamber. And the process is geared toward a flood of approvals in the closing weeks as bills can become bargaining chips on unrelated bills. Through Monday, only 43 bills had been approved in both chambers. That’s out of 6,909 filed. By comparison, 1,429 bills were approved by both chambers in the 2019 regular session and 1,211 were OK’d in the 2017 regular session. (Those numbers don’t include resolutions.) Some important deadlines are creeping up on us as the Legislature moves to the May 31 sine die motion that will bring the regular session to an end. This year’s sine die motion will not mean the 87th Legislature is sine dead. There’s sure to be a special session because redistricting was delayed due to delayed stats from the 2020 census.
Washington, D.C.
Chamber and Tech Titans President and CEO Bill Sproull moderated a business roundtable of local executives with Sen. John Cornyn focusing on his bill that would bring more semiconductor production to the U.S. The CHIPS for America Act will encourage semiconductor research and manufacturing after the COVID-19 pandemic caused global shutdowns, silicon shortages and increased demand for electronics which all contributed to a crisis-level shortage in the tiny computer chip. “Just because something’s cheaper when it’s being made overseas doesn’t really answer all the questions we have, particularly when it becomes a matter of national security or survival of our economy. We’re in a competition with China,” Cornyn said. “If we’re going to maintain our national security, if we’re going to maintain our vibrant economy, if we’re going to compete in a very competitive world, we were going to need to make some strategic investments in things like semiconductor technology and manufacturing.” Executives participating included: Chris Nielsen, Exec. VP – Product Support & Chief Quality Officer, Toyota Motor North America; Shilpan Amin, VP - Global Purchasing & Supply Chain, General Motors; Jeff Place, VP for Supply Chain & Operations, Raytheon Intelligence & Space; James Klein, President of Infrastructure & Defense Products, Qorvo; Barb Weiszhaar, Chief of Staff at Hewlett Packard; and Jerry Strickland, Exec Dir of FABSS Texas Coalition (Fortifying & Bolstering Semiconductor Success in Texas).
A new source of pandemic-related federal funds has just opened. The Restaurant Revitalization Fund was established as part of the American Rescue Plan. This program will provide restaurants with funding equal to their pandemic-related revenue loss up to $10 million per business and no more than $5 million per physical location. Recipients are not required to repay the funding as long as funds are used for eligible uses no later than March 11, 2023. Learn more and apply on the Small Business Administration website.
For the latest on the Biden administration's executive actions, click here.
Public Policy events
See videos of presentations during the all-virtual Washington, D.C., Federal Legislative Policy Briefing.
If you’d like to revisit the Public Policy Committee’s virtual fly-in with Texas legislators, click on the links below:
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4/30/21

Austin

 

Urged by chambers, businesses and educators, Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, House Speaker Dade Phelan announced the release of $11.2 billion in federal funds for schools. The funds are from the third round of stimulus funds, the American Rescue Plan. The state will distribute the funds for use over the next three years through grants administered by the Texas Education Agency. The $11.2 billion will not be used to replace state funding. The state previously used federal education dollars to cut its own aid to public school districts. Schools may use these funds on summer school, tutoring programs or curriculum designed to catch up kids who have fallen behind during the last school year. Districts can also use the funds for other pandemic-related challenges, such as updating facilities’ air quality. “To ensure this pandemic does not become a generational education crisis, we expect, and students deserve, for this funding to be used to remediate the progress lost due to the pandemic,” Abbott said. “This will ensure that Texas students will be ready to fill the jobs created in and attracted to this state.” Richards ISD is set to receive about $46 million. Plano ISD will receive $29 million.

 

Texas House Ways & Means now has two potential Chapter 313 vehicles in committee: Texas Tax Code Chapter 313 (aka the Texas Economic Development Act) creates a state tax incentive program for certain large businesses to limit the appraised value on their property for the purposes of local Texas public school district property taxes. HB 1556 and HB 4242. HB 1556, which included standardizing the Chapter 313 application process and eliminating some of the flush incentive payments to school districts, was heard at the end of March, received negative feedback, according to a report on Quorum Report. HB 4242 offers a simple two-year extension of the original HB 1200, which created the Texas Economic Development Act. However, there also are rumors of a substitute compromise bill that will replace the revenue protection payments with a straight revenue sharing agreement, as long as that agreement is less than 38 percent of the taxes from the value added to the school district’s tax rolls. Chapter 313 allows school districts to offer a temporary limitation on the taxable value of certain new investments. The limitation applies only to school maintenance and operations taxes, and not taxes for debt service. Given the high level of Texas’ property taxes, and, in particular, school property taxes, Chapter 313 is the state’s single most important economic development tool. It is also the state’s most transparent economic development program—with all substantive documents for each application posted on the Comptroller’s website.

 

Legislation to expand broadband access throughout Texas continues to move forward. Both HB 5 and HB 7 were approved by the Senate. HB 5 will go back to the House, who will vote to NOT accept the Senate amendment, so it will go to conference committee to hash out whether the proposed broadband statewide office would fall under the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts or under the University of Texas Systems. The final location could affect setup costs and administration of related federal funding. The broadband office will oversee improvements to internet access, detail which areas lack connections, establish a program to distribute grants and financial incentives for improved access, and create a statewide plan with long-term goals.

 

A meeting of the Texas House Elections Committee got a little heated when, with little advance notice, state Rep. Briscoe Cain brought up SB 7, the priority voting bill that has already passed the Senate, and moved to gut it entirely. His motion would have replaced the bill's language with that of HB 6, a significantly different voting bill favored by House leadership. Both SB 7 and HB 6 are prominent pieces in a broader Republican effort this year to enact wide-ranging changes to elections in Texas — many of which have been catalogued as disproportionately harmful to voters of colors — that would further tighten the state’s already restrictive election rules in the name of “election integrity” despite little to no evidence of widespread fraud. When Republican Rep. Travis Clardy refused to cast a vote, Cain had to withdraw his motion when he did not have the votes to move it to the Calendar committee. However, late last night, on a party-line vote, the committee advanced SB 7 to the full House. Cain subbed in the HB 6 language. In response, Democrats on the committee sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland asking the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division to review what happened and monitor the committee “if deemed appropriate.” The letter also accused Cain of repeatedly violating rules and “silencing opposing viewpoints.”

 

The “alcohol-to-go” bill has been approved by the Senate and now heads to Gov. Abbott’s desk for signature into law. Abbott’s popular executive order helped restaurants stay in business during the pandemic.

 

Now that both houses have approved the draft state budget, SB 1, it heads to conference committee for final negotiations and details. Conferees for the House are Representatives Greg Bonnen, Giovanni Capriglione, Mary González, Armando Walle and Terry M. Wilson. The Senate conferees are Sen. Jane Nelson, Joan Huffman, Lois Kolkhorst, Robert Nichols and Larry Taylor. Gonzalez and Walle are the sole Democrats.

 

The U.S. Census Bureau and the Commerce Department has released its first set of numbers, and Texas is set to gain two Congressional seats. But the redistricting fights are only just beginning. Texas was expected to gain a third seat, but critics blame the lower population count on the pandemic, the Trump Administration’s efforts to add a citizenship question and the underfunding of census outreach. Sen. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio, has called on Attorney General Ken Paxton to file a lawsuit demanding more accurate numbers. All of this leads to redistricting, which will occur in a special session later this year after the complete census is released. It may sound boring, but is one of the most important jobs the Legislature faces every 10 years. From the Texas Tribune: Redrawing political maps to fit government to the population every 10 years is a swirl of tedium, ambition, power and law. It comes with a slew of public hearings and debates, on one hand, and countless backroom and private negotiations on the other. It starts with census numbers — that happened this week — zips through the Texas Legislature, and then ends up in the courts, where the litigation never seems to end.

 

Washington, D.C.

President Joe Biden gave his first speech to Congress this week. Recaps, reviews, insights and analyses are rampant. Democrats gave it rave reviews. Republicans, like Sen. Ted Cruz, called it “boring but radical.” The speech came at the close of his first 100 days as President. Biden said the U.S. is “on the move again” after struggling through a devastating pandemic that killed more than 570,000 Americans, disrupted the economy and shook daily life. And he pitched an expansive — and expensive — vision to rebuild the nation’s roads, bridges, water pipes and other infrastructure, bolster public education and extend a wide swath of other benefits, reported the Associated Press. Jobs, recovery, racial justice, big government and spending were the major themes. The president ticked off details of some of his plan for $1.8 trillion in spending to expand preschool, create a national family and medical leave program, distribute child care subsidies and more. The American Jobs Plan comes on top of his proposal for $2.3 trillion in spending to rebuild roads and bridges, expand broadband access and launch other infrastructure projects. ““The Americans Jobs Plan is a blue-collar blueprint to build America,” Biden said. “And it recognizes something I’ve always said: Wall Street didn’t build this country. The middle class built this country. And unions built the middle class.”

 

PSA: Just week ago, people were desperate to find a Covid-19 vaccination appointment. Now, the country is reaching a point of supply outpacing demand. So, vaccinations are much easier and quicker to obtain, meaning far fewer lines. So, if you haven’t had yours…..

 

For the latest on the Biden administration's executive actions, click here.

4/23/21

Austin

The biggest action to come out of Austin this week was the marathon debate in the House of SB 1, the Senate’s proposed two-year budget as amended by the House Appropriations Committee.

More than 240 amendments to the bill were proposed, some adopted, and many put in a holding place for unfunded by desired expenditures.  In the end, the $246.8 billion budget as amended was approved unanimously and sent back to the Senate.

Despite strong support from the business community, an amendment focused on expanding Medicaid failed. It would have allowed Gov. Greg Abbott and the Texas Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services to design a 1115 waiver that would capture federal dollars and reduce the number of uninsured Texans. With the recent passage of the U.S. American Rescue Plan Act, Texas could receive a gain of $3.9 billion if the state will expand Medicaid.

With an eye on the May 31 session deadline, House members voted 147 to 0 to require a special session of the Legislature to appropriate billions in federal funds coming to Texas, not leaving it in the hands the governor.

One successful amendment barred spending state funds on school vouchers, educational savings accounts or tax credit scholarships to send kids to private schools. In addition, another approved amendment requires federal relief dollars for education must supplement, not supplant, state financial support.

Republican lawmakers successfully pulled $145 million of general purpose state revenue from film, music and video game production subsidies and the Texas Enterprise Fund.  However, those actions are not expected to endure in the final version of the bill that will be sent to the Governor.

In other news, the Senate Transportation Committee held a hearing on HB 5, the broadband expansion bill.  The Committee substituted the Senate version of the bill and voted it out of Committee with a recommendation it go on the Local and Uncontested Calendar.  The Senate previously unanimously approved its version of the broadband bill. The final version will eventually go to conference committee to work out the House and Senate differences.

Lawmakers passed a “fix” for the school finance bill passed in 2019.  The $330 million bill includes reworking the fast-growth allotment; creating a tiered system for funding successively harder CTE courses; and reworking the teacher incentive pay in a way that provides additional funding for districts considered property-wealthy under the school finance system.

The Senate Higher Education Committee heard testimony in favor of SB 1622, which is the identical companion to HB 3767. Both bills make permanent the temporary, collaborative work of the Texas Education Agency, the Texas Workforce Commission, and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board over the last few years. Under this initiative, the three entities are required to:

  • Identify statewide workforce goals, including goals for the attainment of living wage jobs. This will hold the state accountable and keep all agencies pulling in the same direction.
  • Designate career pathways for occupations aligned with current workforce needs and for forecasted high-growth careers and skills.
  • Evaluate career education and training programs across Texas based on the workforce outcomes of program participants to ensure transparency and accountability in how the state spends its workforce dollars.

 

Washington, D.C.

On Capitol Hill, bipartisan discussions continue on Pres. Joe Biden’s infrastructure bill. Some lawmakers want a smaller increase in the corporate tax rate as well as changes to the size and scope of the overall package.

PSA: Just week ago, people were desperate to find a Covid-19 vaccination appointment. Now, the country is reaching a point of supply outpacing demand. So, vaccinations are much easier and quicker to obtain, meaning far fewer lines. So, if you haven’t had yours…..

For the latest on the Biden administration's executive actions, click here.

 

Public Policy events

Washington D.C. Fly-in April 27-29

The all-virtual Washington, D.C., Federal Legislative Policy Briefing is scheduled for April. Attendees will speak to legislators and attend briefings on important policies and movements in the legislature. Sponsorships are available. Participation is free for chamber members.

 

Tuesday, April 27th

8:00 - 9:00 a.m. - Introduction with Ron Eidshaug, VP and Chief of Staff, Government Affairs, U.S. Chamber of Commerce

12:00-12:30 p.m. CST - Rep. Van Taylor, Serves on the House Committee on Financial Services

1:30 - 2:00 p.m. CST – Sen. Ted Cruz, Serves on the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation, Committee on the Judiciary, Committee on Foreign Relations and the Joint Economic Committee

2:00 - 2:30 p.m. CST - Kirk Burgee, Chief of Staff - Wireline Competition Bureau, Federal Communication Commission

 

Wednesday, April 28th

11 - 11:30 a.m. CST - Se Sen. nator John Cornyn, Serves on the Senate Committee on Finance, Committee on the Judiciary, Select Committee on Intelligence

 

Thursday, April 29th

9:30 - 10:00 a.m. CST - Rep. Pete Sessions, Serves on the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, Committee on Science, Space and Technology

 

City Council Candidate Forum archived videos

The Chamber hosted a Richardson City Council Candidate Forum this week. Kyle Kepner and Joe Corcoran are running for Place 4. Daniel Burdette, Marilyn Frederick and Arefin Shamsul are running for Place 6. The forum gave candidates the opportunity to tell voters about themselves, their experience, and their policy ideas for Richardson.

 

RISD $750 million bond proposal

Based on the recommendations of a community bond steering committee, RISD trustees place two bond propositions before voters as part of the May 1 election. The total of both propositions is $750 million. RISD plans to keep its debt service tax rate at the current $0.35/per $100 of taxable value even if RISD voters approve Bond 2021. One proposition for $694 million is for capital construction, infrastructure, repairs, safety and security, and equipment. The other proposition is for $56 million for student and staff technology.  The Chamber Board has endorsed voter approval of these bond proposals.

Public forums will be conducted in person and virtually in April. More information is available here.

 

If you’d like to revisit the Public Policy Committee’s virtual fly-in with Texas legislators, click on the links below:

Austin Legislative Policy Briefing -  Rep. Jim Murphy, Rep. Jeff Leach, and Glenn Hegar, Comptroller

Austin Legislative Briefing with Mike Morath, Commissioner of Education for the State of Texas

Austin Legislative Policy Briefing with Sen. Angela Paxton

Austin Legislative Policy Briefing with Rep Angie Chen Button (excerpt)

 

4/16/21

Austin

Only seven weeks remain in the 87th Texas Legislature. Lawmakers are working Fridays and even some weekends to pass legislation before the clock runs out May 31. By law, the legislators must pass the state budget for 2022-23 before adjourning.

Last week, SB 1, the upper chamber’s $250 billion budget, was approved, sent to the House, which referred it to the House Appropriations Committee. After a hearing, it was voted out and has been placed on the House calendar for debate on Thursday April 22.

On behalf of the Richardson Chamber of Commerce and Tech Titans, President and CEO Bill Sproull signed a letter sent to the three political leaders of Texas. The letter encourages Gov. Greg Abbot, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Speaker Dale Phelan to quickly funnel federal aid to schools. From the December 2020 and March 2021 federal stimulus packages, Texas received a combined $17.9 billion in dedicated aid for public elementary and secondary schools and $4.8 billion for institutions of higher education.  “Urgently, educational institutions need support recouping unexpected expenses incurred over the course of the pandemic, including costs associated with migrating to remote learning and providing necessary PPE to students and staff. Public education leaders statewide further intend to leverage federal aid to prepare and implement interventions to address learning loss this fall, extend instructional time, innovate curricula/learning materials, and hire additional teachers to reduce class sizes,” the letter stated. Mike Morath, Texas’ education commissioner, has stated there are two provisions complicate the funds’ distribution. One essentially requires states to keep their education funding at or above the proportion of pre-pandemic levels, and the other is to ensure that any state cuts do not disproportionately affect high-need students. Gov. Abbott has asked the U.S. Department of Education for clarification.

The North Texas Commission is asking legislators to vote against several bills it believes will put unnecessary burdens on businesses. HB 1418 provides contractors with unprecedented immunity from liability for certain responsibilities that are often assumed by contractors. This bill prohibits parties from negotiating roles and responsibilities that have always been addressed in detail in construction contracts. HB 2558 prohibits the award of state contracts to companies that have policies regarding firearms and ammunition industries. HB 4072 would place an unnecessary burden on businesses by requiring them to collect sales tax based on where their product is shipped to rather than from where the order is produced/sold. This means that our state’s businesses – including vital small businesses – would need to have the ability to calculate taxes of more than 1,650 sales tax jurisdictions (Texas has the most of any other state).

