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)