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Week in Review: A Digest of What Happened This Past Week at the Capitol

​TAC Legislative Staff

The legislative session is finally picking up the pace, with bills being referred to committees daily. A significant number of committees in both the House and Senate held hearings this past week, including the House Committee on County Affairs and Senate Committee on Intergovernmental Relations. Budget hearings also continue.

TAC talks about TAC, County Concerns at House County Affairs and Senate IGR Hearings — Both the House Committee on County Affairs, chaired by Rep. Garnet Coleman (D-Houston), and the Senate Committee on Intergovernmental Relations, chaired by Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa (D-McAllen), held organizational hearings this past week. TAC Legislative Director Paul Sugg provided testimony about TAC’s structure and services. Paul also reviewed significant issues and areas of concern county officials had identified at the Legislative Exchanges held throughout the state prior to the 83rd Legislature. The committee also heard testimony from Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) Deputy Commissioner Chris Traylor and Medicaid/CHIP Director Lisa Kirsch, both of whom educated committee members about the 1115 Waiver. Representatives of Regional Healthcare Partnerships provided additional testimony.  

“You and I come by road or rail, but economists travel on infrastructure.” (Margaret Thatcher) — The House and Senate Transportation committees also met this past week. Phil Wilson, the Texas Department of Transportation’s executive director, provided testimony at both hearings regarding the department’s priorities and funding challenges. A copy of the executive director’s testimony to the House Committee on Transportation is available here.

“Water is the driving force in nature.” (Leonardo da Vinci) — The Senate Committee on Natural Resources, chaired by Sen. Troy Fraser (R-Horseshoe Bay), also held a hearing and considered SB 4. The bill, as filed, changes the membership of the Texas Water Development Board from six part-time members to three full-time members appointed by the governor and establishes the state water implementation fund to finance projects included in the State Water Plan. The bill will be taken up as pending business Tuesday, Feb. 19.

On a very timely note, House Natural Resources will take up HB 4 by committee chairman Rep. Allen Ritter (R-Nederland), also on Tuesday, Feb. 19. The bill creates the state water implementation fund, an important initial step in paying for the State Water Plan and ensuring the state has enough water to meet our population’s needs in the coming decades.

Budget Talks Continue—Indigent Defense Funding Considered — Both the House Appropriations Committee and the Senate Committee on Finance continued to consider testimony on the state’s proposed budget. On Monday, Feb. 11, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Articles I, IV & V heard testimony from the Texas Indigent Defense Commission, including Bell County Judge Jon Burrows, who is a member of the commission, on the agency’s legislative appropriations request.

The 83rd session marks the first time the commission is submitting its own request for appropriations separate from the Office of Court Administration. The request asks the state to provide $135.5 million in state general revenue funds for indigent defense costs. There are presently no general revenue funds appropriated for indigent defense; all funds are derived from dedicated fees and court costs. Additionally, the commission is requesting that the Legislature restore access to all dedicated funds for indigent defense. During the 82nd session, the Legislature removed unexpended balance authority and capped the commission’s appropriation, leaving approximately $18.5 million in the Fair Defense Account that is not available to assist counties. TAC legislative staff prepared an issue brief with additional information about the appropriations request.

Bills Filed — Below is a list of recently filed bills of interest to counties:

HB 956 by Isaac — lowering the decibel level necessary to establish a presumption of unreasonable noise for the offense of disorderly conduct from 85 to 70 if the noise is made in an unincorporated area during the nighttime and emanates from a device that amplifies or projects music or other sound.

HB 986 by Elkins — allowing a voter in an election in which ballots to be voted by mail must be printed in two or more languages other than English to indicate on the application for the ballot the printed language the voter desires for the ballot. 

HB 996 by Giddings — allowing for the electronic delivery of certain documents in a criminal case.

HB 1015 by Guillen — clarifying definitions and strengthening regulations pertaining to the ownership of big cats and primates in counties or municipalities with populations of at least 75,000. Among its provisions, it authorizes an animal control authority, upon an order of seizure, to impound the animal on the same property where the animal was located at the time of seizure, until placement in an accredited zoo, aquarium, wildlife sanctuary, or animal shelter can be made. 

HB 1035 by Huberty — allowing for reports of political contributions and personal financial statements by certain officeholders and candidates to be filed electronically.

HB 1038 by Eiland — mandating DNA testing on all arrests for class B misdemeanors and higher during the fingerprinting and booking process, unless a sample has already been collected.

HB 1059 by Bonnen, Greg — allowing certain individuals (e.g. veterans, persons 65 years and older) an option to begin installment payments on property taxes beginning March 1 instead of the current Jan. 31 deadline.

HB 1112 by Guillen — providing full reimbursement to counties for all qualified expenditures made after exceeding the 8 percent state assistance threshold in the indigent health care program. The current reimbursement rate is 90 percent.

HB 1243 by Hughes — requiring a paper audit trail on DRE (direct recording electronic) voting systems. Creates an exception for systems acquired prior to January 1, 2014 if a voter is given the option of casting a paper ballot instead of using the machine and certain other requirements are met.

SB 368 by Whitmire — providing a sheriff the authority to require a defendant who is serving a sentence of confinement in the county jail to serve all or part of the sentence in an electronic monitoring program or under house arrest, rather than being confined in the county jail. The defendant would be responsible for payment of costs incurred for monitoring and the sheriff would have the authority to set conditions for participation in the program, as well as revoke a defendant’s participation in the program.

SB 393 by West — proposing several changes to the prosecution and disposition of cases relating to juveniles involved with certain school offenses punishable by fine only, including establishing progressive sanctions for certain school offenses committed by a child enrolled in a public school.

SB 449 by Hinojosa — prohibiting the issuance of capital appreciation bonds by local governments, including counties.

SB 452 by Patrick — moving the general primary date from the first Tuesday in March to the first Tuesday in February. The runoff primary election date is moved to the fourth Tuesday in April.

See also SJR 28 by Patrick — extending the one-year and 30 days “safe” period by an additional 30 days, enabling an officer to comply with the new filing deadline that would occur with the passage of SB 452 without automatically resigning from office.  Article XVI, section 65 of the state constitution (known as the resign-to-run provision) forces a vacancy in office of a county officer who becomes a candidate for an office other than the one he or she currently holds when more than one year and 30 days remains on the officer’s current term of office. 

SB 581 by Carona — removing the statutory requirement in Sec. 2257.045 of the Public Funds Collateral Act that the collateral trust receipt be delivered by the custodian to the county treasurer and requiring the public entity to request a list of investment securities pledged rather than receiving trust receipts from the custodian.