On a vote of 29 to 2, the Texas Senate passed a bill supporting a constitutional amendment to force a special session during prolonged disaster. Lawmakers were miffed when Gov. Abbott managed the pandemic through a number of executive orders. The bill would require the governor to call a special session to extend a major disaster declaration more than 30 days. He would also need legislative approval to close businesses. The House’s version of the bill is still in committee. The proposed constitutional amendment requires voter approval.

The Senate approved SB2 30-1. This bill, one of several ERCOT-related bills offered by both houses, would require the ERCOT board of directors to live in the state, add criteria for some board members to be unaffiliated with electric generators and require that major procedural changes at ERCOT be reviewed by the Public Utility Commission. It also requires that the chairman be appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate.  The Dallas Morning News listed the next steps in the bill-to-law process:

  • The bill is sent to the House, where Speaker Dade Phelan can refer to a committee.
  • A committee can hear the bill, take no action or vote it up or down.
  • A bill approved by a committee goes to the House Calendars Committee, which serves as traffic cop for legislation.
  • The Calendars committee sets it for the full House to debate
  • If passed as received from Senate, the bill goes to the governor for his signature to become law
  • If the bill is amended by the House, it goes back to Senate. If the Senate refuses to concur, it could be sent to a conference committee made up of members from both chambers. The conference committee works out the differences for approval by both chambers. If that occurs, it heads to the governor’s desk.

 

The Senate approved SB 1529, which would create a new statewide court of appeals to hear cases that have statewide significance — including ones that challenge state laws, the constitution or when the state or its agencies are sued.

The gaming empire Las Vegas Sands is launching a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign supporting legalizing casinos in Texas. Lt. Gov. Patrick has stated that he will not bring a pro-casino bill to the Senate floor.

The Texas House Committee on Urban Affairs was unhappy with the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs following a report on federal rent relief. The report showed the agency had disbursed less than 1% of its $1.3 billion in the first 45 days of the program. The legislators want the committee to halt evictions until it works through the backlog. The Texas Apartment Association said it is still directing its thousands of property management members to abide by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention eviction moratorium, but that property owners are in a tough place. Texas renters and property owners can request rental relief at Texasrentrelief.com or by calling 1-833-989-7368.

Gov. Abbott has made two appointments to the Public Utility Commission. All three previous commissioners resigned in the fall-out from the weather-related electricity outages. Peter Lake of Austin, who has spent more than five years as an Abbott appointee to the Texas Water Development Board, is expected to be chairman. Will McAdams, president of Associated Builders and Contractors of Texas and a former legislative aide who helped write policy for regulated industries such as electricity, is expected to be confirmed by the Senate.

The Senate heard testimony against SB 10, which would significantly restrict local government advocacy before the legislature. The bill was left pending before the committee. Meanwhile, similar legislation (HB 749) remains pending before the House State Affairs Committee.

Washington, D.C.

Both houses have returned to Washington following the Easter break, just in time to mark the end of President Joe Biden’s first 100 days.

The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to debate the Paycheck Fairness Act. This bill would require employers to disclose that pay disparities exist for "legitimate, job-related" reasons; bolster the Department of Labor's enforcement mechanisms; establish a new negotiation and skills training program at the department; and allow workers to participate in class action lawsuits against employers that violate paycheck equity statutes.

The Treasury Department has established the Office of Recovery Programs to lead the Department’s implementation of economic relief and recovery efforts, including nearly $420 billion in programs from the American Rescue Plan.

The Small Business Administration opened its application portal for the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program for applications.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has proposed a rule to prevent a wave of housing foreclosures once the temporary moratorium on foreclosures expires.

FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency is offering to pay up to $9,000 per funeral as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The cost of consumer goods and services as measured by the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) rose 2.6 percent nationwide from March ’20 to March ’21, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The Biden administration has released state fact sheets to illustrate the need for the $2.3 trillion infrastructure package. The administration gives Texas a C. Texas facts include: more than 12% of Texans live in areas with no minimally acceptable broadband; 818 bridges and 19,400 miles of highway are in poor condition; Texans who commute by bus or rail spend 80% more time getting to and from work; Texas will need $45 billion over the next 20 years to ensure enough drinking water for its growing population.

For the latest on the Biden administration's executive actions, click here.

Public Policy events

City Council Candidate Forum -- April 14

The Chamber hosted a Richardson City Council Candidate Forum this week. Kyle Kepner and Joe Corcoran are running for Place 4. Daniel Burdette, Marilyn Frederick and Arefin Shamsul are running for Place 6. The forum gave candidates the opportunity to tell voters about themselves, their experience, and their policy ideas for Richardson. See the video here.

 Washington D.C. Fly-in April 27-28

The all-virtual Washington, D.C., Federal Legislative Policy Briefing is scheduled for April. The schedule is still in work, but attendees will speak to legislators and attend briefings on important policies and movements in the legislature. Sponsorships are available. Participation is free for chamber members.

 

RISD $750 million bond proposal

Based on the recommendations of a community bond steering committee, RISD trustees place two bond propositions before voters as part of the May 1 election. The total of both propositions is $750 million. RISD plans to keep its debt service tax rate at the current $0.35/per $100 of taxable value even if RISD voters approve Bond 2021. One proposition for $694 million is for capital construction, infrastructure, repairs, safety and security, and equipment. The other proposition is for $56 million for student and staff technology.  The Chamber Board has endorsed voter approval of these bond proposals.

Public forums will be conducted in person and virtually in April. More information is available here.

City bond election

Eight projects intended to enhance areas of Richardson targeted for redevelopment could be included in the city's upcoming municipal bond package.  Details and estimated costs for each project are being finalized. Staff will refine the plans before returning in April for further guidance from council. A final bond proposition is expected to be called by the City Council in August. The election is tentatively scheduled for November.

 

If you’d like to revisit the Public Policy Committee’s virtual fly-in with Texas legislators, click on the links below:

Austin Legislative Policy Briefing -  Rep. Jim Murphy, Rep. Jeff Leach, and Glenn Hegar, Comptroller

Austin Legislative Briefing with Mike Morath, Commissioner of Education for the State of Texas

Austin Legislative Policy Briefing with Sen. Angela Paxton

Austin Legislative Policy Briefing with Rep Angie Chen Button (excerpt)

 

 

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4/9/21

Austin

On behalf of the Richardson Chamber, CEO Bill Sproull submitted written testimony opposing HB 4378, which would create high-priced electric generation capacity markets in Texas. This bill would require the Public Utility Commission to overlay a capacity market on top of the current energy only market construct. If enacted this would result in paying market clearing prices (highest bid price for that day paid to all generators) as well as a new administratively required energy tax payment to generators within ERCOT. The bill remains in the State Affairs Committee

HB 5, the omnibus broadband bill, has been passed unanimously by the House and now moves to the Texas Senate. SB 5 has already been approved by the Senate and is in the House. One of the bills must be approved by the other chamber’s body, where it will then be considered by a conference committee for final legislative negotiations.

SB 1, the Texas Senate’s budget proposal, was passed unanimously, and is scheduled for a hearing in the House Appropriations Committee on Monday. The two-year, $250.7 billion budget maintains the increases in state funding of schools that was passed last legislative session. The Senate’s budget continues to spend the most on public education and health care. Big questions remain with both the Senate’s and House’s budgets. Neither includes more than $35 billion in federal funding in coronavirus aid: $17 billion from the American Rescue Plan Act for state government aid and nearly $18 billion for public schools from the stimulus legislation recently signed by President Joe Biden, as well as a smaller COVID-19 relief package signed by former President Donald Trump in December.

H-E-B Chairman Charles Butt and former House Speaker Joe Straus are encouraging lawmakers to send the funds directly to school districts. State leaders are waiting for more explanation on the “strings attached” to the money. Two key provisions attached to the new money in question: One essentially requires states to keep their education funding at or above pre-pandemic levels, and the other is to ensure that any state cuts do not disproportionately impact high-need students.

SB 6, which focuses on COVID liability limits was passed.

 

Washington, D.C.

Today, President Joe Biden released a $1.5 trillion wish list for the federal budget, asking for an 8.4% increase in agency operating budgets with substantial gains for Democratic priorities like education, health care, housing and environmental protection.

Pres. Biden’s infrastructure plan may be a boon for Texas travelers. The plan includes several new and enhanced Amtrak routes and the possible Texas Central bullet train.

Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican, and Dallas Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, a Democrat, are teaming up on a bipartisan bill that would help Texas weatherize its energy grid to protect it against future extreme weather events, reports the Dallas Morning News. Their legislation would authorize $500 million in seed money to be made available to power providers, suppliers and distributors.

 

Public Policy events

Washington D.C. Fly-in April 27-28

The all-virtual Washington, D.C., Federal Legislative Policy Briefing is scheduled for April. The schedule is still in work, but attendees will speak to legislators and attend briefings on important policies and movements in the legislature. Sponsorships are available. Participation is free for chamber members.

City Council Candidate Forum -- April 14

The Chamber will host a Richardson City Council Candidate Forum on April 14. Kyle Kepner and Joe Corcoran are running for Place 4. Daniel Burdette, Marilyn Frederick and Arefin Shamsul are running for Place 6. The forum will give candidates the opportunity to tell voters about themselves, their experience, and their policy ideas for Richardson.

RISD $750 million bond proposal

Based on the recommendations of a community bond steering committee, RISD trustees place two bond propositions before voters as part of the May 1 election. The total of both propositions is $750 million. RISD plans to keep its debt service tax rate at the current $0.35/per $100 of taxable value even if RISD voters approve Bond 2021. One proposition for $694 million is for capital construction, infrastructure, repairs, safety and security, and equipment. The other proposition is for $56 million for student and staff technology.  The Chamber Board has endorsed voter approval of these bond proposals.

Public forums will be conducted in person and virtually in April. More information is available here.

City bond election

Eight projects intended to enhance areas of Richardson targeted for redevelopment could be included in the city's upcoming municipal bond package.  Details and estimated costs for each project are being finalized. Staff will refine the plans before returning in April for further guidance from council. A final bond proposition is expected to be called by the City Council in August. The election is tentatively scheduled for November.

 

If you’d like to revisit the Public Policy Committee’s virtual fly-in with Texas legislators, click on the links below:

Austin Legislative Policy Briefing -  Rep. Jim Murphy, Rep. Jeff Leach, and Glenn Hegar, Comptroller

Austin Legislative Briefing with Mike Morath, Commissioner of Education for the State of Texas

Austin Legislative Policy Briefing with Sen. Angela Paxton

Austin Legislative Policy Briefing with Rep Angie Chen Button (excerpt)

###

4/2/21

Austin

SB7 was passed by the Texas Senate late this week. The “election integrity” bill would limit early voting hours, restrict the amount of voting machines available at countywide polling places and take power over election administration away from local officials. The bill moves to the Texas House. In that chamber, public testimony regarding HB6 was postponed due to parliamentary errors by committee chair Rep. Briscoe Cain of Deer Park.

HB 3781 has been referred to the House Human Services Committee. Along with its companion bill, SB 117, the “Live Well Texas” program focuses on expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act and would draw billions in new federal Medicaid dollars, but with key compromises including work and health incentives for recipients, better physician reimbursement rates, and a commitment to end the coverage if it loses the state money or the federal government stops funding nearly all of it. The Perryman Group estimates potential gains of $45.3 billion in gross product, 461,700 job-years of employment, and increases of tax revenue of $2.5 billion for the State of Texas and nearly $2.0 billion for local governments during the 2022-2023 biennium.

HB 19 was voted out of the House Committee on Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence. The bill seeks to level the litigation playing field in lawsuits against owners and operators of company vehicles.

SB 207 was heard in the State Affairs committee. The bill proposes legislation that protects businesses from being targeted for excessive medical expenses in litigation.

SB 14, the "Business Freedom and Uniformity Act", was heard in the Senate Committee on Business and Commerce. This bill will ensure local governments cannot dictate to businesses how they operate, and remove a number of regulations throughout the state.

Legislation to expand broadband access throughout Texas is moving forward.  The Texas Senate voted unanimously in favor of SB5 and heads to the House. The legislation would establish a broadband office to oversee improvements to internet access, detail which areas lack connections, establish a program to distribute grants and financial incentives for improved access, and create a statewide plan with long-term goals. A similar bill, House Bill 5 is under consideration by the House State Affairs Committee. Expanding broadband access is on Gov. Greg Abbott’s emergency priority list. Pres. Joe Biden’s latest infrastructure plan sets aside $100 billion to expand broadband access in rural areas. The Texas Senate and House bills differ in one major way – whether the proposed statewide office would fall under the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts or under the University of Texas Systems. The final location could affect setup costs and administration of related federal funding.

Senate Bill 1255 was heard in the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Economic Development. The bill reauthorizes the Chapter 313 economic development program for 10 years, while also eliminating renewable energy projects from qualifying for the program and making several changes to reporting requirements.

The Senate approved SB3, which relates to weather emergencies, i.e. winter storm power outages. The House is hearing a number of similar bills. The big difference between the two approaches: the Senate would slap a $1 million a day fine on gas and oil providers who don’t weatherize.

The issue with charter schools is still a hot topic in Austin. SB28/HB3279 would grant public charters the same treatment that traditional school districts have in zoning and planning cases. The bill prohibits local governments from taking any action to stop an open-enrollment charter from operating a campus, and provides the state’s education commissioner exclusive jurisdiction over the creation and location of charters.

SB1, the state’s proposed budget, has moved out of the Senate Finance Committee. The House Appropriations Committee is marking up HB1.

 

Washington, D.C.

In national news, President Biden has allowed a pandemic-related ban on visas for certain temporary workers, enacted by former President Donald Trump, to expire. The moratorium, which affected H-1B visas used by technology companies to hire foreign coders and engineers, was imposed last June.

As mentioned above, Texas could see an influx of money from Biden’s infrastructure plan. In addition to broadband expansion, the $2 trillion plan could help rebuild Texas highways and ports. It could help Texas weatherize the grid in a way that wouldn’t stick consumers with the bill as well as guard the Gulf Coast against hurricanes and address racial disparities that have made Latino and Black communities particularly vulnerable to natural disasters. But the proposal also comes with a heavy emphasis on clean energy that some say is an attack on the state’s oil industry, and Biden is calling for corporate tax increases to foot the bill.

When the U.S. Senate returns from Easter break, the chamber will focus on three areas, accounting to majority leader Chuck Schumer:  1-climate change, economic recovery, and jobs; 2-voting rights and civil rights; and 3-health and gun safety.

 

Public Policy events

Washington D.C. Fly-in April 27-28

The all-virtual Washington, D.C., Federal Legislative Policy Briefing is scheduled for April. The schedule is still in work, but attendees will speak to legislators and attend briefings on important policies and movements in the legislature. Sponsorships are available. Participation is free for chamber members.

City Council Candidate Forum -- April 14

The Chamber will host a Richardson City Council Candidate Forum on April 14. Kyle Kepner and Joe Corcoran are running for Place 4. Daniel Burdette, Marilyn Frederick and Arefin Shamsul are running for Place 6. The forum will give candidates the opportunity to tell voters about themselves, their experience, and their policy ideas for Richardson.

RISD $750 million bond proposal

Based on the recommendations of a community bond steering committee, RISD trustees place two bond propositions before voters as part of the May 1 election. The total of both propositions is $750 million. RISD plans to keep its debt service tax rate at the current $0.35/per $100 of taxable value even if RISD voters approve Bond 2021. One proposition for $694 million is for capital construction, infrastructure, repairs, safety and security, and equipment. The other proposition is for $56 million for student and staff technology.  The Chamber Board has endorsed voter approval of these bond proposals.

Public forums will be conducted in person and virtually in April. More information is available here.

City bond election

Eight projects intended to enhance areas of Richardson targeted for redevelopment could be included in the city's upcoming municipal bond package.  Details and estimated costs for each project are being finalized. Staff will refine the plans before returning in April for further guidance from council. A final bond proposition is expected to be called by the City Council in August. The election is tentatively scheduled for November.

 

If you’d like to revisit the Public Policy Committee’s virtual fly-in with Texas legislators, click on the links below:

Austin Legislative Policy Briefing -  Rep. Jim Murphy, Rep. Jeff Leach, and Glenn Hegar, Comptroller

Austin Legislative Briefing with Mike Morath, Commissioner of Education for the State of Texas

Austin Legislative Policy Briefing with Sen. Angela Paxton

Austin Legislative Policy Briefing with Rep Angie Chen Button (excerpt)

3/26/21

Austin

Spring has arrived and we’re half-way through the 87th session of the Texas Legislature. But legislators are not forgetting the weather-related power outages last month. The House will debate a series of PUC/ERCOT bills next Tuesday. The House State Affairs Committee last week approved a slate of bills: One bill  would order the Public Utility Commission to adopt rules requiring power generators “to prepare generation facilities to provide adequate electric generation service during an extreme weather emergency.” Other bills would overhaul the make-up of the board that directs ERCOT, create the Texas Energy Disaster Reliability Council and create a statewide emergency alert system.

Thursday, that same committee, heard HB 749, which would limit taxpayer funded lobbying. The Richardson Chamber opposes the bill because it would severely curtail local governmental bodies, such as our city, school districts and counties, from having a voice in legislation impacting those same bodies.

