TAC Week In Review: A Digest Of What Happened This Week At The Capitol

TAC Week In Review: A Digest Of What Happened This Week At The Capitol

By, Texas Association of Counties

Big things are starting to move around in the Capitol as the committee process starts hitting its stride. House Appropriations voted out the state’s budget and it will be on the House floor next week. Appropriations also voted out the supplemental budget.

The House’s school finance bill, containing over $9 billion in funding, moved out of committee and the DPS sunset bill was heard in the Senate.

Important property tax bills were heard in Senate and House committees, as were some high priority disaster related bills. Open government, elections and the consolidation of criminal fines and fees were the topics of even more committee hearings.

State Budget Update

House Appropriations met on Mar. 18 to hear two bills, HB 1, the House version of the State budget for 2020-2021 and SB 500, the supplemental appropriations bill for the current biennium, 2018-2019.

HB 1 by Chairman John Zerwas (R-Richmond) was voted out of committee with Rep. Matt Schaefer (R-Tyler) being the lone no vote. The committee substitute for HB 1 reflects a $116.5 billion budget funded for General Revenue, below the Texas Comptroller projection of $119.1 billion in funding projected to be available to draft the budget.

The bill is within all four constitutional spending limits; contains a significant infusion of resources for school finances ($9 billion); increased formula funding for higher education; and additional resources for state hospitals, technology, and water projects. When considering all funding sources, the House budget reflects a $251.1 billion budget.

SB 500 by Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) is the supplemental bill designed to address the funding gaps and concerns that have risen since the Legislature adopted the 2018-2019 budget.

It was taken up in House Appropriations and a committee substitute was offered by Chairman John Zerwas (R-Richmond) and voted out. SB 500, as substituted, contains roughly $2.7 billion from General Revenue, $4.2 billion from the Economic Stabilization Fund, and $2.3 billion from federal funds for a total of $9.3 billion.

The bill includes significant appropriations to state agencies impacted by Hurricane Harvey, funds the Medicaid shortfall, and provides funding for energy impacted county roads. The Legislative Budget Board has an excellent infographic for SB 500, as substituted by the House, which outlines the exact appropriations made by the House.

Both bills are scheduled for consideration on the House floor next week.

House School Finance Bill Advances

Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Houston) introduced and unanimously passed a committee substitute for HB 3, the House school finance plan, during a House Public Education Committee meeting on March 19.

The Chairman indicated he hopes to have HB 3 before the full House the first week of April. The bill would appropriate roughly $6.3 billion to improving the public education system, including raising the basic allotment to $6,030, and roughly $2.7 billion to compress school property taxes by four cents.

Additionally, the bill funds full-day, high-quality prekindergarten for eligible students. It is important to note HB 3 does not compress school property taxes as far as HB 2, the House’s Property Tax bill.

The Chairman’s one-pager outlining the changes made can be found here, while the committee substitute can be found here.

Protecting Against Future Floods

 Hurricane Harvey and other flood events across the state are driving efforts to plan and prepare more comprehensively for future floods.

HB 13 by Rep. Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) and SB 8 by Sen. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock) both create a state flood plan and their accompanying proposed constitutional amendments, HJR 4 and SJR 28 will create funds to provide grants and loans to entities, including counties, to plan and prepare for future floods through drainage, flood mitigation or flood control projects.

The House plan would use $3.26 billion from the Rainy Day Fund and the Senate plan would use $1.2 billion from the same source. Both of these proposals explicitly require close cooperation and planning at the local and regional level between and among governmental entities, very much a bottom-up approach.

Chapter 312 Extension 

House Ways & Means heard two bills that would extend the life of Chapter 312, Tax Code, the Property Redevelopment and Tax Abatement Act.

HB 360 by Rep. Jim Murphy (R-Houston) and HB 2438 by Rep. Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) both extend the life of this chapter, the primary county economic development tool, which is set to expire later this year. Both bills were left pending in committee.

DPS Sunset Bill and Potential Driver License Transfer

SB 616 by Sen. Brian Birdwell (R-Jacksonville) and co-authored by Senators Watson, Buckingham, Hall, and Nichols – all members of the Sunset Advisory Commission – is the Sunset legislation relating to the continuation of the Department of Public Safety.

It was heard in the Senate Veteran Affairs and Border Security Committee on March 20. 

The 127-page bill contemplates a number of reforms and among the most significant is the recommendation that if the required third-party analysis of the opportunities and challenges of transferring the driver license program to the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles (TxDMV) is not complete by Sept. 1, 2020, the program transfers to TxDMV on Sept. 1, 2021.

This recommendation was highlighted in the Sunset Advisory Commission Staff Report on DPS issued in the Fall of 2018 and has garnered a significant amount of attention from various stakeholder groups.

Nearly two hours of testimony was taken, including DPS testifying in support of conducting a study to determine if DPS should continue to issue licenses or transfer the responsibility to the DMV. 

DPS believes the agency is well suited to continue to issue driver licenses. Sen. Hall indicated that if a transfer were to take place it should be done quickly and efficiently, to which Sen. Birdwell shared that the DMV is not currently prepared to take over the functions of issuing driver licenses. 

