The Session clock continues its tick tock, with only six weeks remaining for this Legislative Session.
The one item the Legislature must pass is the state budget. The good news is that the budget has been passed by both Houses and we are now awaiting the appointment of the House and Senate budget conferees. These ten individuals on the conference committee will iron out the differences between the House passed House Bill 1 and the Senate passed Senate Bill 1.
The other “must pass” issue – declared by Governor Greg Abbott – is tax reform.
On tax day – April 15th – Governor Greg Abbott held a press conference to promote his plan to reduce the business franchise tax. In his remarks, he noted that reducing the franchise tax would enable Texas businesses to create more jobs and spur economic growth. He said, “I have traveled across the State of Texas and heard from so many employers that the business franchise tax places a complicated and an unfair burden on businesses that prevents employers from reinvesting profits to grow their business and hire more Texans. That is why I will reject any budget package that does not include genuine tax relief for Texas’ job creators. The best job creation program is tax reduction.” The governor cited a recent study showing that eliminating the franchise tax in Texas would generate 41,500 new jobs, $3.4 billion in new net investments and $9.8 billion in new personal disposable income by 2017.
And yet the House and Senate remain at odds on what tax reform overall looks like. They are also taking very different approaches to school funding issues. These are not easy differences to resolve…..
As for the other “need to pass” bills – all of the State’s Health and Human Services agencies are under “Sunset” review for the first time since 1999. Many of these programs were revisited in the 2003 consolidation and more change is definitely on the way. The question – how much more consolidation – is now the focus. There have been numerous identified contracting scandals within these agencies over the last several months. Those issues have many legislative leaders wanting to continue the consolidation, however at a slower pace than previously agreed to by the Sunset Advisory Commission. Some changes to that pace were made in SB 200 (Jane Nelson R- Flower Mound), the Health and Human Services Commission Sunset bill that passed the Senate floor this week.
That brings us to another major topic in the pink dome – State Contracting. Dozens of bills have been filed to address state contracting and practices. Senate Bill 20- By Senate Finance Chairwoman Jane Nelson – is over in the House and looks to be a main vehicle to keep an eye out on.
Other bills of interest making their way through the legislature (i.e. have passed one house) include:
HB 4 by Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), the Governor’s quality Pre-K legislation, has passed the Full House.
The House passed HJR 8 by John Otto (R-Dayton) which aims to retire state debt earlier than planned. The Constitutional amendment would provide that if the Economic Stabilization Fund (Rainy Day Fund) reaches its cap, the comptroller must move any excess oil and gas taxes or excess interest into an account dedicated to retiring state debt early.
The House also passed HB 910, the open carry gun bill, and HB 40, which would prohibit local oil and gas regulations.
SCR 1 by Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe), which claims sovereignty for the State of Texas, demands the federal government halt and reverse laws and mandates that exceed its constitutional authority passed the Senate.
SB 10 by Joan Huffman (R-Houston), which would move the Public Integrity Unit from the Travis County District Attorney’s office to the Texas Rangers passed the Senate. House related legislation was sent back to committee following a parliamentary challenge when the bill was up on the House Floor.
SB 14 by Senate Education Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), the“parent trigger” bill, would allow parents to make operational changes at failing schools, from hiring new administrators to converting the school into a charter.
SB 204 by Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa (D-McAllen), which is the sunset bill forDepartment of Aging and Disability Services (DADS), the state agency that provides and regulates long-term care services for people with disabilities and the aging passed the Senate.
BILL MOVEMENT- LAST 2 WEEKS
Total number of bills reported out of House Committees: 355
Total number of bills passed by the House: 158
Total passed on the Local and Consent calendar: 100
Total number of bills reported out of Senate Committees: 197
Total number of bills passed by the Senate: 227
Total passed on the Local and Uncontested calendar: 70
With more days of being in Session behind us and less days to go, this is the time of year where bills not out of committee must get moving. It’s also the time where members on both sides of the rotunda, start complaining about the pace of the other side of the rotunda. That is nothing new.
However, as for the budget, the House and Senate are right on schedule from where they were last Session. It was April 22, 2013 when the conferees on the budget were announced two years ago – and conference committees should be appointed this week.
For more info on the Texas Legislature you can go to: www.capitol.state.tx.us