The state, school districts and local governments in Texas will see a lot of money from Pres. Biden’s $1,9 trillion ARP act, we just don’t know when or how specifically it will be used. The Senate Finance Committee met Thursday for more discussions on it, but earlier this week, Committee Chair Jane Nelson and Sarah Hicks, the director for policy and budget at the Office of the Governor, reiterated that the potential $17 billion has restrictions: aid money cannot be spent to lower tax rates, and it cannot go to shore up pension funds. Aid money can only go to pay for "COVID-related" expenses.

HB 3781 has received surprising bipartisan support. The bill focuses on expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act and would draw billions in new federal Medicaid dollars, but with key compromises including work and health incentives for recipients, better physician reimbursement rates, and a commitment to end the coverage if it loses the state money or the federal government stops funding nearly all of it.

The COVID liability bill in the Senate – Senate Bill 6 – had its first hearing in Senate Business & Commerce. Proponents say SB 6 not only protects frontline workers in a time of need, but is also the right policy needed to bring workers and customers back to their stores.

Next week, the House Ways and Means Committee will hear HB 1556, which focuses on Chapter 313 of the Tax Code. Chapter 313 is set to expire unless it is reauthorized by the Legislature. Chapter 313 allows school districts to attract new major industrial development projects by offering a temporary and limited tax discount against a portion of their school property tax bill. These limited discounts have successfully attracted new projects to Texas like the Texas Instruments fab in Richardson without raising taxes on existing property.

Washington

Senators will close out their March legislative session with a vote on final passage of a bill that would extend the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) application deadline. The House-passed legislation would set a new application deadline of May 31, allowing the Small Business Administration (SBA) to continue processing applications for up to 30 days past the new date.

The Biden administration is preparing a massive spending proposal on infrastructure and other domestic priorities like child care and drug costs that could put fights over hot-button issues like climate change and taxes front and center. The proposal is the White House’s follow-up to the $1.9 trillion ARP. The new package is expected to be split into two separate bills. The first would focus on infrastructure, with spending on manufacturing and climate change measures, broadband and 5G, and the nation’s roads and bridges. The other measure would include funds for pre-K programs, free community college tuition, child tax credits and health care subsidies, according to multiple reports.

It is speculated that White House officials are exploring tax increases on businesses, investors and rich Americans to fund the package. The centerpiece of the tax increases could be a higher corporate tax rate — reversing part of former President Donald Trump’s steep corporate tax cut in 2017 — as well as higher levies on investment income and a higher top marginal tax rate.

 

Public Policy events

Washington D.C. Fly-in April 27-28

The all-virtual Washington, D.C., Federal Legislative Policy Briefing is scheduled for April. The schedule is still in work, but attendees will speak to legislators and attend briefings on important policies and movements in the legislature. Sponsorships are available. Participation is free for chamber members.

City Council Candidate Forum -- April 14

The Chamber will host a Richardson City Council Candidate Forum on April 14. Kyle Kepner and Joe Corcoran are running for Place 1. Daniel Burdette, Marilyn Frederick and Arefin Shamsul are running for Place 4. The forum will give candidates the opportunity to tell voters about themselves, their experience, and their policy ideas for Richardson.

RISD $750 million bond proposal

Based on the recommendations of a community bond steering committee, RISD trustees place two bond propositions before voters as part of the May 1 election. The total of both propositions is $750 million. RISD plans to keep its debt service tax rate at the current $0.35/per $100 of taxable value even if RISD voters approve Bond 2021. One proposition for $694 million is for capital construction, infrastructure, repairs, safety and security, and equipment. The other proposition is for $56 million for student and staff technology.

Public forums will be conducted in person and virtually in April. More information is available here.

City bond election

Eight projects intended to enhance areas of Richardson targeted for redevelopment could be included in the city's upcoming municipal bond package.

The details and estimated costs for each project are below. Staff will refine the plans before returning in April for further guidance from council. A final bond proposition is expected to be confirmed in June. The election is tentatively scheduled for November.

3/19/21

It’s fast and furious time in Austin: more than 10,000 bills were filed by last Friday’s deadline.

While there’s been a lot of press focus on “What are we going to do about ERCOT?”, committees are holding meetings and hearings on other items on our Legislative Agenda.

Broadband: About 25 bills have been filed focusing on expanding broadband access. The major focus is on House Bill 5 and Senate Bill 5, which will create a state broadband office.

State Sen. Robert Nichols, who represents the state's 3rd senate district, chairs the Senate’s Transportation committee, which held a hearing on SB 5 this week.

"If we do not have a statewide plan, we lose credits on competition for federal grants," he said. "The federal government has tried to map and they're going to get a lot better at it. I'm convinced, but we need to have our own map to identify down to the address level, whether that service is available or not. And if that service meets that quality standard."

“I was very pleased to see the governor add broadband access to the designation for emergency items,” said state Rep. Trent Ashby, R-Lufkin, who authored the House bill, which also was the focus of a hearing. “Whether it’s an urban, suburban or rural part of the state, access to broadband, as he said, no longer is a luxury, but it’s really a necessity and it’s become an essential tool for our livelihoods.”

Local State Rep. Jeff Leach’s House committee on Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence held hearings on HB 19. The bill seeks to level the litigation playing field in lawsuits against owners and operators of company vehicles.

HB 3 was discussed in the House Committee on State Affairs. This bill provides COVID liability protections for businesses from open ended and abusive litigation due to COVID-19 exposure or future pandemics. Other bills that focus on the issue include SB 6 and HB 3659 (also filed by Leach).

The House Ways and Means committee heard HB 1195, designed to ensure that employers will not be taxed on PPP loans they accessed to use for payroll.

One of the silver linings of the pandemic was the availability of “alcohol-to-go.” HB 1024 was voted out of committee unanimously, which means it will face a vote in the State House. This makes that temporary option permanent to help restaurants.

ERCOT: The ball has been pushed to Gov. Abbott’s court. The State Senate moved unusually swiftly last week to pass a bill calling for the agency to reverse billions of dollars charged for wholesale electricity during the power outages last month. The House declined to take up the issue. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is now asking the governor to take executive action.

In response to the snow-pocolypse, the House State Affairs Committee OK’d and sent several bills to the full House. One bill  would order the Public Utility Commission to adopt rules requiring power generators “to prepare generation facilities to provide adequate electric generation service during an extreme weather emergency.” Other bills would overhaul the make-up of the board that directs ERCOT, create the Texas Energy Disaster Reliability Council and create a statewide emergency alert system.

Medicaid expansion: In an opinion piece in the Dallas Morning News, State Sen. Nathan Johnson says Medicaid must be expanded in Texas now. He further explains in a fun video.

As many of the 10K bills fade away, we’ll update our legislative tracker on the ‘cream’ of the crop.

 

Washington, D.C.

Many of us have received our stimulus checks from the American Rescue Plan. There’s more to the plan, though. ARP includes billions in dollars to help schools safely open; Texas is set to receive more than $20 billion. The plan also includes funding for Covid-19 testing in schools.

The House approved two priority immigration bills: the Dream and Promise Act and the Farm Workforce Modernization Act. This represents a momentous victory for the millions of Dreamers, TPS holders and farmworkers.

The House also voted to extend the Paycheck Protection Program until May 31 and gives the Small Business Administration an additional 30 days to process loans.

Texans will have until June 15, 2021, to file various individual and business tax returns and make tax payments, as a result of the last month’s winter storm.

 

3/12/21

More than 6,000 bills have been filed by today’s deadline for the 87th Legislature.

Process check: after a bill is filed in its respective chamber, it typically is assigned to a committee. But with 6,000 to consider before the May 31 end-of-session deadline, the majority of bills will die in committee.

Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dade Phelan have all placed addressing the power outages at the top of the priority list. But they still have to address the budget and pandemic issues … all before the May 31 deadline. Another looming issue is redistricting, but as census data is delayed, that issue will be pushed to a special session. So, expect multiple special sessions on the horizon.

We’re following a number of bills relating to our Legislative Agenda. These bills focus on addressing broadband access throughout the state, limiting lawsuits as a result of the pandemic and expanding Medicaid. This list will be updated as more move through their chambers, but these bills of note have been assigned to their respective committees, which have started hearings.

 

Bill Status Summary/Title Last Action
HB1 Intro General Appropriations Bill. [Detail][Text][Discuss] 2021-03-01
To House Appropriations Committee
SB1 Intro General Appropriations Bill. [Detail][Text][Discuss] 2021-03-08
To Senate Finance Committee
HB2 Intro Relating to making supplemental appropriations and reductions in appropriations and giving direction and adjustment authority regarding appropriations. [Detail][Text][Discuss] 2021-03-01
To House Appropriations Committee
HB3 Intro Relating to state and local government responses to a pandemic disaster; creating a criminal offense. [Detail][Text][Discuss] 2021-03-11
[Hearing: Mar 11 @ 8:00 am]
To House State Affairs Committee
SB5 Intro Relating to the expansion of broadband services to certain areas. [Detail][Text][Discuss] 2021-03-17
[Hearing: Mar 17 @ 8:00 am]
To Senate Transportation Committee
HB10 Intro Relating to the governing body of the independent organization certified to manage the ERCOT power region [Detail][Text][Discuss] 2021-03-08
To House State Affairs Committee
SB10 Intro Relating to the use by a county or municipality of public money for lobbying activities. [Detail][Text][Discuss] 2021-03-11
To Senate Local Government Committee
HB11 Intro Relating to the extreme weather emergency preparedness of facilities for providing electric service. [Detail][Text][Discuss] 2021-03-08
To House State Affairs Committee
HB12 Intro Relating to a study on a statewide disaster and extended power outage alert system and implementation of that system. [Detail][Text][Discuss] 2021-03-08
To House State Affairs Committee
HB13 Intro Relating to the establishment of the Texas Energy Disaster Reliability Council [Detail][Text][Discuss] 2021-03-11
To House State Affairs Committee
HB14 Intro Relating to the creation of the Texas Electricity Supply Chain Mapping Committee. [Detail][Text][Discuss] 2021-03-11
Filed
HB16 Intro Relating to a prohibition on the sale of wholesale indexed products by retail electric providers. [Detail][Text][Discuss] 2021-03-08
To House State Affairs Committee
HB19 Intro Relating to procedure, evidence, and remedies in civil actions. [Detail][Text][Discuss] 2021-03-09
To House Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence Committee
SB144 Intro Relating to the extension of the expiration of certain parts of the Texas Economic Development Act. [Detail][Text][Discuss] 2021-03-03
To Senate Natural Resources & Economic Development Committee
SB171 Intro Relating to a report regarding Medicaid reimbursement rates and access to care. [Detail][Text][Discuss] 2021-03-03
To Senate Health & Human Services Committee
SB506 Intro Relating to the expansion of broadband services to certain areas. [Detail][Text][Discuss] 2021-03-09
To Senate Transportation Committee
HB1446 Intro Relating to the expansion of broadband services to certain areas. [Detail][Text][Discuss] 2021-03-05
To House State Affairs Committee
HB1557 Intro Relating to the authority of the governor and the legislature with respect to certain declared states of disaster. [Detail][Text][Discuss] 2021-03-08
To House State Affairs Committee

 

 

Federal news

In D.C., President Joe Biden has signed his huge Covid-19 relief bill but Texans will see a big chunk of change: $16.8 billion in funds for the state government and $10.4 billion for local governments.

Leaders of the House Small Business Committee reached a bipartisan deal to extend the Small Business Administration's (SBA) Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) to May 31.

The latest on Biden executive orders, cabinet nominees: Click here to view TRP's comprehensive tracking document. Click here to view the hearing schedule for the President's cabinet nominees.

 

Here are some additional resources for in-depth coverage:

If you want to follow the specific activities of our local legislators, these links will lead you there.

Button Legislator Detail | BillTrack50

Leach Legislator Detail | BillTrack50

Johnson Legislator Detail | BillTrack50

Paxton Legislator Detail | BillTrack50

Ramos Legislator Detail | BillTrack50

Allred Legislator Detail | BillTrack50

Taylor Legislator Detail | BillTrack50

 

Richardson Chamber of Commerce Public Policy

Texas Legislature Online

My TLO

Legislative Reference Library

LegiScan Texas

Texas League of Women Voters

Texas Tribune: The Legislature Explained - YouTube

Texas Tribune: 2021 Texas Legislature

Harvey Kronberg's The Quorum Report

Teach the Vote | Teach the Vote (atpe.org)

Dallas Business News - Dallas Business Journal (bizjournals.com)

Politics | Chron.com - Chron

Austin, TX Local News | Austin American-Statesman

Austin, TX Local News | Austin American-Statesman

 

Legislative update 3/5/21

Of note this week in the Texas House, Rep. Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin) filed House Bill 5. This bill will focus on broadband: creation of a state office and creation of a long-term statewide plan. It will also require a grant program for broadband infrastructure investment, especially in rural areas. Our own Bill Sproull will be involved as he was appointed last year by Gov. Abbot as chair of the Governor’s Broadband Development Council.

More than 4,500 bills have been filed in the Texas Legislature. The legislative process is in full gear as bills are being assigned to appropriate committees and hearings begin.

In D.C., the Senate is beginning debate on the proposed Covid-19 relief bill.

The latest on Biden executive orders, cabinet nominees: Click here to view TRP's comprehensive tracking document. Click here to view the hearing schedule for the President's cabinet nominees.

Public Policy Briefing- RISD bond issue

12 p.m. – 1 p.m. March 8

Join the Policy Committee for a conversation about the upcoming $750 M bond program for the RISD that will be called for a vote at the May election. Featured guest will be RISD Superintendent Dr. Jeannie Stone and moderator will be Liz Morse, Government Affairs and Civic Engagement Liaison for the RISD.

If approved by voters this spring, $694 million will go toward school buildings, buses, and safety, with the other $56 million to be used for technology devices.

This new bond program comes with the upcoming expiration of the 2016 Bond Program, so no new tax increase would be necessary.

 

Annual Meeting

March 11

Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, is slated to be the keynote speaker for this year’s Annual Meeting. The 2020 Richardson Citizen of the Year also will be announced at the annual meeting.

See all the details about the event on the Annual Meeting page.

Full list of sponsorships and benefits

Email or call 972-792-2819 if you have questions.

 

Here are some additional resources for in-depth coverage:

Richardson Chamber of Commerce Public Policy

Texas Legislature Online

My TLO

Legislative Reference Library

LegiScan Texas

Texas League of Women Voters

Texas Tribune: The Legislature Explained - YouTube

Texas Tribune: 2021 Texas Legislature

 

Legislative update 2/26/21

What a difference a week makes. Freezing temperatures thawed while Austin hearing rooms heated up as legislators demanded answers to last week’s “snow-pocalypse.”

The energy grid failure is now a top-of-agenda item for the 87th Texas Legislature. Gov. Greg Abbott made it an emergency item and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick put it at the top of his priority list.

Patrick announced a total of 31 priority bills for 2021, focusing on three themes: “A safe and secure Texas future,” “Life, liberty and conservative Texas values,” and “Protecting taxpayers and the Texas economy.”

In addition to the power grid, he also announced Senate bills for statewide broadband access, virtual learning, charter school equity, pandemic liability limits and business freedom and uniformity.

 

The Texas Association of Business has updated its list of bills to watch:

  • HB 34 - Presumptive coverage for first responders
  • HB 244 - Relating to the establishment of a grant program for promoting computer science certification and professional development in coding, technology applications, and computer science for public schoolteachers.
  • HB515 - telemedicine/telehealth reimbursement
  • HB 593 - establishing an intergovernmental development corporation to foster minority- or women-owned construction businesses
  • HB975/SB 412 - telemedicine, telehealth, and technology-related health care services.
  • HB1195/SB372 - Taxes - Forgiveness of a loan made under the Paycheck Protection Program for franchise tax purposes
  • HB1446/ SB 506- Creates a broadband office within the Comptroller's office responsible for creating a broadband development map and plan
  • HB1511 - creation of the connectivity office within the office of the governor
  • HB1557 - Relating to the Texas Economic Development Act.
  • HB 1614 - Use of certain technologies to supervise a defendant placed on community supervision
  • HB 1791 - Eligibility for job-training programs provided under the self-sufficiency fund
  • HB 1810 - Maintenance and production of electronic public information
  • HB 1820 - Regulation, monitoring, and enforcement of matters under the jurisdiction of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality
  • SB 144 - Economic Development/Chapter 313
  • SB 207- Tort/Reducing Lawsuit Abuse in Commercial/Company owned vehicle cases
  • SB 107 -  Relating to certain claims for benefits, compensation, or assistance by certain public safety employees and survivors of certain public safety employees
  • SB 144 - Economic Development/Chapter 313
  • SB 207 - Tort/Reducing lawsuit abuse in commercial & company vehicle cases
  • SB 249 - business interruption insurance coverage for losses arising from a pandemic.
  • SB 475 - Public data privacy enhancing the state's cybersecurity efforts
  • SB 488 - Telemedicine - Practice of dentistry and the provision of tele-dentistry dental services safety safety employees and survivors of certain public safety employees.
  • SB 532 - Relating to the release of certain defendants on personal bond or on bail
  • SB 551 – prohibiting local authorities to regulate employment benefits

 

On Capitol Hill, the House approved the $1.9 trillion “American Rescue Plan.” (textsummary). The Senate parliamentarian ruled that the included $15 minimum wage increase would not be included in its version.

