86th Legislative Session Update #8

 “I dreamed a thousand new paths. I woke and walked my old one.” Chinese Proverb

SENATE:

The Senate was in session Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of this week conducting routine business. On Wednesday, they recessed until Friday for first reading and referral of bills to committees.

On Wednesday, the Senate adopted SR 300, which increased the Senate Higher Education Committee from seven to nine members. Lt. Governor Dan Patrick named Senators Pete Flores (R-Pleasanton) and Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio) to the two new slots on the committee.

 

BUDGET:

House Appropriations Committee:

Subcommittee on Articles I, IV & V (General Government, Judiciary, and Public Safety & Criminal Justice) met on Monday to discuss budget recommendations for Article I and Article V agencies; and on Tuesday and Wednesday to discuss Article I, IV, and V agencies.

Subcommittee on Article II (Health & Human Services) met on Tuesday to discuss budget items related to the Health and Human Services Commission, the Texas Civil Commitment Office, and the Office of the Inspector General; on Wednesday to discuss the Department of State Health Services and Department of Family and Protective Services; and on Thursday to discuss the Health and Human Services Commission and any unfinished business related to Article II agencies.

 

Subcommittee on Article III (Education) met on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday to discuss budget recommendations.

 

Subcommittee on Articles VI, VII & VIII (Natural Resources, Business & Economic Development, and Regulatory) met on Monday to discuss budget recommendations for Article VI agencies; on Tuesday to discuss Article VII and Article VIII agencies; and on Wednesday to discuss agencies in Articles VI, VII, and VIII.

 

On Wednesday, the House State Affairs Committee took up:

HB 281 by Mayes Middleton (R-Wallisville) would prohibit local governments from spending public money to influence or attempt to influence the outcome of legislation. Representatives of the Republican Party of Texas, Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, Texas Public Policy Foundation, Young Conservatives of Texas, Kingwood Tea Party and Texans for Highways, and several individuals testified in support. Representatives Professional Advocacy Association of Texas, Texas Association of School Boards and the Oldham County Judge testified in opposition. It was left pending.

 

HB 433 by Matt Shaheen (R-Plano) would require political subdivisions, regional mobility authorities, toll road authorities and transit authorities that use any public money to directly or indirectly attempt to influence the outcome of legislation pending before the legislature to annually disclose on a comprehensive annual financial report the total amount spent during the fiscal year and each person required to register as a lobbyist on behalf of the political subdivision or authority. Representatives of the Republican Party of Texas and Texas Public Policy Foundation testified in support. It was left pending.

 

Generate Recurring Oil Wealth for Texas Fund – Last Friday, Representatives Brooks Landgraf (R-Odessa) and Tom Craddick (R-Midland) filed a legislative package to direct state funds to make improvements to expand roads, boost public safety, and enhance educational opportunities across energy producing areas. Representative Landgraf said, “Oil and gas production in Texas creates countless jobs, generates billions in tax dollars and helps fund public education across the entire state. But this single-largest economic driver in Texas is being threatened because of inadequate state investment in highway safety and infrastructure, and educational opportunities in Texas’ energy-production hotbeds.”

 

HJR 82 and HB 2154 would create the Generate Recurring Oil Wealth for Texas Fund– the “GROW Texas Fund.” The GROW Texas Fund would not raise or create taxes. Instead, it would secure existing state revenue paid by oil and gas producers through severance taxes for specific re-investment in the Texas oil patch. That money would then be used exclusively to: expand and improve highways and public roads, increase law-enforcement and first responder salaries, and revitalize education and skilled-workforce opportunities by dedicating money to teachers, schools, colleges, and universities.

 

Representative Craddick added, “Currently, these energy-generated severance taxes are paid into the state’s Rainy Day Fund, which is already robust and will continue to increase at a healthy pace even with the GROW Texas Fund in place. The blessings to our region under this plan are undeniable, but it’s important to remember that our entire state would benefit. Investing in our infrastructure, public safety and schools set us up for success, which allows our area to continue to be a source of jobs, revenue, and prosperity for all Texans.”

 

Texas Two-Thirds Act – On Monday, Senator Donna Campbell filed SB 1090 to make it harder for local governments to increase debt on the backs of Texas property owners. The Texas Two-Thirds Act would require a two-thirds vote by the electorate to pass any bond initiative funded by an increase in ad valorem property taxes. Senator Campbell said, “More local debt means higher property taxes.

