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.