The Biden administration announced several changes to the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) designed to help small businesses.

The latest on Biden executive orders, cabinet nominees: Click here to view TRP's comprehensive tracking document. Click here to view the hearing schedule for the President's cabinet nominees.

 

 

Public Policy events

 

Austin Fly-In

The Richardson Chamber and Tech Titans hosted its annual Austin Fly-In Feb. 24-26 in an all-virtual setting. Recorded videos of the presentations will be available soon.

Key areas of focus included:

  • Education and the economy
  • Healthcare and transportation
  • Trade and rural initiatives

Speakers included:

State Sen. Angela Paxton, Vice-Chair of the Senate Property Tax Committee; sits on the Senate committees for Business & Commerce, Education, and Natural Resources & Economic Development.

Mike Morath, Commissioner of Education for the State of Texas

Rep. Jim Murphy, Chairman of the Higher Education Committee

State Rep. Jeff Leach, Chair of the Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence; sits on Juvenile Justice & Family Issues Committee

Glenn Hegar, Texas State Comptroller.

State Rep. Angie Chen Button, Chair of the International Relations & Economic Development; sits on Ways & Means Committee

There also was  a live connection to Texas Tribune's "A Conversation with Rep. Harold Dutton, Chair of the House Public Education Committee."

 

Public Policy Briefing- RISD bond issue

12 p.m. – 1 p.m. March 8

Join the Policy Committee for a conversation about the upcoming $750 M bond program for the RISD that will be called for a vote at the May election. Featured guest will be RISD Superintendent Dr. Jeannie Stone and moderator will be Liz Morse, Government Affairs and Civic Engagement Liaison for the RISD.

If approved by voters this spring, $694 million will go toward school buildings, buses, and safety, with the other $56 million to be used for technology devices.

This new bond program comes with the upcoming expiration of the 2016 Bond Program, so no new tax increase would be necessary.

 

Annual Meeting

March 11

Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, is slated to be the keynote speaker for this year’s Annual Meeting. The 2020 Richardson Citizen of the Year also will be announced at the annual meeting.

See all the details about the event on the Annual Meeting page.

Full list of sponsorships and benefits

Email or call 972-792-2819 if you have questions.

 

Here are some additional resources for in-depth coverage:

Richardson Chamber of Commerce Public Policy

Texas Legislature Online

My TLO

Legislative Reference Library

LegiScan Texas

Texas League of Women Voters

Texas Tribune: The Legislature Explained - YouTube

Texas Tribune: 2021 Texas Legislature

 

Legislative update: 2/24-26/21

State legislative news

House and Senate members return to Austin Tuesday, Feb. 9.

The slow start to the 87th Texas Legislative session will gain momentum as the clock starts winding down in the 20-week session. Now that most of the formalities are over, activity around the capitol should start buzzing.

New Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) and his predecessor, Joe Straus, have called for more civility in politics. Phelan wants to recruit “responsible” citizens to get more involved, and Straus said elected officials should be public role models.

Phelan said his priorities for the session include:

  • passing a balanced budget,
  • drawing new electoral maps and
  • increasing the number of Texans covered by Medicaid if it can be done in a revenue-neutral way.

Other big issues could be property appraisal reform and criminal justice reform. Redistricting probably will be the focus of a special session because of a delay in federal census data. (Dallas News)

Gov. Greg Abbott declared Texas must be the “Freedom Capital of America,” as he detailed his priorities for the session in his annual State of the State address. The most important priority for the state, he said, was accelerating vaccine rollout and recovering from the pandemic.

He listed five emergency items for the Legislature. Emergency status allows the Legislature to pass these bills before the 60-day Constitutional limitation:

  • Broadband internet access for all Texans
  • Laws prohibiting cities from defunding police
  • Reforms to keep violent and/or repeat offenders from being released on bail
  • Election integrity laws
  • Legal liability protections for businesses operating in good faith during COVID

(Dallas News; Texas Tribune)

Texas House Speaker Phelan announced House committee leadership:

  • State Rep. Greg Bonnen, R-Friendswood, will oversee the budget-planning House Appropriations Committee.
  • State Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, will chair the Public Education Committee.
  • State Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, will chair the House Redistricting Committee, spearheading the once-in-a-decade redrawing of the state’s political maps for the House.
  • State Rep. Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park, now chairs the House Elections Committee.

Angie Chen Button, District 112, serves as chair of House Committee on International Relations & Economic Development.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick announced his key Senate committee assignments last month.

Sen. Angela Paxton, District 8, serves on these committees: business & commerce, Committee of the Whole Senate, education, higher education, local government, nominations (vice chair), and redistricting (special).

In addition to the tools listed below, check out the Legislative Reference Library. The library is a tremendous resource for research and information related to every legislative session of the Texas Legislature.

Here are some additional resources for in-depth coverage:

Texas Legislature Online

My TLO

LegiScan Texas

Texas League of Women Voters

Texas Tribune: The Legislature Explained - YouTube

Texas Tribune: 2021 Texas Legislature

 

Washington D.C.

COVID-19 relief: House lawmakers are discussing passage of a budget resolution that will kick off the reconciliation process for another round of COVID-19 legislation. The measure provides instructions for committees to begin drafting a $1.9 trillion stimulus package, which is widely expected to align with President Joe Biden's priorities for virus relief legislation. Should the resolution pass both chambers, committees would have until Feb. 16 to pull together the bill, and Democratic leadership is aiming to get the relief legislation onto President Biden's desk by March 14 — the same day that the current unemployment insurance benefits expire. For more on reconciliation, click here to read TRP's analysis. (North Texas Commission)

A new Texas business coalition is forming — with U.S. Sen. John Cornyn's support — to push for a permanent legislative solution for young people whose parents brought them illegally to the United States as children. This new Texas Opportunity Coalition also includes nearly three dozen chambers of commerce, other economic development groups and higher learning institutions. They want to end the years-long uncertainty — prompted by executive action — and pass a federal "DREAM Act" that would give permanent legal status to those known as "Dreamers." The coalition has a key congressional ally in Cornyn, who’s focused on trying to find a solution for the group of young immigrants who benefited from the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. (Texas Tribune)

U.S. Rep. Colin Allred held a virtual small business town hall to discuss pandemic recovery. He offered some resources for recovery.

Small Business Resources

  • Small Business Resource Guide here.
  • Allred’s website for more information on small business assistance as it relates to the pandemic.
  • Town hall recording of the event is available here.

Small Business Contacts

  • SBA’s Customer Service Center: (800) 659-2955
  • SBA Dallas/Fort Worth Office: (817) 684-5500
  • Colin Allred’s Office: (972) 972-7949
  • Dallas Small Business Development Council: (214) 860-5848

What might an infrastructure package look like? The 2020 (and 2021) federal elections have created a scenario where an infrastructure package is more likely than previously thought. While we do not know exactly what this may look like, it could build off what the House proposed during the last Congress, the $1.5 trillion Moving Forward Act (H.R. 2 in the 116th Congress) plus additional items from Biden’s Build Back Better plan as well as the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis’ Action Plan. (North Texas Commission)

President Joe Biden issued an executive order that seeks to bolster and modernize certain "Buy American" requirements.

 

Legislative update: May 24, 2019 »

With three days remaining in the 86th Legislative Session, only about 13.5 percent of bills have reached Gov. Abbott’s desk. In 2017, 19 percent of bills reached the governor. In 2015, 21.7 percent of bills advanced to the final stamp. Normally, about a quarter of filed house and senate bills advance to the final step in the legislative process. After today, only bills in conference committee will have the chance to survive.

Stay tuned for our Legislative Wrap-Up. We’ll tell you what you need to know about action on key priorities this session.

Legislators release final school finance plan

On Thursday, the state’s top three leaders – Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Speaker Dennis Bonnen – announced that lawmakers have reached a deal on the budget, public school finance and property tax reform. Both House and Senate members will need to sign off on the bills before Sine Die on Monday.

A flyer passed out at the press conference reported several key wins for public schools, including:

  • A “significant” increase in the basic per-student allotment, without a specific dollar amount;
  • Full-day pre-kindergarten funding for low income students;
  • $2 billion for “dynamic” compensation for teachers, librarians, counselors and nurses, including $104 million for a merit-based incentive raise program for educators;
  • $3.2 billion toward teacher raises;
  • Bonus funding for College, Career and Military Readiness outcomes, dual-language programs, and extended year summer programs for economically disadvantaged students;
  • Creation of the first dyslexia identification program in Texas, as well as establishment of high-quality K-3 reading standards;
  • Creation of a “Do Not Hire” registry for classroom teachers to protect students;
  • Quadrupled funding for constructing and equipping new facilities; and,
  • Changes in the school funding formula that would result in a reduction of recapture or “Robin Hood” payments from wealthier districts to less wealthy districts by $3.6 billion (47 percent), without elimination of those payments.

The handout also listed specific property tax measures designed to slow the growth of local school property taxes, including $5 billion to lower school property taxes by an average of 8 cents in 2020 and 13 cents in 2021. The final version of SB 2 will also include 2.5 percent tax compression started in 2021 and require school districts to conduct efficiency audits before proposing a tax increase.

Overall, the combination of increased school funding and property tax reform is estimated to increase the state’s share of education funding form 38 percent to 45 percent.

The chief state lawmakers left many questions unanswered, including the new per-student basic allotment and minimum teacher pay schedule. Conferees for the school finance plan, House Bill 3, must submit their final bill by midnight on Saturday. The Senate has until Sunday to release the final tax bill, Senate Bill 2, and until Monday to agree on the appropriations bill, House Bill 1.

House members reject ban on lobbying by local communities

Senate Bill 29, which would have banned governing bodies from using public money for lobbying, failed to pass to third reading in the House on Monday.

Legislators must read bills three times before legislation can advance to the next step. This process is designed to slow down the legislative process and foster debate among members. Bills are first read when they are referred to a committee by the lieutenant governor or speaker of the House. After committee revision and approval, the bill is read a second time on the floor for discussion and a vote. During the second reading, legislation can still be revised and is passed by a simple majority. Any amendments must also pass by a simple majority. On third and final reading, any revisions must be adopted as amendments by a two-thirds majority. The bill then goes to the next chamber for another round or, after approval by both chambers, to the governor.

SB 29 would have prevented local governments from using public money to directly or indirectly influence, or attempt to influence, the outcome of legislation relating to taxation, bond elections, tax-supported debt, and ethics and transparency of public servants. Preventing local communities from hiring lobbyists to represent them was appealing to many lawmakers, but deemed as clearly unconstitutional by others. Opponents argued the bill would have prevent city representatives, who can live hundreds of miles away from the Capitol, from contesting unfunded mandates and other harmful legislation.

Other updates

House Bill 3143, which would improve transparency and extend Chapter 312 agreements until 2029, was passed by the Senate as amended on Monday. Chapter 312 agreements allow governing bodies like cities and counties to offer tax abatements to attract new or expanding job-generating companies. Senators voted down a handful of proposed amendments to the bill, including one that would have prohibited tax incentives for any project involving a solar or wind energy device.

Legislative update: May 17, 2019 »

Only 10 days remain until Sine Die on May 27, the end of the 86th Legislature. Most bills will die a swift death in the next few days, the usual fate in any legislative session.

A bill dies when it fails to meet a deadline and therefore cannot advance to a vote. Tomorrow, any pending senate bills and joint resolutions in House committees will die in committee. Next Wednesday, any senate bills or joint resolutions that have not come to a vote by the full House will die. Bills in conference committee, including the budget bill and the public education finance bill, have the latest deadlines.

Priorities that succumb to a deadline can still be attached as amendments or “riders” to other bills. This strategy risks jeopardizing those larger bills by deterring votes from lawmakers who disagree with the rider. The budget, as the only bill that legislators must pass, is somewhat protected: no budget rider may alter state law.

Schools districts raise concerns about changes to funding formula

Lawmakers are currently working on House Bill 3, the school finance reform bill, in conference committee. Both the House and Senate versions of the bill would make sweeping changes to the school funding formula, which determines state funding provided to each public school in Texas.

School districts, business leaders and chambers of commerce across the state have sounded an alarm on one change in particular – using current-year property values in school formulas.

Currently, school formulas use property values from the prior year, which are largely set and most accurately represent the local tax revenue actually available to districts. Using these values allows districts to write budgets with a clearer understanding of how much funding they will receive from the state or lose through recapture (a.k.a., Robin Hood) payments. Going to current-year values will cause districts to lose the revenue they gained from prior-year property values. Losing this revenue would be equivalent to another form of recapture by the state.

Even with prior-year values, school districts face significant uncertainty in their budgeting processing due to estimates about student attendance, growth and changing expenses. Forcing districts to develop budgets based on current-year property values will add volatility to an already imprecise process. Districts will need to be more conservative in their estimates to avoid accidental deficits. The state will also need to rely more on the Comptroller’s estimates for property values, which tend to be more conservative to avoid overspending state funds.

According to David Pate, CFO of Richardson ISD, RISD would lose a little more than $18 million in state funding the first year after the changes took effect. This would equate to a loss of 275 teachers in the school district. In a press release today, Plano ISD estimated a greater loss of $35 million and possibly 500-600 teachers. These losses would not be recovered going forward.

The state, altogether, would save approximately $1.8 billion in state education funding. These costs would then be passed on to local taxpayers and significantly reduce any benefit to school districts from school finance reform this session. You can email state legislators to voice your opinion here. Lawmakers in conference committee have until May 25 to make changes and report on HB 3.

High-speed rail dodges bullet from lawmakers

Texas Central, a privately-funded rail company, has been planning a high-speed rail between North Dallas and Greater Houston. The rail would make the journey in less than 90 minutes, require no public funding, and has proven extraordinarily safe in Japan. Rural legislators between Dallas and Houston have opposed the project as detrimental to their towns and landowners, who could be subject to eminent domain for the project.

Several bills designed to impede the rail died last week. However, lawmakers made another attempt to delay the project this week by adding a rider to the budget.

The budget rider would have required a court to definitively and unappealably affirm Texas Central’s ability to use eminent domain for the project before the company could coordinate with the Texas Department of Transportation to cross state highways. Obtaining a court ruling likely would have taken several years.

One member of the budget committee, Rep. Armando Walle (D-Houston), said the rider was removed over concerns it could change general law, which is prohibited in the budget bill. For fear of endangering the entire appropriations bill, they opted to remove the rider.

Once the appropriations bill leaves conference committee, both chambers will vote on the amended bill. If the budget is approved, HB 1 will go to the governor.

Comptroller Hegar announces additional $518 million in the budget

In a surprise announcement on Tuesday, Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar declared another $518 million would be available to lawmakers for the 2020-21 budget. $300 million of these funds will go to the state’s Rainy Day Fund as revenue from oil and natural gas production taxes. There has been no word yet on how the additional funds will be used.

The comptroller has a difficult job. Unlike most states, which meet and plan their budgets annually, the Texas comptroller must estimate our state’s revenue for the next two years. Comptroller Hegar is known for his conservative estimates of future state funds.

2019 Texas Public Ed Almanac shows progress toward 60x30TX goals

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) released the 2019 Texas Public Education Almanac this week. The report includes a few indicators on progress toward 60x30TX goals:

  • 5 percent: the percentage of Texans aged 25-34 who hold a certificate or degree, an increase from 40.3 percent three years ago;
  • 6 percent: the increase in certificates and associate’s, bachelor’s and master’s degrees awarded by all Texas higher ed institutions, a total of 341,307 degrees;
  • 8 percent: the increase in 6-year graduation rates toward postsecondary degrees at public four-year universities over the last ten years, for a total of 61.6 percent.

Of every 100 students enrolled in the eighth grade in Texas in academic year 2007-08, 78 graduated from high school, 54 enrolled in higher education in Texas, and 23 received a higher education degree or certificate in Texas by August 2017. Within this group, only 14 percent of the economically disadvantaged students received a degree or certificate, compared to 33 percent of those not economically disadvantaged.

Overall, the Almanac reported significant progress toward 60x30TX, but at a slower rate than will be necessary to achieve 60 percent of Texans aged 25 to 34 holding a certificate or degree by 2030. 60x30TX was launched in 2015 to prepare a skilled workforce to meet industry demands. It has been estimated that 60 percent of Texans will need a certificate or degree by 2030 for the state to stay competitive in the global market.

Senate passes “Save Chick-fil-A” religious liberty bill

Senators passed Senate Bill 1978 this week, which would prohibit state and local governments from taking adverse action against individuals, organizations or businesses based on their belief about marriage. LGBTQ groups have targeted the bill as another discriminatory bathroom bill, a reference to legislation pushed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick last session. The original bathroom bill would have banned individuals from bathrooms that do not match their biological sex in publicly-owned facilities, including schools. Such legislation, including religious liberty bills like SB 1978, is widely viewed as discriminatory and discourages large employers and special events from expanding to Texas.

