Texas Lobbyist Report: 82nd Legislative Session Bills of Note
Heading into this Legislative Session, everyone was in agreement that the budget and redistricting would be the main focus of the Legislature. This time, the Legislature passed Redistricting of both Houses, by both Houses. HB 150 the House redistricting plan has passed the House and Senate. SB 31, the Senate redistricting plan has also passed the Senate and House. HB 600, the State Board of Education plan, has passed both houses and been sent to the Governor. However SB 308, the Congressional redistricting plan, has not been considered by either the Senate or the House and is dead.
Due to the dire budget deficit the Legislature was taxed with – everyone’s eyes were on taxes this Session. However, the leadership so far has held strong and stopped new taxes – and fees – from coming into play this time around. SJR 14 and SB 516, which would extend the property tax exemption for disabled veterans to their spouses after the veteran’s death, has passed the Senate and has been reported from the House Ways and Means Committee. SB 201, which would clarify that the disabled veterans’ property tax exemption will follow the veteran when the veteran moves to a new residence homestead, has passed both houses and is in conference committee. SB 934, which is the Comptroller’s tax enforcement bill, has passed both houses and been signed by the Governor. HB 268, which would require buyers of sales tax-exempt agricultural and timber goods to provide to the seller of goods an agricultural exemption ID number issued by the Comptroller, has passed the House and Senate and been sent back to the House to concur in Senate amendments or request a conference committee. HB 2403 which would require remote sellers to collect sales tax if they use a website in Texas to sell digital goods – – – aka the “Amazon Bill” – – – -has passed the House and Senate and has been sent to the Governor. All Session there has been an interest in extending the small business $1 million franchise tax exemption, and it was added onto SB 1811 in the House. It will now be up to the conference committee to decide if it will be extended…
Finally, the Senate passed HCR 18, which calls for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution providing for a federal balanced budget. It was one of the Governor Perry’s emergency matters.
Fiscal Matters Legislation
On Friday, after a budget deal was announced, the House took up SB 1811 by Senator Steve Ogden (R-Bryan) and Representative Jim Pitts (R-Waxahachie), the major fiscal matters bill to fund the budget deal, which had been postponed several times. The debate continued until 1:00 a.m. on Saturday morning. Of the over 200 amendments that had been pre-filed, the House took up more than 80 amendments, 46 of which were adopted (some passed over the objection of Chairman Pitts who had promised the Republican and Democratic caucuses to oppose all amendments that were free-standing bills that had not made it out of House committees). Some of the amendments that passed included amendments:
- accelerating state use of unclaimed property;
- extending the Texas Economic Development Act to 2016;
- exempting entities without taxable net income from the franchise tax;
- establishing the Texas Fiscal Stability Commission to develop a comprehensive plan to eliminate the state’s structural revenue shortfall;
- extending the $1 million small business franchise tax exemption for another two years;
- requiring reporting and advisory committee changes for the Emerging Technology Fund;
- eliminating funding for the Texas Wine Marketing Assistance Program;
- establishing procedures for adjudication of claims against the state for breach of contract;
- requiring the appropriations bill to have a line item for each specific program or activity of a state agency;
- allowing the state to lease state-owned parking spaces and facilities;
- prohibiting state agencies from implementing or adopting rules that would implement a greenhouse gas emissions regulatory program;
- instituting a statewide smoking ban (saving the state an estimated $30 million);
- clarifying that religious, educational, and public service organizations that are tax exempt can have sales and auctions;
- allowing the surviving spouse of a disabled veteran to pay property taxes in installments;
- allowing land used for raising or keeping bees to be taxed as open-space land;
- requiring remote sellers to collect sales tax if they use a website to sell digital goods; and
- dedicating undedicated revenue generated by the bill to go to the Foundation School Program.
SB 23, which is heading to conference committee, is another “must pass bill” for the budget. It is the essential health and human services bill that balances the state’s budget and makes numerous changes to the way Medicaid will be provided in Texas. It makes changes to nursing home and assisted living facility regulation, directs the Health and Human Services Commission to use appropriate technology to confirm the identity of applicants for benefits; authorizes the Health and Human Services Commission to develop an objective process to assess a Medicaid recipient’s need for acute nursing and therapy services; and expands managed care to Cameron, Hidalgo and Maverick Counties which allows Medicaid managed care the ability to expand statewide.
Two bills – by the House Public Health Committee Chairwoman and Senate Health and Human Services Committee Chairwoman – are also moving thru the process. Those include SB 7 and SB 8. SB 7 which would make several changes to the children’s health insurance plan and medical assistance programs. SB 8, would establish the Texas Institute of Health Care Quality and Efficiency to develop a state plan to implement and use pay-for-performance as a way to improve the quality and efficiency of healthcare.
SB 2 and HB 400 which would give school districts flexibility in regard to teacher salaries and contracts; class size; and furloughs have each failed to pass in its originating chamber. SB 22 – the Senate’s version of school finance – was added to SB 1581 on the Senate floor on Friday. Today, it goes to the full House Floor and both Representative Scott Hochberg and House Public Ed Chair Rob Eissler are each expected to substitute their public school finance plans to SB 1581 on the House floor… Again, that’s a “must pass” bill. Stay tuned….
SJR 4 proposes a constitutional amendment allowing the Water Development Board to issue up to an additional $6 billion in bonds for water development and infrastructure projects has passed both houses and will be submitted to the voters on November 8, 2011. SJR 16, proposing a constitutional amendment to add water stewardship to the list of types of land that can be taxed as open-space land, has passed the Senate and House and will be submitted to the voters on November 8, 2011.
SB 321 – which prohibits an employer from restricting an employee from bringing a handgun into the employer’s parking lot – has passed the Senate and House and is in a conference committee to work out the employer liability language.
HB 9, which would establish performance-based funding for higher education, has passed the House and been reported out of the Senate Higher Education Committee. SB 5, which gives institutions of higher education flexibility to address budget constraints, has passed the Senate and the House. SB 28, which institutes new eligibility requirements for TEXAS grants, has passed the Senate and House and is in a conference committee. HB 1000, which establishes an allocation formula for money in the National Research University Fund, has passed the House and been recommended for the Senate Local and Uncontested calendar.
HB 272, which makes several changes to the operations of the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association, has passed the House and is on the Senate Intent calendar for today. However, whether the votes are there is questionable. SB 18, the eminent domain bill has passed both Houses and has been sent to the Governor.