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

The legislative session is in full swing, with committees meeting regularly and considering legislation. This past week, the House passed HB 10, the emergency supplemental appropriations bill that is necessary to pay for the projected Medicaid funding shortage of about $4.5 billion, which was not funded last session. Several committees held organizational meetings, including the House Committee on Ways and Means and the House Committee on Public Health; and many, including Senate Jurisprudence, considered and voted on bills.

House Passes Medicaid IOU — On Thursday, the House passed HB 10 by Rep. Jim Pitts (R-Waxahachie), the supplemental appropriations bill that will fund the $4.5 billion gap in Medicaid that was unfunded last session. The legislation now moves to the Senate for consideration.

“There is no small pleasure in sweet water.” (Ovid) — This week Senate Natural Resources took up SB 4 by committee chair Sen. Troy Fraser (R-Horseshoe Bay). The bill creates the state water implementation fund (designed to begin the process of funding the state water plan) along with an advisory committee, and restructures the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) into a three-member, full-time board. It also makes other changes to the administration and functions of the TWDB. The bill remains pending in the committee.
The House Natural Resources Committee took up HB 4 by Committee Chair Rep. Allen Ritter (R-Nederland). This bill also creates the state water implementation fund and its advisory committee but does not make the changes to TWDB’s structure, administration and functions. It, too, remains pending in committee.

Put some teeth into it — Senate Intergovernmental Affairs and House County Affairs committees have posted their hearing schedules for next week. Senate Intergovernmental Affairs will take up SB 170 by Senator Royce West (D-Dallas) at its Wednesday meeting and House County Affairs will take up is companion, HB 761 by Rep. Marissa Marquez (D-El Paso), at its meeting on Thursday. These bills would put needed enforcement authority into the county residential inspection authority in Chapter 233, Local Government Code. The bills accomplish this by authorizing counties to require a certificate of compliance prior to issuing a certificate to connect utility services.

State of Mental Health Discussed — On Wednesday, the House Committee on Public Health, chaired by Rep. Kolkhorst (R-Brenham), heard testimony from the Department of State Health Services about the public health issues it oversees. The agency provided an Overview of the Public Mental Health System in the state. On behalf of the Sheriffs’ Association of Texas, Limestone County Sheriff Dennis Wilson provided invited testimony on mental health issues and their affect on local law enforcement and county jails.

County Officials Testify on County Matters — The House Committee on County Affairs held another organizational meeting on Thursday and heard testimony on several issues under its jurisdiction, including matters relating to county jails and transportation. Dewitt County Judge Daryl Fowler provided testimony on the road damage created by oil and gas production, while Gregg County Sheriff Maxey Cerliano provided testimony on issues related to jail populations, mental health and minimum jail standards. Also providing testimony on behalf of The Texas Association of Regional Councils of Government was Angelina County Judge Wes Suiter, who discussed the various roles the councils of government play in Texas.

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

HB 1118 by Davis, Yvonne — requiring original paper records in a proceeding before a court.  In the district clerk’s adopted plan for the preservation of records, the plan must require all original paper documents in a case be retained by the clerk pending the final disposition of all proceedings in the case.

HB 1236 by Price — prohibiting deferred adjudication community supervision for defendants charged with felony offenses committed against children, elderly or disabled individuals.

HB 1242 by Geren — authorizing a judge to impose a series of progressive jail-time sanctions for probation violations.

HB 1266 by Guillen — establishing an 18-member task force to review the policies and practices of placing adults and juveniles in administrative segregation while incarcerated. 

HB 1326 by Lewis — increasing the maximum district court records archive fee that a commissioners court can adopt from $5 to not more than $40. 

HB 1327 by Lewis — increasing the maximum records management and preservation fee and the maximum records archive fee that can be set and collected from $5 to not more than $10. 

HB 1336 by Keffer — creating the Transportation Infrastructure Grant Program, which is partly funded by $1.4 billion from the Rainy Day Fund, for transportation infrastructure projects including construction, reconstruction or maintenance of transportation infrastructure intended to alleviate damage caused by the exploration, development or production of oil and gas. The program will be administered by the Texas Department of Transportation, which will make grants available for state and county roads affected in areas of increased energy production. Criteria for the distribution of funds will be based on a few factors, including proportionality to the number of oil and gas well completions performed in that county during the previous two years.

HB 1371/HJR 88 by Munoz — expanding the definition of disabled for the purposes of exemption from ad valorem taxation on the residence homestead to include being diagnosed as having cancer, diabetes, multiple sclerosis or epilepsy.

HB 1435 by Darby — relating to certain notices, reports and descriptions provided by or filed with court and county clerks. This is an omnibus bill supported by the County and District Clerks Association.

HB 1447 by Button — requiring governmental entities to register and participate in the federal electronic verification E-verify program to verify information, including work authorization status, of all new employees. An employee of a governmental entity who is responsible for verifying information of new employees as required by law is subject to immediate termination if the employee fails to comply.

HB 1448 by Kuempel — adding continuing education and training for constables and the purchase and maintenance of technological enhancements for constables to the list of allowable expenditures for the justice court technology fund.

HB 1513 by Lewis — authorizing a commissioners court to increase the district court records archive fee to not more than $10.  In addition, the bill authorizes the county clerk to increase the records management and preservation fee and the records archive fee to not more than $10.

SB 462 by Huffman — requiring specialty courts, including drug, mental health and veterans courts, to comply with all programmatic best practices adopted by the criminal justice division of the governor’s office and report any information required by the division regarding the performance of the program. A specialty court may not operate until written notice of the program is provided to the governor’s criminal justice division. Additionally, a specialty court that fails to comply with these requirements is not eligible to receive any state or federal grant funds administered by a state agency.

SB 484 by Whitmire — requiring a commissioners court in a county with a population of more than 200,000 to establish a prostitution prevention program for defendants charged with a prostitution offense under certain circumstances. It authorizes certain fees that may be collected from participants in the program and makes the authority to establish the program permissive in counties with populations of 200,000 or less.

SB 592 by Ellis — establishing maximum caseloads for attorneys appointed as counsel for indigent defendants in criminal cases and requiring counties to provide statistics and other certain information that describe the caseloads of attorneys appointed for indigent defendants to the Texas Indigent Defense Commission.

SB 596 by Birdwell — altering the licensing procedure for an original mixed beverage permit that would otherwise be conducted by the State Office of Administrative Hearings to be conducted by the county judge if a person protesting the issuance of the permit makes a written request to the commission requesting the hearing be conducted by the county judge. 

SB 692 by Carona — allowing certain county officers, county employees, or candidates for county office to file financial disclosure statements by electronic mail.