A similar bill, House Bill 3172, was struck down by point of order from a member of the LGBTQ caucus last week. HB 3172 would have prohibited adverse action against any person based on their membership in, affiliation with, or contribution to a religious organization. The bill was nicknamed the “Save Chick-fil-A” bill because it would have allowed the attorney general to sue the San Antonio City Council after council members voted against Chick-fil-A opening a restaurant in their airport. Council member Robert Trevino stated earlier this year that he could not support a company with “a legacy of anti-LGBTQ behavior.”

SB 1978 has been referred to the House State Affairs Committee, which has until tomorrow to report on the bill.

Other updates

House Bill 3143, which would extend the Chapter 312 economic development incentives, was passed by the Senate National Resources & Economic Development Committee this week. The bill would also add transparency measures, including public hearings before the adoption, amendment, repeal or reauthorization of an agreement under Chapter 312. Chapter 312 agreements allow cities to leverage local property taxes to attract new or expanding businesses. HB 3143 will now go on to the full Senate.

Legislative update: May 3, 2019 »

For our alert this week, check out our podcast episode. Find all our episodes here or on Apple Podcasts.

Tech Titans CEO Bill Sproull talks about the 2019 Texas legislative session and which bills are in committee and the process to making them laws.

The bills include topics of education reform (teacher raises & funding), a bill to address rising property taxes, plus a regular and supplemental budget bill.

Legislative update: May 3, 2019 »

Budget comparisons

Two budget conference committees, groups of appointees from both chambers for a specific bill, have been negotiating budget proposals for the 2020-21 biennium (HB 1) and the current biennium (SB 500). In January, Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar announced the budget would increase by nearly $9 billion and the Economic Stabilization Fund, or rainy day fund, would swell to $15 billion. Now, lawmakers must decide how that surplus is spent to pass an appropriations bill, the only legislation they are constitutionally required to pass.

Major differences remain between the House and Senate proposals:

  • Both proposals for the 2020-21 budget dedicate about $116 billion from the state’s general revenue (GR) account.
  • The House version would withdrawal an additional $2.3 billion from the Economic Stabilization Fund (ESF), while the Senate would not use any rainy day funds.
  • Both versions of HB 1 would increase appropriations to the Foundation School Program (FSP), state public schools’ funding account, by $9 billion. $6.3 billion would go directly to increasing the per-student allotment, teacher raises and other programs, and $2.7 billion would replaces school funding lost to property tax cuts.
  • The Senate has proposed $4 billion for $5,000 raises to teachers and librarians. The House would require schools to dedicate 25 percent of increases in the per-student allotment to raises for school district employees.

Both chambers would dedicate $15.6 billion to state colleges and universities over the next biennium.

Both versions of the supplemental bill, SB 500, would withdrawal about $4 billion from the rainy day fund. The House version of SB 500 would provide $169.8 million to pay off the backlog of matching funds mandated by the Texas Research Incentive Program (TRIP) for research at qualifying state colleges and universities. The Senate would not dedicate any funding to TRIP.

House passes property tax reform bill

Senate Bill 2, the major property tax reform bill, was passed by the full House after six hours of debate on Tuesday. The House version of SB 2 would trigger an automatic election if local revenue from property taxes grew by more than 3.5 percent, whereas the current rollback rate is 8 percent. SB 2 passed despite significant concerns from Texas cities about cuts to public safety funding, which makes up the majority of city budgets.

The House version of SB 2 would override any standing revenue caps in cities and counties. The bill would also allow cities and counties to include losses from homestead exemptions and providing indigent healthcare in revenue calculations. Taxing units could increase their property tax revenue by $500,000 per year without triggering an automatic election. Their revenue growth could also exceed the rollback rate some years if the average revenue growth over the last five years was 3.5 percent or less. Hospitals and community colleges would remain exempt from the changes, and therefore retain their 8-percent election trigger. An attempt by Rep. Eric Johnson (D-Dallas) to exempt public safety funding from the revenue calculation was tabled.

Finally, House members made SB 2 contingent on the passage of major school finance reform, HB 3. The new provision would require passage of HB 3 for SB 2 to go into effect.

School finance reform advances to Senate floor

The Senate Education Committee reluctantly approved their substitute for House Bill 3 on Wednesday. With only three weeks remaining in the 86th session, senators rushed to approved HB 3 so that the full Senate could vote on the bill soon. Once the upper chamber has passed the bill, a conference committee can be appointed to work out the details. House Bill 3 is scheduled for debate Monday on the Senate floor.

The committee substitute would provide $5,000 across-the-board raises for state teachers and librarians, in line with Senate Bill 3 passed by the upper chamber in March. The pay increases would cost $4 billion over the next biennium. The bill would also allow for merit pay raises, fund pre-K funding for low-income students, increase the homestead exemption from $25,000 to $35,000, and provide outcomes-based funding bonuses to high-achieving school districts.

The Senate version of HB 3 replaced the original 4-cent property tax cut per $100 valuation with an 8-cent cut the first year, and 15-cent cut in subsequent years. Together with teacher pay raises, the steep tax cuts would require a new source of revenue not specified in the bill.

Recently, lawmakers have discussed increasing the sales and use tax by one cent to pay for the large property tax cuts proposed in the Senate version of HB 3. The House Ways & Means Committee passed substituted versions House Joint Resolution 3 and House Bill 4621 this week, which would dedicate 100 percent of the new sales tax revenue to property tax relief. The initial HJR 3 proposal would have dedicated 80 percent of the new revenue to property tax relief and 20 percent to school funding. The one-cent increase is estimated to raise $5 billion toward lowering property tax rates.

Joint resolutions require two-thirds approval by both chambers since they go to the voters as constitutional amendments. If every House Republican voted for HJR 3, the bill would still need 18 House Democrats to pass. Many Democrats are opposing any sales tax increases as a regressive tax that shift costs from higher-income homeowners to low-income consumers.

In the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday, Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) expressed regret at bringing HB 3 to a vote without a clear source of funding or an official analysis of how the bill would impact their districts. Three members – Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), Sen. Angela Paxton (R-McKinney) and Sen. Bob Hall (R-Edgewood) – voted Present Not Voting due to significant concerns about funding the bill. Sen. Taylor reassured committee members that once HB 3 was passed, its details would be negotiated in conference committee.

Other updates

House Bill 3143, which would extend the expiration date of Chapter 312 tax abatements from cities to new or expanding businesses, was passed by the House and referred to the Senate Natural Resources & Economic Development Committee.

Legislative update: April 26, 2019 »

Senate finally reveals state education plan

Senator Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), chair of the Senate Education Committee, filed the upper chamber’s school finance proposal on the filing deadline in March with numerous blank underscores in place of actual dollar amounts. On Thursday, he laid out before the Senate Education Committee  a heavily-revised substitute of House Bill 3. The Senate version would:

  • Increase the student allotment by a lower amount, $740, from $5,150 to $5,880 (instead of $6,030 as in the House’s proposal);
  • Include a $5,000 one-time pay raise for full-time teachers and librarians, as the Senate unanimously approved in Senate Bill 3;
  • Include performance-based funding for school districts tied to reading at grade level by third-graders;
  • Add unpredictability to school budgets by changing current law, which allows school districts to use property tax values from the previous year in funding formulas, to use valuations from the current year;
  • Limit the growth of school districts’ revenue from property taxes starting in 2023; and,
  • Lower school district property taxes by 8 cents in the first year and 15 cents per $100 of assessed value starting the second year, compared to the House’s proposed 4-cent reduction.

Many other allotments that the House had increased would be reduced as well, including funding for the P-TECH grant program. For example, although the Career and Technical Education allotment would be expanded in HB 3 to include eighth graders, this would reduce funding by forcing school districts to fund P-TECH grant programs through their existing CTE funding.

The Senate Education Committee did not bring HB 3 to a vote. Opponents voiced several concerns about the proposal, including the financial burden of sustaining  the one-time $5,000 raise and tying school budgets to current-year property values. The proposal also depends on additional funding for schools from other tax sources. Senator Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) proposed a few alternatives to swapping property tax reduction for an increase in the  sales tax, including diverting severance taxes from oil production and collecting online sales tax.

College-readiness bills advance

Lawmakers advanced legislation on other school issues this week, including individual graduation committees, technology skills curricula and performance indicators.

Senate Bill 213 and House Bill 851 would repeal the expiration date for individual graduation committees, which consider high school students who failed one or two end-of-course (EOC) exams for graduation. The committee includes the principal, teachers of the failed courses, and a parent, designated advocate or even the student if the student is older than 18. Texas has seen a reduction in the college readiness of high school graduates. These committees award high school diplomas to students who may not be ready for college or the workforce. Allowing students who have not passed their EOC’s to graduate also devalues the diplomas of students who studied hard and passed their exams. The program is currently set to expire this September. House members passed the Senate companion to HB 851, SB 213, on Thursday.

House Bill 2984 would add computer programming, coding, computational thinking and cybersecurity to the essential knowledge and skills of the technology curriculum for students in grades K-8. The State Board of Education would revise the curriculum every five years to align with current or emerging professions. HB 2984 was passed by the full House and sent to the Senate this week.

House Bill 843 would add satisfactory performance on Algebra II and English III assessments to public school performance indicators. Success in these courses has proven to be a reliable predictor of college success. Passing Algebra II alone doubles the odds that a student who enters college will complete a bachelor’s degree. HB 843 was passed by the full House and received by the Senate this week.

Texas Municipal League names top ten anti-city bills this session

The Texas Municipal League (TML) identified its top ten bills that threaten the autonomy or funding of local governments in Texas. House Bill 2 and Senate Bill 2, revenue-capping rollback tax bills, topped the list, which spanned from local tree regulations to telecom provider fees. A few of the bills are included below. See the full list at Community Impact.

Senate Bill 29 and House Bill 281, also known as the “silencing cities” bills, would prohibit counties, cities and transit authorities from spending public money for lobbying activities. Like private entities, current law allows cities to hire lobbyists to support or oppose legislation that impacts their communities. TML argued these bills could be a violation of free speech for cities by restricting their ability to speak out on legislation. SB 29 was passed by the full Senate and sent to the House last week. HB 281 was passed by the House State Affairs Committee early this month and has stalled in the Calendars Committee.

Senate Bill 1152 and House Bill 3535 would lower municipal right-of-way fees for telecommunications providers to run cables over an existing line. Telecom providers argue they should not have to pay twice to run telephone calls, cable television or video signal over the same line. Cities have become sensitive to any reduction in their budget with severe property tax rollbacks in the spotlight. Both bills were passed by the House State Affairs Committee last week and sent to Calendars.

Other Updates

The House Ways & Means Committee members adopted a substantially revised substitute of Senate Bill 2 by an 8-3 vote on Thursday. The substitute now closely resembles the lower chamber’s proposal, House Bill 2, including provisions that would:

  • Trigger automatic tax elections for hospital districts and community colleges at 8 percent;
  • Trigger elections if revenue for cities, counties and emergency service districts increases by more than 3.5 percent, and allow property tax levies to increase by $500,000 per year without triggering an election; and,
  • Allow local municipalities to factor homestead exemptions into their revenue growth calculation to avoid penalizing cities for offering tax cuts to residents.

The House committee also made passage of SB 2 contingent or dependent on the approval of HB 3, the lower chamber’s major school finance reform bill. House members also cut certain provisions that required the participation of taxing units with less than $15 million in combined sales and tax revenue and allowed cities to factor indigent defense costs into their revenue calculations. The House is set to debate the revised SB 2 next week, and it will certainly attract a lot of amendments.  Any changes will likely be rejected by the Senate, and a conference committee will be created to negotiate a revised bill.

The House & Senate conferees on HB 1, the next biennial budget, formally met on Monday, and heard a presentation from the Legislative Budget Board on the differences between the House and Senate versions of the budget.  The conference committee on the supplemental funding bill for the current fiscal period, SB 500, has yet to meet.  SB 500 includes some very important budget additions to address shortfalls in state Medicaid funding, the backlog in the Texas Research Incentive Program, etc.  Many observers believe that the budget conferees will wait on some resolution on school funding and property tax relief before finalizing an agreement on the supplemental FY 18-19 budget and the upcoming FY 20-21 budget.

Legislative update: April 19, 2019 »

The “dirty dozen” bills heard by High Speed Rail subcommittee

The project at issue, privately funded by Texas Central Partners, would connect Dallas to Houston with a high-speed rail. According to Texas Central, nearly 50,000 “super-commuters” travel between Dallas and Houston more than once a week. The new high-speed bullet train, identical to the one used successfully in Japan, would make the journey in less 90 minutes. Without additional delays, implementation would start in 2025.

The House Subcommittee on High Speed Rail heard twelve bills this week that are designed to impede construction of high-speed rails in Texas. Representatives of rural districts between Dallas and Houston authored “the dirt dozen” to create setbacks. For example, HB 2716 would prohibit any private or third-party entity funding the rail from surveying land until all necessary funding had been obtained beforehand. Other bills would address option contracts to acquire property for the project, permits from state agencies, and bonds with the Texas Department of Transportation. One bill was withdrawn from committee. The rest were left pending without a vote.

Another strategy to derail to project would encumber eminent domain, or the right to expropriate private land for public use with compensation. Senate Bill 421 would establish precise (and, therefore, litigious) requirements for initial offers and easement term provisions. The bill would also create strict time constraints on landowner meetings that could result in irreconcilable operational challenges and unnecessary delays. Opponents also contend that delays and fear of future litigation could impede or prevent other essential public works projects, such as fuel, water or electricity infrastructure. SB 421 was passed by the Senate last week and has been scheduled for a hearing, along with its corresponding House bill HB 991, next week by the House Land & Resource Management Committee.

Senators pass amended version of major property tax bill

Senators approved their major property tax proposal, Senate Bill 2, on Monday with a few changes. The rollback rate was raised from 2.5 percent to 3.5 percent for taxing districts other than schools, which would still be capped at 2.5 percent growth. Small taxing units with less than $15 million in revenue would not be subject to the cap but could opt-in through an election.

SB 2 has been stalled since Valentine’s Day due to insufficient support in the upper chamber. The rules require a two-thirds majority (19 senators) to bring legislation to the floor for discussion and a vote. Lt. Gov. Patrick gained his nineteenth vote from Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo), a former mayor, after threatening the “nuclear option” of suspending the two-thirds rule and requiring only a simple majority to hear the bill. SB 2 was referred to the House Ways & Means Committee. The corresponding bill in the lower chamber, House Bill 2, was postponed.

On Wednesday, the House Ways & Means Committee heard two bills that would raise the state sales tax by 1 percent to pay down property taxes and also provide additional funding to schools. House Joint Resolution 3 and House Bill 4621 would raise the statewide sales tax to 7.25 percent. 80% of the new sales tax would be used to buy down school property tax rates, and the other 20% would go to increase the basic allotment that schools get for each student.

The new rate would equal California’s state sales tax, which is the highest in the nation. Local governments may also add on 2 percent, making the combined state and local sales tax 9.25 percent or the fourth highest combined sales tax rate in the U.S.

The proposal ran into immediate opposition from the right and the left. Left leaning lawmakers are concerned that lowering property taxes with dedicated sales tax revenue would result in a regressive tax that harms poorer Texas. According to a Texas Tribune analysis, only Texans earning more than about $150,000 per year would pay a reduced percentage of their income to taxes if the bill passed. Lower earners – eighty percent of Texans – would pay more of their income to taxes as a result of the tax swap. Opponents on the right call it a tax increase, especially since it increases government funding of schools and the proposal doesn’t use 100% of the sales tax generated to buy down property taxes.  HJR 3 may have a difficult time of getting the necessary two-third’s approval threshold in the House to approve a constitutional amendment, which would require support from at least 17 Democrats. Both HJR 3 and HB 4621 were left pending in committee.

Remaining budget conferees appointed

Both chambers have announced conferees for the budget bills, House Bill 1 for the next biennium and Senate Bill 500 to supplement the current budget cycle. The speaker and lieutenant governor appoint lawmakers to serve on conference committees when each chamber has disagreements about the same bill. The committee then reconciles the bills so that both chambers can approve and send a single bill to the governor.

The House appointments for HB 1 were announced last week. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick announced the upper chamber’s conferees on Wednesday:

  • Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound), chair of the Senate Finance Committee;
  • Joan Huffman (R-Houston), chair of State Affairs and vice chair of Criminal Justice;
  • Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham), chair of Health & Human Services;
  • Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville), chair of Transportation and vice chair of Business & Commerce; and,
  • Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), chair of Education.

Texas Tribune noted that Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick appointed only Republicans to the budget bill conference committee, a first since the Republican party gained control of the Senate in 1997.

Both chambers announced their conferees for the supplemental appropriations bill, SB 500, this week:

  • Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound), chair of the Senate Finance Committee;
  • Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa (D-McAllen), vice chair of Finance;
  • Joan Huffman (R-Houston), chair of State Affairs and vice chair of Criminal Justice;
  • Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham), chair of Health & Human Services;
  • Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), chair of Education;
  • John Zerwas (R-Richmond), chair of the House Appropriations Committee;
  • Giovanni Capriglione (R-Southlake), chair of the Infrastructure, Resiliency & Invest subcommittee;
  • Mary E. González (D-Clint), member of the subcommittee on education funding;
  • D.F. "Rick" Miller (R-Sugar Land), vice chair of the subcommittee on general government, judiciary and public safety spending; and,
  • Toni Rose (D-Dallas), chair of the subcommittee on natural resources, business and economic development, and regulatory spending.