 

While local debt can be a useful tool for capital projects like infrastructure and roads, unfortunately, with increasing frequency, frivolous borrowing is taking place for water parks, extravagant downtown libraries, and for addressing long-neglected or deferred maintenance. Texans who pay property taxes bear the greatest burden of ad valorem increases that result from local governments taking on more debt.

 

Because passage of local bonds disproportionately affects those who receive a property tax bill and can ultimately determine whether they can afford to stay in their homes, SB 1090 would require a super majority for a political subdivision to take on additional local debt. The current threshold is a simple majority or 50 percent.

 

As cities borrow, they make it harder for Texans to afford their homes, and we must act to level the playing field in favor of property owners. With taxpayers on the hook, it should take more than a simple majority to approve these tax hikes.”

 

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT:

On Monday, the House International Relations & Economic Development Committee heard invited testimony from the Texas Economic Development and Tourism Office.

 

On Wednesday, the House State Affairs Committee took up:

 

HB 81 by Terry Canales (D-Edinburg) would make public funds expended by a governmental body for a parade, concert, or other entertainment event open to the general public subject to disclosure under the open records laws. In support were representatives of Texas Public Policy Foundation and Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas. It was left pending.

 

Next Week: The House International Relations & Economic Development Committee will meet on Monday, March 4, 2019, at 10:00 a.m. in E2.014 of the capitol extension to take up:

HB 303 by Dennis Paul (R-Webster) would add municipalities with a population of two million or more to the list of entities eligible to authorize the creation of a spaceport development corporation.

 

HB 390 by Cesar Blanco (D-El Paso) would allow counties to be designated by the Texas Economic Development Bank as a defense readjustment project if the county has an interlocal agreement with the municipality that has jurisdiction of the territory in which the project or activity will be located.

 

HB 1000 by Chris Paddie (R-Marshall) would require the Governor’s Office of Economic Development and Tourism to administer the Rural and Opportunity Fund to make growth investments in targeted small businesses in rural communities and federally-designated opportunity zones. It would allow insurance companies to receive a premium tax credit to offset credit-eligible capital contributions made to the fund up to a maximum fund balance of $35 million.

 

Next Week: The House Business and Industry Committee will meet on Tuesday, March 5, 2019, at 10:30 a.m. or upon adjournment in E2.016 of the capitol extension to take up:

 

HB 321 by Mary Gonzalez (D-El Paso) would change in statute “health spa” to “health club” and increase from $50,000 to $75,000 the maximum amount of a surety bond required to secure a health club; and would add a facility used solely to teach yoga to exemptions from the requirement for security.

 

HEALTH:

On Wednesday, the House Public Health Committee took up:

HB 10 and HJR 5 by Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston) would establish the Texas Mental & Behavioral Health Research Institute to be funded with voter-approved bonds. It would:

  • increase the number of child and adolescent psychiatrists and specialized nurses across the state;
  • create a telemedicine program to rapidly connect pediatricians and school health providers with trained mental health providers; and
  • create a state-funded Texas Mental and Behavioral Health Care Research Institute to develop cures and treatments.

In support were representatives of the University of Texas Health Science Center, National Institute of Trauma Loss in Children, Austin and Spring ISD’s, Texas Medical Association, Texas Pediatric Society, Texas Right to Know, Citizens Commission on Human Rights and several individuals. They were left pending.

 

On Wednesday, the House Higher Education Committee took up:

HB 80 by Lina Ortega (D-El Paso) would require the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to conduct a study to identify statewide and regional shortages in health professions, with an emphasis on shortages in doctoral-level training in those health professions. It was left pending.

 

HB 218 by Matt Krause (D-Fort Worth) would eliminate default on a student loan as grounds for denial or non-renewal of an occupational license. It was left pending.

 

HB 258 Cesar Blanco (D-El Paso) would eliminate default on a student loan as grounds for denial or non-renewal of an occupational license. It was left pending.

 

HB 277 by Tom Oliverson (R-Houston) would require electronic common admission applications to include a link to comparative gainful employment data compiled by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and the Texas Workforce Commission. In support was a representative of Texas Public Policy Foundation and two individuals. It was left pending.

 

HB 466 by Ana Hernandez (D-Houston) would eliminate default on a student loan as grounds for denial or non-renewal of an occupational license. It was left pending.

 

HB 539 by Ben Leman (R-Brenham) would require automatic admission to institutions of higher education for students that graduate as the valedictorian of the student’s high school graduating class. The superintendent of Fayetteville ISD spoke in support. It was left pending.

 

Free Speech on College Campuses – On Monday, Senator Joan Huffman (R-Houston) filed SB 18 to protect constitutional free speech on public college campuses in Texas. During the interim, the Senate State Affairs Committee had an interim study charge to analyze existing campus policies and practices and to make recommendations to protect First Amendment rights and enhance the free speech environment on campus.