The bill was left pending until next week. Chairwoman Campbell noted that all amendments must be offered at the next committee hearing and it is her intent to have members vote on the bill.

Array of Property Tax Bills Considered

HB492, and its related proposed constitutional amendment HJR 34, by Rep. Hugh Shine (R- Temple) were laid out in the House Ways and Means Committee this week. The bill allows taxing entities to adopt a temporary tax exemption for areas declared a disaster and clarifies language surrounding processes and timelines for the appraisal process. Additionally, the bill defines levels of damage for assessment on each property, which determines the level of exemption the property owner will receive.

HB 493, and its related proposed constitutional amendment HJR 35, by Rep. Hugh Shine (R-Temple) were also heard in the House Ways and Means Committee. HB 493 is identical to HB 492 except that it offers a refund to taxing entities for costs incurred during the reappraisal process.

SB 1322 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) and SB 1772 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) were both heard this week in the Senate Property Tax Committee. As filed, SB 1322 was identical to HB 492 by Rep. Shine.

A committee substitute was heard in committee, changing SB 1322 bill to be identical to SB 1772 by Bettencourt. SB 1772 and the substitute for SB 1322 create the option for a taxing unit to adopt a temporary exemption for areas declared a disaster and establishes levels of damage for personal property.

HB 3143 by Rep. Jim Murphy (R-Houston) was laid out in Ways and Means, with mixed testimony for and against the bill. HB 3143 increases transparency requirements in the Ch. 312 process, establishing criteria for tax abatements and requiring public hearings for adoption.

IGR Committee Hears Emergency Management Bills

 The Senate Committee on Intergovernmental Relations (IGR) met on March 18 to hear several bills on public improvement districts and others related to emergency management and hurricane preparedness. Read the full report here.

County Officials Testify on High Priority Disaster Related Bills 

The Homeland Security and Public Safety committee met March 20 to hear a full agenda of legislation, including several high priority disaster related bills. Several county officials relayed their personal experiences with Hurricane Harvey in this report.

Open Government Bills Get a Hearing 

The House Committee on State Affairs, chaired by Rep. Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont), considered several open government bills on March 20.

One of the bills, HB 2189 by Rep. Giovanni Capriglione (R-Southlake), aims to address two Texas Supreme Court decisions, Boeing v. Paxton and Greater Houston Partnership v. Paxton, that excepted certain information relating to public-private contracts from disclosure under the Public Information Act.

The bill narrowly defines the exception to allow public access to certain contracting information involving public funds while protecting proprietary information. A similar bill was filed last session, but failed to pass.

The committee also considered HB 2191 by Rep. Capriglione, an omnibus bill relating to the Public Information Act.

The bill outlines a process for the preservation of public information maintained on privately owned devices; authorizes a governmental body to designate one email address and one mailing address for receiving written requests for public information; and requires the Attorney General to create a public information request form that provides a requestor the option of excluding from a request information that the governmental body determines is confidential or subject to an exception from disclosure. Both bills were left pending.

Funding for Voting Machines?

HB 362 by Rep. Celia Israel (D-Austin) was heard in the House Elections Committee this week and Sabra Srader, Wise County Elections Administrator representing the Texas Association of Election Administrators, testified in favor of the bill.

The bill creates a “voting system fund” to assist local governments with the acquisition of electronic voting equipment.

Rep. Israel laid out a substitute bill that would require electronic voting machines purchased with available matching grant funds to have a voter verifiable paper audit trail; includes a retroactive grant reimbursement for voting machines purchased after the 2016 election cycle that meet the requirements for reimbursements; requires the secretary of state to work with counties on a study to determine the best way to replenish the Voting System Fund for the future and make recommendations to the legislature; and added a provision to prevent the fund from being dissolved if no money was appropriated or if the funds are depleted.

Israel stressed the need to replace the antiquated electronic voting equipment originally purchased using federal grant funds from the Help America Vote Act of 2002.

It is anticipated that the approximate cost to replace antiquated electronic voting equipment is estimated to be more than $316 million. The substitute was withdrawn and the bill was left pending in committee.

Court Cost Consolidation 

 SB 346 by Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) was heard in Senate State Affairs this week and Heather Hawthorne, Chambers County Clerk, testified on the bill. 

The bill consolidates criminal court costs and fees to simplify and remedy potential constitutional issues held in Salinas v. State and other court rulings that have identified some criminal court costs be redirected to a legitimate criminal justice purpose and classifies a statutory cost correctly as a fine or reimbursement of service.

There are 143 criminal court costs and fees in 17 categories.

Sen. Zaffirini laid out a substitute bill to replace the original filed bill which was merely a shell bill. The bill went from 21 pages to 118 pages. Since the substitute bill was released the night before, the senator requested that the committee leave the bill pending. 

The bill is to restructure the criminal court costs system in a “manner that is constitutional, more efficient and to the greatest extent possible, revenue neutral.” The bill was left pending in committee in order to give stakeholders the opportunity to review the bill.

Helpful Tracking Links for Legislation

  • County Bills by Office as tracked by the Texas Association of Counties.
  • Senate and House committee postings are available on Texas Legislature Online.
  • MyTLO section of Texas Legislature Online – use it to create customized alerts for specific committee meetings or to track specific bills.

 

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