The process

House Bill 2000, which would authorize tuition revenue bonds for state universities, was passed by the House on Thursday. Tuition revenue bonds support large construction and infrastructure projects at higher ed institutions.

Lawmakers have just over five weeks until the session ends on Memorial Day, May 27. All major deadlines, including when the last bills can be heard and revised, also fall in May.

Sources: Texas Legislature Online (TLO)

Legislative update: April 12, 2019 »

Property tax bills stall in both chambers

Property tax relief – either by decreasing property tax rates or slowing their growth – has been named a top priority by both chambers. Several strategies have been put forward in both chambers to address rising property taxes.

Lowering the rollback tax rate to 2.5% – HB 2 and SB 2

This week, property tax reform bills in both chambers stalled. House Bill 2 was to have been been debated on the House floor on Thursday, however, it has been rescheduled for a debate Monday, and Senate Bill 2 doesn’t have enough votes to bring it to the floor of the Senate for debate even though it’s been voted out of committee.

Both bills would reduce the rollback tax rate from 8 percent to 2.5 percent. The rollback tax rate is the rate that would raise tax revenue by a certain percentage compared to the prior year.  Current law allows voters to petition for a rollback election to change (and often decrease) the local tax rate.  HB 2 and SB 2 would remove the requirement for a petition by triggering an automatic rollback election if the city’s revenue from these taxes increased by more than 2.5 percent.  The bills would also require the rollback elections to be held in November, increasing voter participation. The amended version of HB 2 would not apply to school districts, community colleges, hospitals or emergency services districts. The Senate version would apply to all local jurisdictions. The bills would also make changes to oversight of appraisal districts, appraisal review boards and property tax arbitration. They do not address annual appraisal creep, or the steady rise in appraised values for homeowners.

Decreasing school district taxes – HB 3

House Bill 3, the session’s major school finance bill, would lower school districts’ tax rates statewide by 4 cents. HB 3 was passed by the House last week.

Raising the homeowners exemption – SB 5 and HB 4352

Senate Bill 5 would increase the homeowners exemption from $25,000 to $35,000, and House Bill 4352 would double the exemption. Neither bill has been voted on by either chamber’s committee to which they were referred, and both would require voter approval.

Raising the sales tax – HB 4621 and HJR 3

Lawmakers have also been discussing House Joint Resolution 3, which would increase the state sales tax rate. This week, the state’s top three leaders – Governor Greg Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, and Speaker Dennis Bonnen – announced their support for increasing the sales tax to reduce property taxes. House Public Education Committee Chair Dan Huberty (R-Houston), has proposed a penny increase from 6.25 percent to 7.25 percent. The extra revenue received from all Texas consumers would go to public schools and property owners. HJR 3 would require passage of enabling legislation, House Bill 4621, as well as voter approval in November to amend the state constitution.

As currently written, HJR 3 would require revenue from the extra penny to go toward (1) increasing the state’s share of primary and secondary school funding and (2) reductions in school district property (ad valorem) taxes. Based on the Texas Comptroller’s numbers from 2018, the extra revenue could potentially increase the state’s share of public education spending from 36 percent to 46 percent by infusing $5.1 billion into school finance. Local taxes would still provide more than half of public school funding. The increased revenue to school districts might also make the proposed 2.5 percent rollback rate more palatable by providing an extra source of income to schools.

Homeowners would see their bills lowered by an increased sales tax on all Texans. Opponents have criticized the proposal as a regressive tax, or a tax applied uniformly that takes a larger percentage of income from low-income earners than high-income earners. Sales tax is also a volatile source of income, varying according to the health of the economy, meaning it’s an unsure source of consistent income for schools or to reduce property tax.

A joint resolution requires approval by more than two-thirds of each chamber to pass, or 100 (of 150) House members. With 83 Republican representatives, the bill would require bipartisan support to pass the lower chamber. Currently, HJR 3 and HB 4621 remain in the House Ways & Means Committee, where they were heard on Tuesday but did not come to a vote.

The process

Budget

The Senate passed its substitute for the appropriations bill, House Bill 1, unanimously on Tuesday. The House announced its appointments for conference committee on Thursday:

  • John Zerwas (R-Richmond), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee;
  • Greg Bonnen (R-Friendswood), chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Article III of the budget (education spending);
  • Sarah Davis (R-West University Place), chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Article II (health and human services spending);
  • Oscar Longoria (D-Mission), vice chair of the House Appropriations Committee and chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Article I, IV & V (general government, judiciary and public safety/criminal justice spending); and,
  • Armando Walle (D-Houston), Vice Chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Article III (education spending).

Once the Senate has chosen their conferees, budget negotiations will begin.

The appropriations or budget bill is the only legislation that lawmakers must pass. If the final budget goes to Governor Greg Abbott before May 17, he will have 10 days to veto any parts of the bill. If he receives the bill with less than 10 days left in the session, he will have 20 days to issue line-item vetoes on the budget.

Chapter 312/313 extension for economic development tools

House Bill 360 and House Bill 2129 would extend Chapter 312 and 313, respectively, by 10 years. These chapters in the tax code allow cities and school districts to offer tax incentives for major new economic development projects. Both bills were passed by the full House this week and will now to go the Senate for committee assignment.

Legislative update: April 5, 2019 »

The 86th legislature is ramping up as critical legislation makes its way across the aisle. Education funding was the focus this week. The House’s school finance proposal went to the other chamber, legislators approved increases in higher ed funding, and economic incentives inched forward.

House members approve school finance bill as amended

On Wednesday the House assembly passed House Bill 3, their school finance reform bill, by a vote of 148-1. The sole nay vote was Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford). Members also approved about 50 amendments to the bill, including:

  • Raises of at least $1,850 for full-time, non-administrative school district employees, funded in part by any mandated increase in basic allotments;
  • A grant program for summer career and technology programs which partner with an appropriate private entity; and,
  • Additional funding for Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) schools.

Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Houston), Chairman of the House Public Education Committee, filed an amendment to dedicate at least 25 percent of the difference between a district’s allotments for the current and preceding year when its basic allotment increases. Three-fourths of that dedicated funding must be distributed as equal raises for all eligible employees, with the remaining quarter spent at the district’s discretion.

The passage of HB 3 was marked as a victory for the new Speaker of the House, Rep. Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton), who pledged to increase funding for Texas public schools this session. The House’s proposal cannot be compared to the Senate’s school finance bill which, in the style of ad libs, contains underscores in place of numbers throughout. The lower chamber’s proposal would be initially less than the Senate’s $5,000 across-the-board raises for teachers and librarians, but would be a more permanent increase in teacher pay.

HB 3 will now go to the Senate. Legislation regarding school finance will most likely be resolved in a conference committee. A conference committee is appointed when the originating chamber does not concur with some or all of the opposite chamber’s amendments for a particular bill. Committee members then negotiate to resolve the differences.

Senate budget panel approves matching increase in public school funding

Also on Wednesday, the Senate Finance Committee unanimously passed their biennial budget proposal. The revised budget would match the House’s $9 billion increase in state revenue to public schools. There are a few key differences between the way each chamber would appropriate or distribute the funds.

The Senate proposal would provide $4 billion to fund a $5,000 raise for every public school teacher and librarian for the next biennium only, with the remaining $2.3 billion going to school districts. The House proposal would dedicate a total of $6.3 billion to increase basic allotments and salaries at Texas schools, as well as fund other programs. Both budgets would dedicate the remaining increase of $2.7 billion to abate property tax increases.

The revised budget plan appropriates $4.8 billion more than the Senate’s original plan in January. The proposal will now go to the Senate, where it is expected to pass.

Lawmakers consider boosting Texas higher ed funding

State funding for colleges and universities stagnated or declined for each school during the last session, despite enrollment growth and inflation. Lawmakers have pledged to focus on increasing in higher ed funding during the current session.

Budget proposals from both chambers would increase overall general revenue for state universities. These would include increases to UT Dallas’ funding, by $14.6 million in the House and by $16.2 million in the Senate. The full House passed its budget last week. Senators will debate their version next week.

The House version of the supplemental appropriations bill, which would pay down obligations remaining from the current biennium (2018-19), would provide nearly $170 million toward the $193 million in backlog funding for the Texas Research Incentive Program (TRIP). TRIP matches private donations for university research with state funding. The Senate’s supplemental bill, Senate Bill 500, provides no funding for TRIP. Budget proposals from both chambers for the next biennium (2020-21) would dedicate $70 million to TRIP. Both supplemental budgets have been passed by their respective chambers and are awaiting the appointment of a conference committee.

Tuition revenue bonds (TRBs) are approved by the legislature for projects at Texas colleges and universities, including equipment, buildings or other related infrastructure for campuses. TRBs are serviced by the revenue from those projects as well as student tuition. House Bill 2000 would provide nearly $568 million through 2021 for various projects at state universities, including $120 million for a joint UT Dallas-UT Southwestern Translational Biomedical Engineering and Science Building on the UTSW campus. The bill was approved by the House Higher Education Committee this week and will now go to the full House.

The process

House Bill 2, the lower chamber’s property tax bill identical to Senate Bill 2, was substituted and approved by the House Ways & Means Committee with the 2.5 percent rollback tax rate intact. Both HB 2 and SB 2 would trigger an automatic election if a city’s revenue grew by more than 2.5 percent. The committee revised HB 2 to include Certificates of Obligation (CO) in the revenue calculation for the rollback rate. Committee members also lowered the threshold for eligible cities from $15 million in revenue to $3 million, essentially including all cities. HB 2 will now go to the full House for consideration.

House Bills 360 and 2129, which would extend Chapter 312 and 313 incentives, were also approved by the House Ways & Means Committee. The Property Tax Abatement Act (Chapter 312 of the Texas Tax Code), set to expire this year, allows cities, counties and special districts to attract companies by exempting their increases in taxable property value. The Texas Economic Development Act (Chapter 313), set to expire in 2022, allows school districts to offer incentives to new companies by limiting their appraised property value.

House Bill 700 was approved by the House International Relations & Economic Development Committee. HB 700 would expand the Skills Development Fund to include workforce development boards, public libraries and school districts as qualifying partners. The fund supports partnerships between private Texas businesses and local colleges that offer customized, rapid job training programs for employees of expanding or relocating businesses.

Sources: Texas Legislature Online (TLO), Legislative Budget Board (LBB), UT Dallas Office of Public Affairs

Legislative update: March 22, 2019 »

House and Senate budget proposals advance

Each session lawmakers are constitutionally required to pass only one bill, the budget for the next biennium (House Bill 1). Legislators also pass supplemental bills to cover unpaid costs from the current biennium (House Bill 4 and Senate Bill 500). After each chamber has passed their budget proposal, lawmakers will create a conference committee to debate changes, make compromises and ultimately consolidate the proposals into one bill for the governor’s certification or veto. Governor Greg Abbott will probably not receive the bill until the end of the session, because budget items depend on passing other legislation to dedicate those funds to certain programs.

The House Appropriations Committee approved HB 1 this week, clearing the way for hearing and debate by the full House. The House budget would dedicate a total of $250 billion from local, state and federal funds, including an increase of $6 billion for public K-12 education and $3 billion for property tax relief.

The House supplemental bill would also include $183 million to fully fund the Texas Research Initiative Program (TRIP) backlog. TRIP uses state funds to match up to 100 percent of private donations to eligible universities for research. A large backlog of unmatched funds has accumulated since the creation of the program because of insufficient state funding. UT Dallas comprises $40 million of this amount.

The House proposal would spend about $6.6 billion from the Economic Stabilization Fund (ESF), or rainy day fund, leaving the ESF with $8.4 billion at the end of 2021. Most of that funding would go to Hurricane Harvey relief and future disaster preparedness, as well as retired teachers with state pensions.

Currently, the ESF contains $11 billion and is projected to increase by more than $3 billion through the next two years. The House budget would withdraw the largest amount since the creation of the ESF in 1990. The next largest withdrawal was in 2011, when lawmakers spent $3.2 billion and cut funding to public schools during an economic recession.

On the other side, the Senate plan would withdraw $4.4 billion from the ESF in 2019 primarily for Harvey relief and school safety measures, estimating that the ESF would return to $11 billion by 2021. The Senate’s supplemental budget was unanimously passed last week.

Substitute for school finance reform bill approved by committee

The House Public Education Committee approved a substituted version of House Bill 3 this week, the lower chamber’s major school finance reform bill. Additional funding for merit-based salary programs for teachers was removed after opposing testimony by state educators. The initial version provided funding for schools that opted in to merit-based salary raises for teachers. The language in the bill required approval by the state education commissioner for any proposed program. Otherwise, teacher raises would be based solely on years of experience.

Supporters argued that allowing for merit-based criteria would infuse more accountability in the public school system. Opponents argued the initial version of HB 3 gave the commissioner of education, who is unelected, too much power. They also expressed concern that such criteria would be applied too broadly to teachers of different subjects and grades. Criteria would also likely highlight standardized test scores such as STAAR, which were not designed for teacher evaluation.

Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Houston), chairman of the House Public Education Committee, said the initial language of the bill “could have been construed as tied to [the state’s standardized test, STAAR] and created a little bit too much authority as we went forward.”

The merit pay language was replaced with additional funding for districts to hire teachers in high-needs campuses, rural districts, or in priority subject areas experiencing a teacher shortage. Districts who opt in would be subject to state evaluations.

HB 3 will now go to the House Calendars Committee to be scheduled for a hearing by all representatives.

The process

Thousands of bills are filed each session. After legislation is filed and referred to a committee, the bill is scheduled for a public hearing, where it may be revised by committee members. The committee can then vote on the revised version, or substitute. If approved, the substitute goes to the calendars committee to be scheduled for the floor of that chamber.

Most of the nearly 9,000 bills this session will not progress through all these steps. If the committee chairman never brings the bill to a vote, the bill can be left pending in committee indefinitely. If the bill is approved by a specific committee such as Education, the calendars committee may never place the bill on the floor calendar. The bill may never be referred to a committee before the end of the session. Even if legislation survives this process in one chamber, it may stall in the other one.

The legislative process in Texas is designed to filter out most bills and encourage debate. Only one bill – the budget – must overcome each of these stages during the regular session. If a priority bill does not pass, the governor can also call a special session later in the year to debate emergency issues.

Sources: Texas Legislature Online (TLO), House Research Organization (HRO)

Legislative update: March 15, 2019 »

Legislators filed more than 8,700 bills before the deadline last Friday. Major bills that address priorities of the Lieutenant Governor and Speaker of the House, Senate Bills 1-20 and House Bills 1-30, have been filed. Legislation will start moving forward now that filing is over and any bill can be heard on the floor in both chambers.

Senate releases school finance outline

Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), leader of the Senate Education Committee, filed Senate Bill 4 as the Senate’s major public finance proposal late last Friday. The cost of the bill could not be determined due to placeholder language in the bill, which left out several important multipliers for formula funding. The initial version of SB 4 contains nonspecific language regarding:

  • An increased per-student allotment;
  • Limits for a district’s wealth per student, which would affect Robin Hood recapture payments;
  • New funding for dual language programs and dyslexic students;
  • Allotments for educationally disadvantaged students who (i) perform well on third grade reading assessments or (ii) graduate with college, career or military readiness;
  • Fast-growing districts in the top 25th percentile of enrollment growth; and,
  • Small rural districts and mid-sized districts.

SB 4 focuses heavily on the 60x30TX Plan, which aims to reach 60 percent of Texans aged 25-34 who hold a college or professional degree by 2030. The bill sets the attainment of (i) 60 percent of graduates and (ii) 60 percent of satisfactory third grade reading assessments as performance indicators. Districts would be encouraged to establish detailed plans to achieve 60x30 goals, and high school students would be required to complete and submit a free application for federal student aid (FAFSA) for college funding. SB 4 also contains language for pre-K and “blended learning” programs, which combine classroom and online instruction.

Regarding teacher salaries, SB 4 would also allow districts to submit proposals for “educator effectiveness programs,” merit-based teacher salary raises, at the discretion of the education commissioner. The percentage of Texas teachers who could receive raises under such programs would be limited to 10 percent in 2019-2020, eventually extending to all teachers over the next decade. Senate Bill 3, which would provide $5,000 to all state classroom teachers and librarians, was passed by the Senate and sent to the House for committee referral.

SB 4 has been referred to the Senate Education Committee, where committee members will need to hammer out the bill’s details. The Senate’s budget proposal would increase public education spending by $4.3 billion, about $3 billion less than the House’s proposed increase.

The process

Lawmakers have 10 weeks remaining until the end of the session. Starting next week, the House Appropriations Committee will begin public hearings on House Bill 1, the session’s major budget bill.

Sources: Texas Legislature Online (TLO)

Legislative update: March 8, 2019 »

House unveils school finance proposal

Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Houston), the chair of the House Public Education Committee, announced the lower chamber’s school finance proposal this week. House Bill 3 would increase the basic allotment, raise educator salaries and provide incentives for several new programs including merit-based pay. More than two-thirds of the lower chamber members have signed on as authors or co-authors of HB 3 as a show of support. The proposal would increase public education funding by $9 billion above enrollment growth and current law entitlement during the next biennium, with $6.3 billion going to school finance reform and $2.7 billion to property tax cuts.