 

Senator Huffman said, “Colleges and universities should provide the opportunity for students to hear others’ points of view in a free and unrestrained manner. SB 18 is a direct result of the Committee’s process of hearings and research toward that goal. This bill was constructed in an objective, non-partisan manner and will be applied equally to all groups and points of view.

SB 18 affirms that it is the policy of the State of Texas to protect the expressive constitutional rights of individuals by recognizing freedom of speech and assembly as central to the mission of institutions of higher education. It also requires that public institutions must ensure that common outdoor areas are deemed to be traditional public forums and permit any individual to engage in expressive activities in those areas freely.]

 

Additionally, SB 18 requires public institutions to adopt a policy detailing students’ rights and responsibilities regarding expressive activities. Campus leadership should never stymie free speech at an institution of higher education simply because of a disagreement in ideology or politics. Under SB 18, institutions may not take action against a student organization on the basis of a political, religious, philosophical, ideological, or academic viewpoint, thereby allowing students and faculty to thrive in a setting that respects their First Amendment right to free speech.”

 

Texans for Economic Growth – On Wednesday, Texans for Economic Growth, a coalition of 50 Texas business leaders and associations dedicated to recognizing and supporting the positive impact immigrants have on the Texas economy as business owners, taxpayers, and consumers, was launched. The Coalition partnered with the Texas Business Immigration Coalition (TBIC) to release the Texas Compact on Immigration, a set of principles signed by more than 65 Texas business leaders and groups to call for smart immigration policies at the federal level as well as statewide policies that recognize the contributions immigrants make to the state.

This session, Texans for Economic Growth will focus its efforts on “protecting the Texas economy from the harmful effects of anti-immigrant legislation.” In particular, the Coalition will oppose efforts to increase public college and university tuition for long-term Texas resident students. Any efforts to create a new category of Texas residents who are charged out-of-state tuition will not only increase hardship on the affected students but will also harm the Texas economy. They quoted research from NAE indicating that if residency requirements were changed, it could lead to nearly $400 million in lost economic activity for Texas each year. Specifically, the research found that:

  • Since HB 1403 went into effect in 2001, affidavit students have directly added tens of billions of dollars to the Texas economy. After graduating, students who benefited from HB 1403 earned $19.7 billion more than they would have without a college degree.
  • During the same time period, that increase in earnings resulted in more than $17.0 billion in additional economic activity in Texas.
  • Without these new graduates, Texas could lose up to $213.6 million in wage earnings in just one year. The loss in additional wages could cost the Texas economy $184.2 million in additional spending power annually.

Texas Association of Business CEO Jeff Moseley said, “As the State Chamber of Commerce, The Texas Association of Business represents members who employ hundreds of thousands of Texans and produce $8 billion annually in business. We support Texans for Economic Growth on their mission to support meaningful immigration reform through an economics lens that will positively affect the Texas business community and is a necessity for growing Texas’ economy.”

Texas Business Leadership Council President Justin Yancy added, “As a network of Texas CEOs and senior business leaders, we support thoughtful and comprehensive solutions to tough issues like immigration reform. We were compelled to join Texans for Economic Growth and sign the Texas Compact on Immigration because we know the repeal of in-state tuition for law-abiding students would be detrimental to Texas’ long-term global competitiveness. The TBLC believes it’s important to provide Texas’ elected leaders with this unique view of the potential economic outcomes of legislation.”

 

HUMAN RESOURCES/EMPLOYMENT:

On Monday, the House International Relations & Economic Development Committee took up:

HB 48 by Mary Gonzalez (D-El Paso) would require the Texas Workforce Commission to maintain a publicly accessible website listing all employers in Texas that have been assessed an administrative penalty for failure to pay wages or ordered to pay wages by a final order of the commission or convicted of wage theft. It was left pending.

 

HB 83 by Ramon Romero (D-Fort Worth) would require instead of allowing the Texas Workforce Commission to assess an administrative penalty against an employer who acts in bad faith in not paying wages and specifies what constitutes bad faith. It was left pending.

 

HB 106 by Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin) would prohibit an employer from suspending, terminating, disciplining, discriminating against, or retaliating against an employee who in good faith seeks to recover wages owed to the employee. A representative of Equal Justice Center testified in support as did several individuals (one testified in Spanish). A representative of Texas Values Action testified in opposition. It was left pending.

 

HB 194 by Ron Reynolds (D-Missouri City) would set the state minimum wage at the federal minimum wage or $15 per hour, whichever is higher. In support were representatives of Texas AFL-CIO and the Workers Defense Fund. In opposition was a representative of Texas Public Policy Foundation. It was left pending.

 

HB 287 by Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston) would provide that a separate unlawful employment practice occurs each time a discriminatory compensation decision is adopted or each time wages affected by the decision are paid. In support were representatives of Texas Employment Lawyers, Equal Justice Center, League of Women Voters and three individuals. In opposition was a representative of Texas Values Action.  It was left pending.

 

HB 290 by Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston) would phase in a state minimum wage to $10.10 an hour in 2023. In support was Rene Lara of Texas AFL-CIO. In opposition was Annie Spillman of NFIB.  It was left pending.

 

HB 393 by Cesar Blanco (D-El Paso) would make it an unlawful employment practice for an employer to inquire about or consider an applicant’s wage history in determining whether to hire the applicant or the wages to be paid to the applicant. It was left pending.

 

HB 399 by Ana Hernandez (D-Houston) would increase the period during which an employee can file a claim for unpaid wages with the Texas Workforce Commission from 180 days to one year. It was left pending.

 

On Thursday, the Senate State Affairs Committee took up:

SB 15 by Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe) would prohibit local governmental entities from requiring any terms of employment that exceed or conflict with federal or state law relating to any form of employment leave, hiring practices, employment benefits, scheduling practices, or other terms of employment. It was voted out favorably as substituted.

 

Next Week:

The House Public Education Committee will meet on Tuesday, March 5, 2019, at 10:30 a.m. or upon adjournment in E2.036 of the capitol extension to take up:

 

HB 525 by Tony Tinderholt (R-Arlington) would eliminate the requirement for fourth and seventh grade writing assessments and eighth-grade social studies assessments and the end of course exams for English II and United States history.

 

HB 671 by Ken King (R-Canadian) would eliminate end-of-course exams and other assessments not required by federal law.

 

HB 843 by Drew Springer (R-Muenster) would allow post-secondary readiness assessment instruments to be used by Texas Education Agency for accountability purposes and would add students who successfully complete an internship, students who are awarded an associate degree and students who satisfy performance standards on Algebra II or English III to be considered for accountability purposes.

 

HB 851 by Dan Huberty (R-Humble) would eliminate the sunset date (September 1, 2019) on statutes authorizing the use of individual graduation committees and alternative methods to satisfy high school graduation requirements.

 

HB 1244 by Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin) would require school districts to administer a civics test to a student in the foundation high school program and make it a requirement for high school graduation. The civics test would consist of all of the questions on the civics test administered by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services as part of the naturalization process.

 

HB 1480 by Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston) would require school districts to establish an accelerated learning committee for each student who does not perform satisfactorily on the third-grade mathematics or reading assessment.

 

TAX:

On Tuesday, the Senate Property Tax Committee took up:

SB 67 by Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) would make several changes regarding property tax appeals. It would:

  • Require the comptroller to establish a Property Tax Administration Advisory Board to advise the comptroller regarding the agency’s property tax responsibilities and make recommendations regarding improving the effectiveness and efficiency of the property tax system, best practices, and complaint resolution procedures.
  • Require a minimum of 8 hours of training for appraisal review board (ARB) members.
  • Require the comptroller to produce material for training arbitrators, make them available online, and establish and supervise the training program.
  • Require the comptroller to prepare an ARB survey form for property owners to report on fairness and efficiency of the process and produce an annual report summarizing the surveys.
  • Prohibit a person related to another ARB member from serving on an ARB.
  • Move the responsibility for selecting ARB officers from the ARB to the local administrative district judge.
  • Prohibit requiring more than a majority of an ARB to make a determination.
  • Prohibit appraisal districts from charging for copies of information.
  • Prohibit an ARB from determining a value that is higher than the value determined by the chief appraiser.
  • Allow a designated agent of a property owner the same hearing postponement and scheduling authority as the owner.
  • Allow an ARB to schedule hearings on all protests filed by a property owner consecutively.
  • Prohibit the use of information in a hearing if the information was previously requested by the protesting party but was not provided at least 14 days before the first hearing.
  • Prohibit an ARB from scheduling the first hearing on a protest on a weekday evening or a Sunday.

In support were representatives of Conference of Urban Counties, Ryan LLC, Citizens for Appraisal Reform, County Judges and Commissioners Association, Texas Association of Counties, Texas Association of Manufacturers, Texas Taxpayers and Research Association, Texas Association of Realtors, Dallas and Tarrant Counties, Texas Oil and Gas Association, and Texas Association of Property Tax Professionals. Texas Association of Appraisal Districts provided written testimony in opposition. It was left pending.

