The House and Senate both adjourned last Thursday. Today, they are both back and with just over a month left in the Regular Session, this week is turning into make or break time.
In fact, today the Senate Intent Calendar has 66 bills on it.
The budget is moving along, with conferees appointed at the end of last week. These five lucky members from both the House and the Senate will weigh out differences and put the finishing touches on the final budget for the next biennium. Those lucky ten are Representatives: John Otto (R-Dayton), Sylvester Turner (D-Houston), Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin), Larry Gonzales (R-Round Rock), and Sarah Davis (R-Houston) and Senators: Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound), Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa (D-McAllen), Joan Huffman (R-Houston), Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham), and Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown). The Conference Committee on the Budget (HB 1) will hold it’s first organizational meeting on Tuesday, April 28, 2015 at 8:30 A.M.
And while the House and Senate bicker from week to week on which house is moving legislation and who is moving quicker (just a part of the inevitable process), a major clash has come between the two on tax cuts.
As you may recall, tax cuts were a top priority to Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, SB 1 – normally a number reserved for the Senate budget – went to tax cut legislation. The budget got bumped to number SB 2.
And while the House and Senate both want over $4 billion in tax cuts, they differ on how to do it. The Senate is pushing property tax cuts. It’s something that the electorate wants. The House is pushing a sales tax cut – something that business prefers. Both chambers include roughly $2 billion in cuts in business’ franchise tax.
Perspective: As staunch conservative Grover Norquist, President of Americans for Tax Reform recently tweeted, “I want to live in Texas. The House and Senate in that state are fighting about whether to cut taxes $4.6 billion or $4.9 billion.”
Stay tuned on this one…
BILL MOVEMENT UPDATE
Total number of bills reported out of Senate Committees last week: 146
Total number of bills passed by the Senate last week: 85
Total passed on the Local and Uncontested calendar: 0
Total number of bills reported out of House Committees last week: 321
Total number of bills passed by the House last week: 142
Total passed on the Local and Consent calendar: 84
Some of the more significant bills passed out of one Chamber or the other last week include:
SB 3 by Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury) is the omnibus border security bill. The legislation addresses stopping human trafficking, illegal drug and weapon smuggling, and how to deal with an influx of dangerous criminals and potential terrorists. The bill received bipartisan support which will help the Department of Public Safety (DPS) sustain and appropriately expand their successful efforts to tackle these problems statewide.
The Senate also gave approval to SB 4 by Senate Education Chair Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), which would provide a franchise tax credit for businesses who donate to a fund providing scholarships for students in failing schools, as well as students with disabilities, to attend the school of their choice.
SB 207 by Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa (D-McAllen) would implement the Sunset Advisory Commission recommendations to restructure the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the Health and Human Services Commission. The office is mainly tasked with investigating Medicaid fraud in healthcare provider claims. However, the OIG’s office has been plagued with contracting problems and a slew of resignations from top officials over the past several months….
Additionally, more of the Governor’s priorities are moving along… three bills byLois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham) which are part of Governor Greg Abbott’spriority early education initiatives – SB 925, SB 934 and SB 935, which would establish Literary Achievement Academies to improve the professional development of teachers in literacy, Math Achievement Academies to train K-3 teachers in numeracy instruction and technology, and Reading Excellence Teams to improve student learning in critical learning years, respectively. The verdict is still out on his Pre-K priority – it has passed the House but its future in the Texas Senate is not as certain.
HB 21 by Kyle Kacal (R-College Station) would establish the “Right To Try Act” authorizing patients with terminal conditions to access investigational drugs, biological products, and devices that are in clinical trials.
HB 40 by Drew Darby (R-San Angelo) would prohibit local oil and gas regulations. Basically the bill would allow fracking to continue and prohibit local ordinances from restricting the drilling. Denton had previously adopted a ban on fracking…
HB 1290 by Jim Keffer (R-Eastland) would require “Sunset” review of river authorities including a review of each entity’s governance, and management.
HB 1690 by Phil King (R-Weatherford) would require the Texas Rangers, instead of the Travis County District Attorney’s Office, to investigate public integrity complaints.
HB 2813 by Ken King (R-Canadian) would require health benefit plans to provide women with coverage for an annual medically recognized diagnostic examination for the early detection of ovarian cancer including at a minimum a CA 125 blood test.
In a major waste of a day and time on Thursday, the House spent hours debatingHB 2510 by Four Price (R-Amarillo), the Sunset bill for Texas Department of State Health Services. There were 37 pre-filed amendments. However, after the House adopted two abortion-related amendments, Representative Trey Martinez Fischer (D-San Antonio) called a point-of-order (a parliamentary maneuver) on the bill. Ultimately, the point-of-order was withdrawn andRepresentative Price withdrew the bill and recommitted it to committee. Its companion legislation, by Chairwoman Jane Nelson (R- Flower Mound) is pending in Senate Committee.
Finally, HB 2717 by Craig Goldman (R-Fort Worth) that would deregulate hair braiding passed the House.
This brings us to our final (for now) Special Election update:
In Tuesday’s Special Election Run-off in House District 124 to replace Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio), who moved up to the Texas Senate, San Antonio attorney Ina Minjarez won with 54.97% of the vote (1331 votes) over former San Antonio City Council member Delicia Herrera, who got 45.02% (1090 votes). Minjarez will be sworn into the House after the votes are officially canvassed.
State Websites – Additional information on bills, hearings, committees, etc. can be obtained via the Senate, House, and capitol websites: