86th Legislative Session Update #15

“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face for the first time.”    Mike Tyson

SENATE:

The Senate was in session Monday through Friday this past week.

On Monday, the Senate passed one bill, HB 3 by Dan Huberty (R-Humble) and Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), the public school finance reform bill. Senator Taylor said, “Texas is way behind on school finance and if we want to continue to be the greatest state in the union, we must change. We’ve got to move our school finance system into the 21st century. The Texas Supreme Court ruled that although our system is constitutional, it’s messed up. We need to act now.”

After more than one hundred proposed amendments, Senator Taylor closed the proceedings by thanking the Education committee members and the committee staff, and urging lawmakers to pass CSHB 3, “Let’s move Texas well into the 21st century with this vote.” HB 3 passed the Senate by a vote of 26 to 2 with 3 present-not-voting. The “no” votes were Senators Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe) and Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown). Present-not-voting were Senators Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), Bob Hall (R-Edgewood), and Angela Paxton (R-McKinney).

Governor Greg Abbott was in the Senate chamber for the passage of HB 3. And, House Speaker Dennis Bonnen came to the Senate Chamber to congratulate Lt. Governor Patrick after the passage of HB 3.

Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Jose Rodriguez (D-El Paso) said, “While I voted today in favor of HB 3, I did so with concerns. It has many important features; most importantly, increasing the basic allotment. This represents hundreds of dollars in new money per student, which is sorely needed. It provides an allotment for all-day pre-K. It increases compensatory education weights and adds weights in a new category, dual language, in which El Paso schools have been statewide leaders.

It adds funding for teacher pay raises. And it will provide some measure of property tax relief. This bill is an important step for the Texas Legislature. It is the first time in more than a generation that this body has substantively addressed school finance without a court so ordering, and we are doing so at a time when the state budget is healthy. These are all positives and frame the discussion. However, it has been concerning that the Senate has focused on property taxes first, and education second. Further, this bill does not add as much as the House did for the basic allotment – at $5,880, it is $150 less per student than the House’s $6,030 – and it comes with strings attached. Those include teacher merit pay, in part, based on a state test and additional standardized student assessments.

Teacher merit pay is a flawed idea. It failed to live up to expectations when they tried it in the mid-1980s in Texas and has come up periodically since then. It has been criticized for hurting the collaborative approach necessary for a strong campus team, while not truly measuring teacher effectiveness. The House version of HB 3 is better on these points. It also is better on spreading the money through the system, so not only do our teachers and librarians get raises, but other essential support staff does as well. But, we are finally prepared to invest in education. We cannot miss this opportunity, and it should be looked at as a beginning, not an end.”

Last Tuesday, the Senate passed 23 bills including SB 1663 by Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe), which would be the “Texas Monument Protection Act” and would require a two-thirds vote by the legislature to relocate, alter or remove monuments or memorials that have been on state property for more than 25 years.

Local monuments could only be altered by formal action by a super-majority of the local entity’s governing board if a statue or memorial is l older than 25 years. Senator Creighton said, “There are people and events throughout our state’s rich history that deserve to be celebrated, and there are also people and events that should be condemned, but either way, as Texans, we should not hide from our history. This bill establishes a framework for the removal of historical monuments throughout the state, so historical markers are not permanently removed or destroyed in haste.

I appreciate all of my Senate colleagues for their input and collaboration on this bill. While it is an emotional issue, I truly believe that all of our history, the good and the bad, are worthy of study and education.”

Also on Tuesday, the Senate passed SB 1033 by Kelly Hancock (R-North Richland Hills), which would be the “Preborn Non-Discrimination Act” (PreNDA). Senator Hancock said, “In the Senate Health & Human Services Committee hearing, parents of children with disabilities described how valuable their children’s lives are, and, even in cases where the child passed away, mothers and fathers recounted how abortion would have compounded their suffering, not ended their mourning.

One such mother stated she was glad she didn’t abort her now 4-year-old daughter like doctors advised because if she had she wouldn’t be able to hold her child. SB 1033 will protect children inside the womb from discrimination just as the law protects those who are already born.” Specifically, SB 1033 would:

  • End the remaining late-term abortions in Texas;
  • Prohibit abortions based the child’s sex, race, or suspected disability; and
  • Provide information about social and medical services to families whose preborn children are diagnosed with life-limiting disabilities.

Last Wednesday, the Senate passed 27 bills, 14 of which were House bills including HB 852 by Justin Holland (R-Heath) and Pat Fallon (R-Prosper), which would prohibit a municipality from considering the value of a dwelling or the cost of constructing or improving a dwelling when setting a building permit or inspection fee.

They also passed SB 2452 and SJR 79 by Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville) proposing a constitutional amendment authorizing the Water Development Board to issue bonds to fund the Economically Distressed Areas Program providing assistance for residential drainage projects in distressed areas.