Dubbed The Texas Plan, HB 3 would:

  • Increase the per-student basic allotment by $890, from $5,140 to $6,030;
  • Quadruple the annual allocation for new facilities to $100 million;
  • Increase minimum base salaries for educators as determined by years of teaching experience, and allow school districts to adopt alternative merit-based minimum pay guidelines;
  • Provide $140 million for a program to recruit and retain teachers;
  • Reduce school property tax rates by 4 cents per $100 of taxable property value statewide (e.g., taxes on a $250k home would decrease by about $100 annually);
  • Reduce Robin Hood recapture payments by 38 percent, or $3 billion, in 2020-21 (as estimated by the above tax cuts);
  • Allow the Texas Education Agency commissioner to adjust funding formulas if they result in “unanticipated loss or gain” for a district (subject to the governor’s office and Legislative Budget Board);
  • Fund full-day pre-K for low-income students;
  • Provide incentives to districts that offer an extra 30 days of half-day instruction to elementary students during the summer;
  • Establish grant programs to (1) train teachers to effectively combine classroom instruction with e-learning and (2) help parents use additional services for children with learning disabilities; and,
  • Dedicate more funding to research-based programs proven to advance student achievement, including dual-language immersion, dyslexia identification and career and technology education programs.

See this flier on HB 3 for additional information.

House legislators fought hard to raise the per-student base allotment last session with no success. Base funding formulas for Texas school districts have not been revised since 2015 and are not adjusted for inflation.

Chairman Huberty also said one of the bill’s goals was to provide school districts with more flexibility in spending the additional funds. Merit-based pay systems for educators could provide some of that flexibility for districts who choose to participate. The idea is based in part on the Dallas ISD model, which uses classroom appraisals, assessment scores and student surveys to compare teachers and reward the highest-performing educators.

Merit-based guidelines would still need to meet or exceed minimums for new teachers and those with 20 or more years of experience. In school districts that do not adopt alternative schedules, teacher raises would range from nearly $600 to more than $1,600. The new schedule would also incentivize retention of new teachers, who would receive a $400 monthly raise during their second year.

Both chambers have declared raising teacher salaries to be a major priority. The National Education Association found that Texas ranked 28th nationally in teacher pay in 2017, with an average pay more than $7,000 below the national average. Senators unanimously passed Senate Bill 3 this week as well, which would mandate a one-time raise of $5,000 for all Texas teachers and librarians above their 2018-19 school year salary, or $500 above their monthly salary. All senators have signed onto SB 3 as co-authors to show their support.

The upper chamber’s corresponding school finance reform bill has not been filed as of the writing of this update. Librarians were added because, as Senate Finance Chair Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) noted, Texas requires all librarians to have spent two years as classroom teachers. Major differences between the House and Senate approaches to teacher pay are detailed in the table below.

House Bill 3 been scheduled for a hearing by the House Public Education Committee Tuesday, March 12. Senate Bill 3 will go to the House to be heard and possibly revised in committee.

The process

Today is the deadline to file bills other than local bills, emergency appropriations or bills related the governor’s emergency items. Lawmakers will be working hard to address their priorities before the end of the session on May 27.

Sources: Texas Legislature Online (TLO)

Legislative update: March 1, 2019 »

Bills would repeal in-state tuition for undocumented high school graduates

House Bill 413 by Rep. Kyle Biedermann (R-Fredericksburg) and Senate Bill 576 by Sen. Pat Fallon (R-Prosper) would repeal in-state tuition for undocumented students who graduate from Texas high schools. Currently, these students can attend higher ed institutions for in-state tuition rates if they (i) graduated from a public or private high school in Texas and (ii) have lived in Texas for at least three years prior to graduation or receiving their GED. Texas became the first state to establish in-state tuition policies in 2001 under former-governor Rick Perry. Texas colleges and universities only need a statement of residency and an affidavit that the student will apply to become a permanent U.S. citizen. HB 413 would remove these specifications entirely, and SB 576 would allow institutions to determine which documentation is needed to establish residency. HB 413 was referred to the House Higher Education Committee.

New American Economy (NAE), a bipartisan research organization that advocates for economically friendly immigration policies, released a study this week that found Texas could lose $400 million in Texas economic activity, or additional consumer spending from increased income, in the first year if lawmakers pass HB 413 or SB 576. The loss stems from $213.6 million in wage earnings and $184.2 million from lost additional spending annually. Affidavit students contribute $397.8 million to the Texas economy annually through increased earnings as well as additional tax revenue. The study used data to estimate that 25,000 students were covered by in-state tuition annually, about half of students graduate within six years, and controlled for various factors such as English proficiency, gender and race in calculating additional earnings.

Tech Titans has signed the Texas Compact on Immigration developed by Texas for Economic Growth, a coalition launched by New American Economy, and Texas Business Immigration Coalition. The Texas Compact commits to promoting common-sense immigration reforms that strengthen our economy and attract talent and business to Texas. The compact highlights three principles to guide bipartisan immigration solutions:

  1. A federal immigration system and policies that create jobs and attract global talent and investment, including pathways to legal citizenship and border protection.
  2. In-state tuition in Texas, which empowers immigrants better contribute to the local and state economies.
  3. Local policies that support and attract new talent to keep communities competitive.

See the full language here.

Lawmakers work property tax rollback bills

House Bill 2, which would trigger local elections if property tax revenue increased by 2.5 percent or more annually, was discussed for nearly 12 hours in the House Ways & Means Committee on Wednesday. Chairman Dustin Burrows (R-Lubbock) reportedly seemed open to rollback rates other than 2.5 percent during the hearing, including rates based on a price or wage index. HB 2 and SB 2 would not decrease property taxes, but are designed to slow the rate of property tax increases by tying elections to increases in local tax revenue. Rep. Burrows noted that under the current rollback rate of 8 percent, property taxes would “double in nine years,” while at 2.5 percent taxes would double in 28 years. HB 2 remains pending in committee without amendments.

Two weeks ago, the Senate Property Tax Committee approved an amended Senate Bill 2, the corresponding property tax bill in the upper chamber. SB 2 is now waiting behind a blocker bill before consideration by the upper chamber. A blocker bill is a legislative tool used most sessions that results from the senate rules, which require senators to consider bills in the order they are received from committees. This order can be circumvented by a three-fifths majority, or 19 of 31 senators. Once under consideration, the bill could be amended and passed by a simple majority (16 votes). Currently there are not 19 senators who are willing to suspend the rules to take up SB2 So, an attempt to vote out the blocker bill by a simple majority is under consideration so sponsors can bring SB 2 to the floor of the Senate for consideration. This year’s blocker bill is Senate Bill 409, “relating to the creation, purpose, implementation, and funding of the County Park Beautification and Improvement Program.”

The process

Next Friday, March 8 is the deadline for lawmakers to file bills and joint resolutions unrelated to the governor’s emergency items. More than 5,000 bills and resolutions have been filed so far by both chambers.

Senate Bill 3, which would provide $5,000 raises to all teachers in Texas public schools, was unanimously passed by the Senate Finance Committee this week. Testimony from teachers supported the direct pay increase, while schools asked for more flexibility in how to use the addition $3.9 billion. The bill was approved with amendments that extended the raises to charter school teachers, and prevented schools from decreasing salaries and increased pensions costs to cover the pay raises. Sen. Nelson clarified that SB 3 would not prevent lawmakers from establishing merit-based policies. SB 3 was left pending in committee.

The upper chamber amended its rules to add two seats to the Senate Higher Education Committee. The new members will be Sen. José Menéndez (D-San Antonio) and Sen. Pete Flores (R-Pleasanton).

Correction: In our last alert, we incorrectly stated the 2018-19 budget did not fund special items for state universities. All special items remained, however many were decreased. The current budget proposals include funding for higher ed special items.

Sources: Texas Legislature Online (TLO)

Legislative update: February 22, 2019 »

Higher ed institutions saw maintained or decreased funding during the last session. This year, universities are hoping for funding that meets enrollment growth, as well as more money for innovative programs and research.

Higher education funding will be a priority in 2020-21 budget

In 2017, legislators set aside less money for Texas colleges and universities even with substantial enrollment growth. UT Dallas lost more than $300k in general revenue compared to the previous biennium, despite adding 3,700 students and proportionally increasing semester credit hours the following year. The 2018-19 budget also removed most special items, which are requests by higher ed institutions for facilities, research programs or other projects that require more than formula funding.

Increasing higher ed funding is essential to address multiple state goals, including the 60x30 plan to achieve 60 percent of adults aged 25-34 obtaining a degree or certification by 2030, as well as expanding research to drive innovation and economic growth. The current budget proposals, HB 1 and SB 1, do not include special items. However, they would increase formula funding for universities without fully recognizing enrollment growth. For UT Dallas, this would mean an increase of more than $6 million.

Budget writers also neglected funding for research programs at state universities. In an interview with Texas Tribune’s Evan Smith last week, Rep. John Zerwas admitted that legislators “robbed the research funds” at higher ed institutions during the last session, and said increasing higher ed funding will be a priority for the upcoming budget. He used TRIP as a specific example of an underfunded program that may benefit from the increased dollars available this session.

The Texas Research Incentive Program (TRIP) uses state funds to match up to 100 percent of private donations to eligible universities for research. TRIP was established in 2010 to incentivize the private sector and philanthropists to help build more Tier One universities in Texas, or universities that are recognized nationally for their competitive research output. Emerging research universities (ERUs), including UT Dallas, are eligible for these matching funds. TRIP has been successful in leveraging contributions but has incurred a significant backlog because of insufficient funding by legislators. Currently, the backlog of matching state funds has reached $182 million.

Earlier in February, the state’s ERUs met in Austin to develop a research agenda focused on TRIP and Core Research Support funding. Their joint request asked the legislature to make a one-time appropriation to pay the $182 million backlog and to grant an additional $50 million for new matching funds. They also requested restoring the Core Research Support Fund, which was cut by 10 percent last session, to its 2016-17 level. The current House and Senate budget proposals would maintain Core Research Support, but would provide only $35 million to TRIP, the same as the previous session. If additional funds are not provided, Texas would owe $153 million in unfunded matching contributions to its emerging state universities.

The process

More committees held organizational meetings this week. A few heard bills addressing the governor’s emergency items. Below are updates about bills discussed in our previous alerts:

  • SB 570 relating to franchise tax credits for companies that employ paid interns was referred to the Senate Finance Committee.
  • HB 580, which would allow school districts to cut taxes for employers that hire their students as interns, was referred to the House Public Education Committee.
  • HB 360, which would extend the expiration of the Property Redevelopment and Tax Abatement Act for Chapter 312 projects, was referred to the House Ways & Means Committee.
  • HB 700, which would expand the Skills Development Fund, was referred to the House International Relations & Economic Development Committee.

Source: Texas Legislature Online (TLO)

Legislative update: February 15, 2019 »

Senate Property Tax Committee approves tax cap bill
On Monday the Senate Property Tax Committee approved a revised version of Senate Bill 2 in a 4-0 vote. SB 2 would trigger an automatic local election if a municipality’s revenue from property taxes increased by more than the “rollback rate” of 2.5 percent. The sole democrat on the committee, Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa (D-McAllen), abstained from voting. The committee adopted 15 mostly technical amendments to the original bill, however maintained the 2.5 percent threshold. Opposition testimony at the hearing noted that Texas ranks 46th among states in overall tax burden according to the Tax Foundation, and were concerned about salaries for city personnel and emergency responders. Many representatives in the House have indicated they will wait to see any school finance legislation before they decide on property tax relief.

The Senate Finance Committee also met on Monday to discuss the upper chamber’s proposal for school funding, which would provide $2.4 billion in additional revenue to cover enrollment growth. Their budget would also appropriate another $6 billion to cover teacher salary raises and to offset the costs of property tax relief. The committee’s revised version of SB 2 will now go to the Senate Floor for discussion and a vote. If approved, the bill will go to the House for committee referral.

Bills expand and maintain economic development incentives
The Skills Development Fund supports partnerships between private Texas businesses and local community or technical colleges. Businesses that expand or relocate to Texas can apply for funding to develop customized, rapid job-training programs for employees. House Bill 700 by Rep. Ryan Guillen (D-Rio Grande City) and Senate Bill 352 by Sen. Beverly Powell (D-Burleson) are identical bills that would expand the Skills Development Fund to include workforce development boards, public libraries and school districts as qualifying partners. SB 352 has been referred to the Senate Natural Resources and Economic Development Committee.

The Property Tax Abatement Act, found in Chapter 312 of the state Tax Code, allows cities, counties and special districts to exempt the increase in a company’s property value from taxation. Local governments can use these tax abatements to attract new industries or to retain and develop existing businesses. Once new employers are established, they continue to tap into the surrounding workforce, contribute to future tax revenue and strengthen the local economy. Chapter 312 also allows cities to apply for funds to improve reinvestment zones, or areas that are in serious disrepair, present public hazards or create an economic liability.

The Property Tax Abatement Act is set to expire this year. House Bill 499 by Rep. Angie Chen Button (R-Richardson), House Bill 360 by Rep. Jim Murphy (R-Houston) and Senate Bill 118 by Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) are identical bills that would extend its expiration date for another 10 years, until 2029. Senate Bill 350 by Sen. Beverly Powell (D-Burleson) would remove the expiration date, making the act permanent. SB 118 and SB 350 have been referred to the Senate Natural Resources and Economic Development Committee.

Legislators support apprenticeship and internship programs
Expanding apprenticeships and internships has been proposed to combat the state’s skills gap, or shortage of skilled workers. Apprenticeships train high school or postsecondary students in skills specific to that industry, producing skilled applicants who are ready to enter the workforce upon graduation. Legislators can promote the creation of these opportunities by offering tax credits to employers who hire paid interns, or by establishing a grant program to reimburse companies for costs associated with new interns.

House Bill 580 by Rep. Shawn Thierry (D-Houston) would allow local school districts to reimburse private employers from the Foundation School Program for paid internships with their district’s students for career and technical education programs. Senate Bill 508 by Sen. Borris Miles (D-Houston) would establish a separate grant program to reimburse private employers for paid internships with public school students. SB 508 was referred to the Senate Education Committee on Thursday.

House Bill 966 by Rep. Harold Dutton, Jr. (D-Houston) would give businesses with interns employed for less than 48 months a sales-and-use tax refund or franchise tax credit of either $2,500 or half of the intern’s wages. The franchise tax credit could cover their total tax due if five or more interns are employed, and if half of their combined wages is equal to or less than the total tax. Senate Bill 570 by Sen. Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe) would also provide a franchise tax credit of $1,000 for each public school student who completes an eligible internship program.

The process
Throughout the session, we will update you about the progress of important bills in the legislative process. Every bill must pass through a series of reviews, revisions and votes before the governor will have a chance to approve or veto the final version. The Legislative Budget Board, under the House of Representatives, publishes a helpful primer on the life of a bill. The House Research Organization (HRO) also released a guide on how the Texas state budget is written.

Sources: Texas Legislature Online (TLO), Texas Office of the Comptroller

Legislative update: February 8, 2019 »

Governor Greg Abbott names emergency items
On Tuesday, before a gathering of the Texas Senate & House, Governor Greg Abbott delivered his State of the State address. At the start of each legislative session, the governor uses the State of the State address to list his priorities as well as any emergency items. Normally legislators cannot vote on legislation until the filing deadline, March 8; however, bills that are designated emergency items by the Governor are fast-tracked for committee floor debate and approval.

Governor Abbott's six emergency items for the 86th Legislature are:

  1. School finance reform;
  2. Property tax relief;
  3. Teacher pay raises;
  4. School safety;
  5. Mental health programs; and,
  6. Hurricane Harvey disaster response.

Some of these priorities have legislation already filed, such as property tax reform (SB 2 & HB 2) and teacher pay raises (SB 3). The other items will likely be addressed in the top bills of both chambers, House Bills 1-20 and Senate Bills 1-30.

Property tax bill heard in committee
Senators quickly addressed one of the governor’s emergency items, property tax relief. The Senate Property Tax Committee met on Wednesday to discuss Senate Bill 2, or the newly named Texas Property Tax Reform and Relief Act of 2019. An identical bill, House Bill 2, has also been filed by Rep. Dustin Burrows (R-Lubbock).

SB 2 would make significant changes to property tax law, including:

  • Decrease the rollback rate from 8 percent to 2.5 percent. If a city or county’s local tax revenue increases by more than 2.5 percent, an automatic “rollback” election would be triggered for citizens to vote to approve the additional revenue.
  • Exclude cities and counties that collect less than $15 million in combined property and sales and use tax. This caveat will exclude more than half of Texas cities and counties from SB 2, but will include more than 60 percent of the state population.
  • Create a new, online “real-time tax rate notice” to inform residents of local tax rate proposals. Property owners would be able to see their local tax rates, how much they will owe in taxes, and how much they would owe based on a proposed tax rate, a tax rate that would produce no new revenue for cities or counties, and the rollback tax rate. There would also be a required email address for local governments so that citizens could voice their opposition or support toward tax proposals.
  • Reform the appraisal review process. In counties with one million or more residents, Appraisal Review Boards (ARB) would hear protects for commercial properties that exceed $50 million in value. The bill would also create a Property Tax Administration Advisory Board in the Texas Comptroller’s office to oversee the entire property tax process.

