TAC on the Lege — Weekly Video Series
We've launched a new video podcast as another tool to help you navigate the twists and turns of this legislative session.
|TAC on the Lege — A conversation about what’s important to counties this week in the Texas Legislature, including Senate inquest legislation, a possible constitutional amendment barring unfunded mandates, meetings for the House County Affairs Committee, budget subcommittees and work groups, more about the revenue caps bill, SB 2, and the cost of county government.
Week in Review: A Digest of What Happened This Week at the Capitol
Several Senate committees met this week to consider legislation, which included a justice of the peace inquest bill driven in large part by the death of a U.S. Supreme Court justice in Far West Texas. While the Senate Finance Committee has concluded its preliminary budget hearings, the House Appropriations Committee is just getting started and will consider indigent defense funding next week. Other committees are organizing themselves and laying the groundwork for their efforts for the next couple of months, including House County Affairs, which is set to hear from one of our foremost experts on demographic change and its impact on the future of our state.
Thus far, over 3,000 bills have been filed, and the bill filing deadline is still three weeks away. One such bill is a proposed constitutional amendment to protect counties and cities from unfunded mandates (always a good thing). Also, in the coming weeks, we will be featuring elements of the unfunded mandates survey conducted by TAC, the County Judges and Commissioners Association of Texas (CJCAT), the Conference of Urban Counties (CUC) and the Texas Association of County Auditors (TACA).
Senate Committee Hears Inquest Legislation – On Feb. 13, the Senate State Affairs Committee heard testimony from justices of the peace on SB 378 by Sen. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock). Under the bill, a justice of the peace or county judge who is unavailable would have the authority to exchange benches with a justice of the peace in another county upon request in order to conduct an inquest. This issue first came to light on Feb. 12, 2016, when Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died in his sleep in Presidio County. At that time, no justice of the peace was available to complete the inquest so the inquest was done over the phone. The bill was left pending.
Several county officials provided testimony and support for the legislation at the hearing, including Williamson County Justice of the Peace Bill Gravell, Brewster County Justice of the Peace Gilbert Valenzuela, Burnet County Justices of the Peace Roxanne Nelson and Lisa Whitehead, Jeff Davis County Justice of the Peace Mary Ann Luedecke and Comal County Justice of the Peace Larry Shallcross. Additional information about the bill is available in this one-page document prepared by the Justices of the Peace and Constables Association of Texas.
Unfunded Mandate Constitutional Amendment – Rep. DeWayne Burns (R-Cleburne) recently filed HJR 73, a proposed constitutional amendment that renders a legislative mandate adopted on or after Jan. 1, 2018, ineffective if it imposes a mandate on a county or city requiring an expenditure of revenue and does not provide any state appropriations or reimbursement. This, of course, would provide tremendous help in alleviating any future strain on county budgets and local taxpayers. TAC will provide additional updates on this proposed amendment throughout the legislative session.
House and Senate Budget Update – The House Appropriations Committee, chaired by Rep. John Zerwas (R-Richmond), began meeting this week to hear selective overviews of the state budget. Next week, subcommittees will begin hearing from state agencies on their individual budget requests. The upcoming hearing schedule for all of the Appropriations subcommittees is available on the Texas Legislature Online website.
Meanwhile, the Senate Finance Committee has concluded its preliminary hearings on the state budget and is about to begin its subcommittee/workgroup meetings to develop final recommendations on its version of the state budget.
Additional information on the impact of the state budget proposals on certain county-related programs is available in this state budget summary report prepared by TAC staff.
A Look Ahead
Indigent Defense Funding – The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Articles I, IV & V will consider the budget request submitted by the Texas Indigent Defense Commission on Thursday, Feb. 23. The Commission is asking for full state funding for criminal indigent defense costs in its Legislative Appropriations Request for the FY 2018-2019 biennium.
The Senate Finance Committee considered the agency’s budget request on Feb. 9, as both the House and Senate budget-writing committees have their own separate proposed budgets. Any differences between the budgets will be worked out in a conference committee toward the end of the legislative session.
County officials with concerns about the rising costs of the indigent defense mandate should contact members of the House Appropriations Committee in support of additional state funds and share details about how the mandate has affected their county and local taxpayers. Additional information about the hearing and mandate is available in this County Issues article.
“There’s people, and more people…” (John Mellencamp) – On Monday, Feb. 20, at 9 a.m. at an organizational meeting of the House County Affairs Committee, former state demographer and former director of the U.S. Census Bureau Dr. Steve Murdock will provide a briefing on the rapidly changing demographics in Texas. Some folks might consider demographics to be a bit dry and academic, but Dr. Murdock has always discussed this vital matter with a real eye to placing the challenge of a growing and changing Texas squarely in the middle of local and state practical policy discussions. If you can’t make it, listen in online via the House website. See the Notice of Public Hearing for more information regarding this hearing.
“Everybody complains about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.” (Charles Dudley Warner) – Senate Bill 2 is a bill that arbitrarily reduces the rollback rate, but does nothing at all to address the real cost of government, including the cost of unfunded mandates to taxpayers. County folks (properly) talk a lot about unfunded mandates and have collectively worked together for years to track these increases in the property tax burden. Some unfunded mandates may be added up with relative ease (e.g., criminal indigent defense, because we have to report to the state what we spend and a fraction comes back to defray some of the costs). Others take some more work. To that end, TAC, CJCAT, CUC and TACA developed a survey to send out to counties to get a better handle on the cost to the property tax payers of unfunded mandates. We had a great response and the results of the survey will be useful to county officials working against SB 2. Stay tuned for a release of the survey results. We encourage you to personalize the information from the survey by explaining to legislators how unfunded mandates specifically affect your county, such as what it costs to run a jail and a court system.
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.