Last Thursday, the Senate only passed 8 bills. However, they stayed in session later than usual in apparent sympathy for the House, which was in session until midnight passing House bills before the deadline. House Speaker Dennis Bonnen paid a visit to the Senate and even presided over a few announcements and gaveled the adjournment.

Last Friday, the Senate passed 77 bills on the Local & Uncontested calendar. They also passed 22 bills from the Intent calendar. HB 3459 by Garnet Coleman (D-Houston) and Borris Miles (D-Houston) passed on the Local & Uncontested calendar. It would allow local Harris County hospitals to draw down close to $1 billion in federal Medicaid reimbursement funds at no cost to the taxpayers.

Senator Miles said, “My Senate district is home to the world’s largest medical center with many safety net hospitals working around the clock providing primary care services to many low-income and uninsured Texans. This bill will help our hospitals receive almost $1 billion of federal funds to help offset some of the uncompensated care costs to help care for the indigent and uninsured in our community. HB 3459 will allow Harris County the option to create a local provider participation fund to enable local safety-net hospitals to gain access to the Texas Waiver and the Texas Health and Human Service Commission’s new Uniform Hospital Rate Increase Program.”

Other bills that passed the Senate this week are in the issue categories below.

Total number of bills reported out of Senate Committees this week:    220

Total number of bills passed by the Senate this week:                                 158

Total number of bills passed on the Local & Uncontested Calendar       77

Total number of bills passed by the Senate this session:                             921

HOUSE:
The House was in session Monday through Friday of last week.

Last Monday, the House gave preliminary approval to 41 bills. HB 1365 by Eddie Lucio, III (D-Brownsville) passed to Third Reading. It would expand the Compassionate Use Act by adding Alzheimer’s, Chrohn’s disease, muscular dystrophy, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other illnesses to the list of debilitating conditions for which patients can legally use medical cannabis. It would also increase the number of authorized dispensaries from three to 12.

Representative Lucio said, “Today, I don’t just stand here as a member of this body but as a voice for thousands of people in this state that are too sick to function or that live in constant, debilitating pain, It’s not everyday I get to carry a comprehensive bill that is a platform issue for both the Democratic and Republican parties. We’re in a good place right now, but the fight is far from over.”

Also passed to Third Reading last Monday was HB 3557 by Chris Paddie (R-Marshall), which would be the “Critical Infrastructure Protection Act” and would make a person convicted of the criminal offense of causing damage to critical infrastructure liable to the property owner for damages to the property.

Texas Oil and Gas Association President Todd Staples said, “We applaud the Texas House of Representatives for its passage of HB 3557, the Critical Infrastructure Protection Act, which strengthens protections of our state’s critical infrastructure facilities while maintaining current laws and statutes that allow for free speech and the right to protest. HB 3557 strengthens protections for private property owners and businesses while preserving the right to legally and respectfully protest and express free speech.

Texas’ critical infrastructure facilities such as agriculture systems, dams and water structures, manufacturing and refining facilities, electric transmission lines and substations, and fuel pipelines support Texas jobs, generate billions of dollars in tax revenues, and provide products to Texans for use in our daily lives. Delays, stoppages and intentional damage caused by illegal activity are costly to Texas businesses and local governments and put employees of these facilities in danger.”

Last Tuesday, the House gave preliminary approval to 57 bills; passed 41 bills on the Major and General State calendars, and passed 47 bills on the Local & Consent calendar. The House had planned to debate on the Major State calendar:

HB 4621 and HJR 3 by Dan Huberty (R-Humble), which would have increased the state sales tax by one cent (from 6.25 percent to 7.25 percent) and would have instituted a corresponding decrease of 18 cents per $100 valuation of the school district property taxes. Representative Huberty postponed both bills until January 12, 2021 (the first day of the next legislative session), killing them by procedural action. Before making the motion to postpone, Representative Huberty thanked the governor, lieutenant governor, and speaker for endorsing the bills and the Ways & Means Committee for working with him on the bills.

He blamed the Senate (particularly Senator Paul Bettencourt, who opposes a sales tax increase and sided with the Democrats to block HB 3 from coming up in the Senate on Monday until Senator Taylor agreed to take the sales tax language out of HB 3) for the failure of the bills.

Huberty said, “These bills would have reduced school property taxes by 18 cents in 2020 and increased the state share of public education funding to approximately 50 percent. We have had a goal of lowering property taxes and increasing sustainable funding for schools, and these bills would have accomplished that goal. But, we still have HB 3 (public school finance reform) and SB 2 (property tax reform) soon to be in conference committee. Going forward we will still have the opportunity to do some good work toward our goals.”

Also last Tuesday, the House gave preliminary approval to HB 1631 by Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford), which would prohibit a local authority from implementing or operating a photographic traffic signal enforcement system on a highway or street under the jurisdiction of the authority. An amendment was adopted that would allow cities that have existing contracts to provide such a system to continue operating their red light cameras until those contracts expire.