The new rollback rate would apply to many North Texas cities, including Richardson and Plano. The fiscal note for SB 2 notes that tax revenues for school districts would decrease and costs to the state through school funding formulas would increase. However, the exact cost to school districts and the state cannot be estimated, as well as the savings per household.

The process
The legislature is warming up for the 86th session. The Senate has begun referring bills to committee. More than 800 Senate bills and more than 1,900 House bills have been filed so far.

Sources: Texas Legislature Online (TLO)

Legislative update: February 1, 2019 »

Comptroller recommends that state contribute 40 percent of public education finance

Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar, who manages the state’s finances, released a Fiscal Notes report this week that broke down public school funding formulas with new numbers. His message overall was that school funding formulas must change fundamentally to generate impactful school finance reform. He suggested that the historical average of state contributions to public school funding, 40 percent state to 60 funding local funding, is “reasonably attainable” and would significantly mitigate the pressure on local districts.

Public school funding in Texas depends largely on three variables: the number of students in a district, local property values and property tax rates. Increasing the basic allotment, or amount of money per student based on the average daily attendance (ADA), has been an effective strategy for increasing state spending based on enrollment. The calculation based on property taxes, however, has been more problematic.

The report highlighted the cycle of decreasing state contributions and rising property taxes. Currently, state spending decreases as a percentage of overall public school funding as local tax revenues increase. The Foundation School Program (FSP), which the state uses to fund public schools, counts local revenues first. The state then supplements the remainder, so that any increase in local tax revenue decreases the overall share of state spending. While property tax rates have increased in small amounts, property values in Texas have risen sharply. As a result, local tax revenues have increased with a corresponding decrease in the share of state spending each year. This often compels districts to raise local tax rates, perpetuating the general dissatisfaction with rising property taxes.

This pattern, which is written into the current public school finance formulas, has placed increasing burdens on local communities to pay for their schools. In 2018 the state contributed 36 percent of public school funding, down from 46 percent in 2008. During the same decade, after accounting for inflation, per-student public school funding from local sources rose by 29 percent, while funding from state sources fell by 8 percent. Hegar noted that one of the chief issues with the current formulas is their failure to account for inflation, which could alleviate much of the pressure on school districts to cover rising costs of materials like books and office supplies.

School funding from property values is also subject to wealth equalization and recapture. Revenue from “property-wealthy” districts is “recaptured” and redistributed to less wealthy districts. Disparities between districts can be extreme. For example, the highest property wealth per ADA is $16.9 million in Westhoff ISD, between San Antonio and Victoria. The lowest is $65,476 in Tornillo ISD, outside of El Paso (TEA). Large cities such as Austin have complained about the recapture calculation because of losing large portions of their budget. Plano ISD returned $105 million in recapture revenue in 2017, the second highest recapture in the state. Removing this equalization, however, would result in gross discrepancies in funding per student among districts, and potentially open the Texas public school system to litigation.

The report also highlighted the problematic ways that state and local funding shares are calculated by the Legislative Budget Board (LBB) and the Texas Education Agency (TEA). The LBB is controlled by the Texas Legislature, while the TEA is led by the governor’s appointees. Both organizations include recaptured payments as state contributions, even though they are derived from another district’s property tax revenue. The recapture of local taxes made up 3.9 percent of public school funding in 2018. Hegar used his own numbers in his report, which count dollars from local taxes as local funding.

Hegar further warned that the rising number of economically disadvantaged or higher-needs students is outpacing general enrollment. Economically disadvantaged students already make up 59 percent of the state’s 5.4 million public school students and are often more costly to educate per student. He also advised legislators to consider the volatility of funding sources. Some tax revenue, such as severance taxes on oil and gas, can vary up to 50 percent annually. Sales and use tax revenue is also much more susceptible to economic downturns than property taxes.

Both chambers file bills to reduce rollback tax rate

Rep. Dustin Burrows (R-Lubbock), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, and Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), chairman of the Senate Property Tax Committee, filed identical bills to curb the growth in local property tax revenue. House Bill 2 and Senate Bill 2 would require voter approval for any property tax revenue growth above 2.5 percent. Lawmakers failed to pass a similar measure last session with a threshold of 4 percent. However, Governor Greg Abbott, Speaker Dennis Bonnen and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick expressed optimism that their unity will allow this attempt to succeed. Currently, local property tax revenue in municipalities can increase by 8 percent year over year before triggering voter approval. This rollback rate of 8 percent is independent of the actual property tax rate. For example, a vote could be required if appraised property values increase tax revenues by 8 percent even if the rate stays the same or decreases. School districts, cities and counties pushed back, saying that local revenue sources make up for reduced state spending on education. Cities also expressed concern about funding public safety measures if a lower revenue cap is passed.

The process

Bills have not been assigned to committees yet. The House Appropriations and Senate Finance committees have begun meeting daily for the extensive budget-writing process. The House Public Education Committee met on Wednesday, and Chairman Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Houston) announced a schedule for the next few meetings. The Texas Commission on Public School Finance will present their report on Feb. 6, and the committee will begin hearing bills on Feb. 19.

Sources: Texas Legislature Online (TLO). Fiscal Notes is a review of the Texas economy from the office of Glenn Hegar, Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts.

Legislative update: January 25, 2019 »

The House and Senate released their committee assignments this past week. The makeup of a committee is crucial to the fate of a bill. Once a bill is assigned to a committee by the Speaker of the House or the Lieutenant Governor, the chair decides which legislation the group will discuss and often revise. If a majority of committee members vote in favor of the final bill, it can be scheduled for a hearing by the full chamber. Modified legislation can diverge drastically from the original bill, and legislation can easily halt at this stage if the committee chair or members do not favor the legislation.

Committee Assignments

Senate

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick released the Senate committee assignments late Friday afternoon. Freshman Senator Angela Paxton (R-McKinney), who won the open seat for Senate District 8 last November, was assigned Vice Chair of the Senate Property Tax Committee, as well as a seat on the Business & Commerce, Education and Natural Resources and Economic Development committees. Senator Nathan Johnson (D-Dallas), who won against incumbent Don Huffines, was assigned to Administration, Health and Human Services, Veteran Affairs and Border Security, and Water and Rural Affairs.

Other highlights for North Texas senators included:

  • Senator Bob Hall (R-Edgewood) – Vice Chair, Veteran Affairs & Border Security; seats on Education and State Affairs
  • Senator Kelly Hancock (R-North Richland Hills) – Chair, Business & Commerce; Vice Chair, Transportation; seats on Finance, Natural Resources & Economic Development, and Property Tax
  • Senator Royce West (D-Dallas) – Vice Chair, Higher Education; seats on Education, Finance and Transportation
  • Senator Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) – Chair, Finance; seat on State Affairs
  • Senator Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury) – Chair, Natural Resources & Economic Development; Chair, Sunset Advisory; seats on Finance and State Affairs
  • Senator Pat Fallon (R-Prosper) – Vice Chair, Administration; seats on Education, Intergovernmental Relations, Natural Resources & Economic Development, and State Affairs

Several committees with North Texas representation will see bills that impact our legislative priorities. Nearly half of the Senate Education Committee will be from North Texas, including Senators Paxton, Pat Fallon (R-Prosper), Bob Hall (R-Edgewood), and Royce West (D-Dallas). Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) will chair the Senate Finance Committee. Senators Angela Paxton and Senator Kelly Hancock (R-North Richland Hills) will sit on the Senate Property Tax and Business & Commerce committees, with Sen. Paxton as vice chair of the former and Sen. Hancock chairing the latter.

House

Speaker Dennis Bonnen revealed his chamber’s committee assignments this week. The Speaker of the House assigns the members to House committees. See highlights from the North Texas delegation below:

  • Rep. Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas) – Chair, International Relations & Economic Development
  • Rep. Angie Chen Button (R-Richardson) – Chair, Urban Affairs; seat on Higher Education
  • Rep. Eric Johnson (D-Dallas) – seats on Higher Education and Urban Affairs
  • Rep. Julie Johnson (D-Carrollton) – seats on Insurance and Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence
  • Rep. Jeff Leach (R-Plano) – Chair, Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence; seats on Pensions, Redistricting, and Investments & Financial Services
  • Rep. Morgan Meyer (R-Dallas) – Chair, General Investigating; seats on Public Education and Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence
  • Rep. Thresa "Terry" Meza (D-Irving) – seats on Agriculture & Livestock, Human Services and Resolutions Calendars
  • Rep. Victoria Neave (D-Dallas) – seats on Corrections and Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence
  • Rep. Candy Noble (R-Allen) – seat on Ways & Means
  • Rep. Ana-Maria Ramos (D-Richardson) – seats on Natural Resources and Defense & Veterans' Affairs
  • Rep. Scott Sanford (R-McKinney) – seats on Public Education and Ways & Means
  • Rep. Matt Shaheen (R-Plano) – Vice Chair, Urban Affairs; seat on Ways & Means
  • Rep. John Turner (D-Dallas)– seats on Appropriations and Environmental Regulation

The House Committee on Higher Education has a few North Texas representatives, including Rep. Angie Chen Button (R-Richardson) and Rep. Eric Johnson (D-Dallas). The House Committee on Urban Affairs will be chaired by North Texas officials Rep. Button and Rep. Matt Shaheen (R-Plano). The larger House Appropriations Committee has only one rep from the Dallas area, Rep. John Turner (D-Dallas), in its roster. The Public Education committee includes Rep. Morgan Meyer (R-Dallas) and Rep. Scott Sanford (R-McKinney). Rep. Sanford, Rep. Shaheen and Rep. Candy Noble (R-Allen) will represent North Texas on the Ways & Means Committee.

The process

The House filed their appropriations or budget bill, House Bill 1, on Wednesday. House and Senate bills will be referred to a committee by the Speaker or Lieutenant Governor, respectively, now that the committees have been assigned. The deadline to file most bills and joint resolutions is Friday, March 8. The House Appropriations Committee will begin meeting next week. The Senate Finance Committee, which will address the budget, has begun meeting daily.

Sources: Texas Legislature Online (TLO)

Legislative update: January 18, 2019 »

House and Senate reveal new budget proposals

On Wednesday, Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) filed Senate Bill 1, the upper chamber’s budget for the 2020-21 biennium. The Senate proposed a base budget of $243 billion, an increase of 12 percent from the 2018-19 budget. The bill would also increase the Foundation School Program (FSP), the state’s source of public school funding, by $4.7 billion.

The lower chamber’s proposed budget, which will be House Bill 1, has not been filed. The Legislative Budget Board (LBB) published a report on Monday that proposed $247 billion over the next biennium, with $7 billion more allocated toward the FSP. The increase is about $3 billion more than the Senate’s public education allocation. The lower chamber’s budget would increase funding for primary and secondary schools by about 17 percent, for a total of $70.6 billion. The LBB estimate included funding from federal and state funding as well as local property taxes, which are projected to decrease as the state’s contribution increases. The House only proposed a 1.6 percent increase in higher education funding. The new budget would draw about $633 million from the Economic Stabilization Fund, better known as the Rainy Day Fund or Texas’ savings account.

Public school finance has been a primary concern for many years as the state’s share of education funding has declined. For a thriving economy, Texas needs a reservoir of qualified, educated workers. Improving our workforce starts with a strong education that meets the needs of its students and businesses in the community. The leaders of the Texas legislature have declared public school finance reform as one of their top priorities during the 86th session.

Teacher pay raises

SB 1 also included a $3.7 billion allocation for mandated teacher pay raises. Sen. Nelson filed Senate Bill 3, which contains the first across-the-board pay increase for Texas teachers in nearly 20 years. The bill would provide full-time teachers with a $10,000 pay raise by Fall 2021, with a $5,000 salary increase in Fall 2020 and an additional $5,000 the next year. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick endorsed the proposal during his inaugural address. Gov. Greg Abbott also emphasized the importance of improving public education funding in his inaugural speech, stating, “Our students deserve better…It is time for Texas to deliver real education reform.”

The process

No House or Senate committees have been assigned. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said Senate committees would be assigned next week. House committee preferences were due on Tuesday, with assignments planned by the end of January. Bill assignments will begin after the committees are announced. No bills can be passed the first 60 days of the session unless the governor declares emergency items.

Sources: Texas Legislature Online (TLO), Legislative Budget Board (LBB)

Legislative update: January 11, 2019 »

The 86th Legislature convened on Tuesday and is off to an exciting start. More than 1,000 bills have been filed since November of last year. Governor Greg Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and the newly-elected Speaker Dennis Bonnen committed to collaborate on key issues during the upcoming session. Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar announced an additional 8.1 percent will be available to lawmakers for the next budget.

Rep. Dennis Bonnen of Angleton will be the next Speaker of the House

One of the most pressing questions for the next session has been who will replace former Speaker of the House Joe Straus. The leader of the state House of Representatives, like the lieutenant governor, has enormous power to steer the legislature. Among other duties, the speaker appoints committees and their leadership, refers all proposed legislation to those committees, and decides which bills come to a vote on the floor. This authority allows the speaker to negotiate bipartisan agreements, ensure that committee chairs and vice chairs share his or her priorities and interests, and even halt opposed legislation.

In November of last year, a majority of representatives pledged to elect Rep. Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton) to be the next Speaker of the House. Governor Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Patrick and Speaker Bonnen held a joint news conference on Wednesday to reassure Texans with the “very strong, profound and unequivocal message” that they are united on key issues. Each of them highlighted school finance and property tax reform during their campaigns. When asked if he would push Bathroom Bill legislation that plagued lawmakers in 2017, Lieutenant Governor Patrick stated he did not plan on reintroducing a battle that has “been settled…been won.”

Rep. Bonnen was 24 years old when he won the open 1996 Republican primary runoff by ten votes. He was the youngest member at that time. In 2013, Rep. Bonnen became speaker pro tem under Joe Straus, the Speaker’s second-in-command. The following session, he was appointed to chair the powerful Ways & Means Committee. He became known as the “House’s top advocate” and a “bulldog” during this time for his work on the House’s tax cut proposal. In 2017, Rep. Bonnen became a key mediator of the growing tension between Lt. Gov. Patrick and former Speaker Straus. Last year, Rep. Bonnen was not even a candidate for Speaker when more than 100 out of the total 150 House members pledged to support him. His experience in House leadership, rightward-leaning views and reputation as a skilled arbitrator contributed to his victory.

Rep. Bonnen studied political science at St. Edward’s University in Austin. After college, he interned for former Rep. Greg Laughlin, a conservative Democrat who would switch to GOP the following year. During his tenure in public office, he worked in various industries until he settled as president, CEO and chairman of Heritage Bank in 2008. See the Texas Tribune’s profile on the new Speaker for additional background.

Comptroller announces Texas will have nearly $9 billion more to spend in the next budget

The budget is the only bill that state lawmakers must pass each session. Policy priorities are born or buried in the state budget each year. Key issues such as reforms to public school funding formulas, research at state universities, tax relief and job training programs must be written into the budget to be enacted. Bills that require state funding are contingent on inclusion in, and passage of, the appropriations bill each biennium.

Texas Comptroller Hegar has the job of estimating the state’s economic condition for the next two years to determine the state budget. On Tuesday he released his biennial budget report for 2020 and 2021. His evaluation of the Texas economy was “cautiously optimistic,” with 8.1 percent more funding for lawmakers to distribute. A total of $119.1 billion will be available for the budget, an increase from $110.2 billion for 2018 and 2019. The state’s Economic Stabilization Fund, more commonly known as the Rainy Day Fund, is also at a record high of $15 billion.

The Texas Comptroller has an especially difficult task because he is asked to predict the state’s available funds over a longer period than most states, who normally meet each year. After delivering the positive outlook above, he warned that “we’re unlikely to see continued revenue growth at the unusually strong rates we’ve seen in recent months.” However, lawmakers will still have significantly more funding available than the previous session to spend on top priorities such as public school financing and property taxes.

The process

More than 800 House bills and 300 Senate bills have been filed since last November. Lawmakers will continue to introduce new legislation until the deadline on March 8. The top spots, House Bills 1 through 20 and Senate Bills 1 through 30, are reserved for the top priorities of the Speaker and the Lieutenant Governor respectively and have not been filed. The upper and lower chambers alternately file the appropriations bill each session, and this year will be the House’s turn with House Bill 1. The Speaker and the Lieutenant Governor will assign committees likely later this month or early February. Once the committee appointments are announced, lawmakers will start meeting to work on legislation.

Tech Titans will track bills relevant to our Legislative Agenda, where you can find our positions on policies that are vital to the North Texas technology community. Each week we will continue to highlight bills and developments that matter to you and the high tech industry. Stay tuned!

Legislative Day

Do you want to know more about the Texas Legislature? Join us for Legislative Day in Austin on March 5 and 6 as we speak with elected officials, learn about key policies and see the legislative process in action. This opportunity is open exclusively to Tech Titans members. Register here!

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