 

Student Testing and Assessment Reform Act – Also on Wednesday, Representative Matt Krause (R-Fort Worth) filed the Student Testing And Assessment Reform Act, HB 2113, which would bring reforms to the STAAR and end-of-course (EOC) assessments currently being administered by public schools in Texas. Specifically, the bill would:

  • Eliminate all STAAR exams that are not federally required – including 4th and 7th-grade Writing, as well as 8th grade Social Studies; and
  • Remove all end-of-course exams for high school students and comply with federal reporting standards by administering post-secondary education entrance exams – including SAT, ACT, and TSI.

Representative Krause said, “It is imperative that our teachers focus on educating our students and not teaching to a test. As legislators, we need to craft a solution to eliminate the high stakes testing scheme our schools currently operate under, and I believe the Student Testing and Assessment Reform Act leads our education system down the right path.”

 

Ban on Red-Light Cameras – On Tuesday, Representative Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford) announced that he has secured 102 joint and coauthors for HB 1631, which would ban red-light cameras across Texas. Representative Stickland said, “Obtaining these coauthors is an important first step at finally banning these intrusive and unconstitutional cameras across the state and fulfilling a demand of the people. Needing only 76 votes to pass a bill out of the chamber, 102 joint and coauthors virtually guarantees HB 1631’s passage through the House.”

Transportation Funding – On Monday, Senator Kirk Watson (D-Austin) filed legislation to increase statewide funding for transportation – with some funds going to education – as well as local options for residents of large, urban counties to consider investing further in road and transit expansion.

 

Senator Watson said “Texans need and deserve affordable, reliable transportation options for drivers, transit riders, bicyclists and pedestrians. Adding managed lanes to I-35, investing in safety and mobility improvements across the state and permitting major urban counties to increase investments in dedicated transit pathways are tools the state can and should provide our fast growth, high-congestion economic centers.” 

 

The transportation bills include:

  • SB 1073 would reopen two statewide debt instruments (the Texas Mobility Fund and State Highway Fund bonding authority) explicitly for the sale of a combined $4.5 billion in debt. The remaining funds would come from authorized Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) allocations and both authorized and unallocated Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) funds. The managed lanes under this scenario would be non-tolled.
  • SB 1074 would authorize TxDOT or the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority to contract for a comprehensive development agreement in which the private sector would fund, build, operate and maintain the project under government supervision. The managed lanes under this scenario would be tolled to provide a payback mechanism for the private sector loan.
  • SB 1075 would authorize TxDOT to enter one comprehensive development agreement annually, reestablishing this tool in the Texas congestion mitigation toolbox. The managed lanes under this scenario would be tolled to provide a payback mechanism for the private sector loan.
  • SB 1076 would acknowledge the unequal taxation of road users under the motor fuels tax by applying an additional registration fee to alternatively fueled vehicles that avoid this tax. The rate would be set by a formula based on the average tax paid by users of similar vehicle types and discounted 15 to 25 percent as a continued incentive for the purchase of low-emission vehicles.
  • SB 1077 would double the state motor fuels tax. This flat, 20-cent tax has been the same rate since it was established in 1991. Revenue from one-quarter, (5 cents) of the tax would go to the permanent school fund. In Fiscal Year 2018, the state motor fuels tax raised a total of $3.67 billion – $2.76 billion for roads and $918.7 million for schools.
  • SB 1078 would add counties located in the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority and other multi-county regional mobility authorities, to the list of counties authorized to increase the vehicle registration fee $10 to fund transportation improvement projects through the Mobility Authority.
  • SB 1080/SJR 45 would authorize an optional referendum in major urban counties to create a local option motor fuels tax for transportation improvement projects. Statewide passage of the accompanying constitutional amendment would be required to spend authorized funds on non-road, transit projects.
  • Optional Local Sales Tax – The final bill in Senator Watson’s transportation funding toolbox would enable major urban counties, including Travis, to utilize existing authority to enact up to a 1 percent sales tax despite the 2 percent cumulative, total local-tax cap. A list of the projects to be funded must accompany the required referendum and the authorization would last only 30 years. Three-quarters of the funding would have to be used for transit and the remaining funds could be used for road improvements. The bill will be filed in the coming days.

Senator Watson concluded, “Each of these financing methods has their detractors, but there is no highway fairy, money doesn’t grow on trees and we can’t get something for nothing. Talk is cheap – roads are not.”