Last Wednesday, the House passed 70 bills to third reading and gave final approval to 52 bills including HB 1992 by Ben Leman (R-Iola), prohibiting telemarketers from transmitting information that misrepresents the origin of a telemarketing call. Representative Leman said, “This bill has become known as the ‘Super Duper Anti-Spoofer Bill.’  Caller ID spoofing occurs when a caller deliberately falsifies the information transmitted to your caller ID display to disguise their identity.

We have all fallen victim to this type of call at one point or another. You get an incoming call from a number very similar to your own telephone number. Because of the similarity in the numbers you think it may be a family member or someone that you know, but more often than not, it’s either a business or telemarketer that is practicing ‘spoofing.’ HB 1992 aims to prohibit telemarketers from replicating numbers and misrepresenting the origin of the call.

If a company is using a third party telemarketer to make calls to the public, then the number on the caller ID must match the number of the third party or be the number of the company who has contracted with the third party. If a telemarketer is in violation of these protections, they are subject to an administrative penalty up to $1,000 for each violation.  It is imperative that we make it easier for the State of Texas to prosecute these offenders and put a stop to these annoying and predatory tactics.”

Last Thursday, the House gave preliminary approval to 81 bills and passed 69 bills including HB 297 by Andrew Murr (R-Junction), which would abolish school district maintenance and operations (M&O) property taxes by January 1, 2022. Representative Murr said, “On average across the state, school M&O taxes account for more than 50 percent of all property taxes. It is also the part of the property tax that is subject to recapture, otherwise known as ‘Robin Hood.’ This bill will end the process of recapture as we know it, and cut the average property tax bill nearly in half.

Too often, our elected officials pay lip service to the idea of property tax relief without offering any meaningful solutions. Today’s vote on this important legislation takes direct aim at the problem of skyrocketing property tax bills. In the place of M&O taxes, HB 297 will require legislators to find another source of funding, such as a consumption tax, to replace the revenue. While Texas is generally viewed as a low-tax state, the dirty little secret is that our property tax rates are among the highest in the nation. In fact, it’s only places like New Jersey, Illinois and Connecticut who have higher rates than ours.

Slashing the property tax will provide tangible incentives for out-of-state businesses to re-locate to Texas and for existing businesses to expand and create new jobs.”

Also last Thursday, the House passed HJR 38 by Jeff Leach (R-Plano), which would ban the imposition of a state income tax on individuals and businesses in Texas. Representative Leach said, “Texans overwhelmingly reject the notion of a state income tax, and with the passage of HJR 38, the Lone Star State is sending a strong message that the money earned by hard-working Texans is best secured in their own pockets and best spent at their own volition.”

On Friday, the House gave final passage to 78 bills and passed 58 bills on the Local & Consent calendar. They also approved HR 1160 by Tan Parker urging Congress to unite in bipartisan support for the ratification of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

House Bill Deadline – At the stroke of midnight on Thursday, the deadline for the House to pass Second Reading HB’s on the Major or General State calendars, there were still 74 bills left on the House calendar to die. That compares to:

2017 – 228 bills left on the House Calendar at the midnight deadline

2015 – 222 bills left on the House Calendar at the midnight deadline

2013 – 128 bills left on the House Calendar at the midnight deadline

2011 – 30 bills left on the House Calendar at the midnight deadline.

In addition, 569 House bills and House Joint Resolutions died in the House Calendars Committee. That compares to:

2017 – 332 HB’s and HJR’s died in House Calendars Committee

2015 – 261 HB’s and HJR’s died in House Calendars Committee

2013 – 342 HB’s and HJR’s died in House Calendars Committee

2011 – 320 HB’s and HJR’s died in House Calendars Committee

2009 – 328 HB’s and HJR’s died in House Calendars Committee

2007 – 272 HB’s and HJR’s died in House Calendars Committee

Other bills that passed the House this week are in the issue categories below.

Total number of bills reported out of House Committees this week:  190    

Total number of bills passed by the House this week:                               345

Total number of bills passed on the Local & Consent Calendar             105

Total number of bills passed by the House this session:                          1516

Property Tax Reform – SB 2 by Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) and Dustin Burrows (R-Lubbock), the property tax reform bill, is in a conference committee composed of Senators Kelly Hancock (R-North Richland Hills), chair; Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston); Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe); Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa (D-McAllen); and Charles Perry (R-Lubbock); and Representatives Dustin Burrows (R-Lubbock), chair; Terry Canales (D-Edinburg); Ryan Guillen (D-Rio Grande City); Jim Murphy (R-Houston); and Candy Noble (R-Lucas).

Public Education Reform – HB 3 by Dan Huberty (R-Humble) and Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), the public school finance reform bill, is in a conference committee composed of Representatives Dan Huberty (R-Humble), chair; Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin); Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio); Mary Gonzalez (D-El Paso); and Ken King (R-Canadian); and Senators Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), chair; Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels); Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound); Kirk Watson (D-Austin); and Royce West (D-Dallas).