Week in Review

The people’s business will now soon commence – Both House and Senate committees began meeting this week, including the Senate Committee on Intergovernmental Relations, which hears a significant proportion of county-related legislation. Most of the meetings were organizational in nature, though a few bills were considered. We can expect committees to start considering bills regularly within the next few weeks.

Update on Budget Hearings – Both the House and Senate continue to hold hearings on the state budget. This past week, the Senate Finance Committee considered appropriations requests relating to the Texas Indigent Defense Commission, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the Commission on State Emergency Communications and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, among other agencies. The committee will continue with budget hearings next week. The Finance Committee’s updated hearing schedule can be viewed here.

The House Committee on Appropriations considered the supplemental appropriations bill, which is necessary to pay for the projected Medicaid funding shortage of about $4.5 billion that was not funded last session. The supplemental appropriations bill, which must pass, should be considered by the full legislature soon. The Appropriations Committee will also continue with budget hearings next week. The latest House Appropriations hearing schedule can be viewed here.

And Now We Are Five – This week, Senate Finance Chairman Tommy Williams (R-The Woodlands) announced the appointment of five senators to the subcommittee chaired by Senator Glenn Hegar (R-Katy), tasked to review state and local revenue matters.  Subcommittee members are Senator Joan Huffman (R-Southside Place), Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville), Senator Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound), and Senator John Whitmire (D-Houston).

School Finance System Ruled Unconstitutional – On Monday, a state district judge declared the state’s school finance system unconstitutional, ruling that the state does not adequately fund public schools. The ruling is expected to be appealed, and the legislature will likely return to address the matter in a special session. However, the timing of that special session if it is called remains unclear.

Transparency Legislation Filed – Comptroller Susan Combs held a joint press conference on Thursday with Lt. Gov. Dewhurst, Sen. Tommy Williams (R-The Woodlands), and Rep. Jim Pitts (R-Waxahachie), among others, to announce the filing of legislation aimed at increasing transparency among local governments.

The bill (HB 14/SB 14) would impose several new requirements on county governments.  It would require all counties to maintain Internet websites for the posting of certain information. It stipulates required ballot language for bond propositions, and requires annual financial reports by political subdivisions, which must contain specified information and be continuously posted on the subdivision’s Internet website. Additionally, the legislation prohibits a county or city, except in a case of grave public necessity to meet an unusual and unforeseen condition, from authorizing a certificate of obligation if a bond proposition to authorize the issuance of bonds for the same purpose was submitted to the voters during the preceding three years and failed to be approved.

The legislation also lowers the threshold by which an election may be called to authorize the issuance of the certificates from five percent of qualified voters of the issuer to five percent of the total number of voters of the issuer that voted in the most recent gubernatorial general election. Moreover, it imposes certain reporting requirements on tax assessor-collectors relating to tax rate information and requires all tax assessor-collectors to maintain an Internet website. TAC legislative staff will be monitoring this legislation closely and will provide additional information as it becomes available.

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

HB 709 by Isaac – providing a technical fix that allows property tax overpayments to be applied to the same property if it is experiencing delinquency. Under current law, that refund can only be applied to a different delinquent property.

HB 777 by White – allowing timber, wood chips or woody biomass haulers an increase in the maximum allowable gross load carried on any tandem axle of the vehicle to 44,000 pounds.

HB 889 by Fallon – requiring a county with a population of 50,000 or more to broadcast regularly scheduled open meetings over the Internet and make available archived video and audio of each meeting. The county can use their existing Internet site.

HB 958 by Orr – lowering the annual interest rate paid to a Texas County and District Retirement System account from 7 percent to 5 percent.

SB 194 by West – directing commissioners court to require subdivisions with 1,000 or more lots to have at least two means of ingress and egress for use by emergency vehicles during evacuations from fire or other natural disasters.

SB 272 by Seliger – directing groundwater conservation districts to require that records be kept and reports be made of wells drilled and the production and use of groundwater. Exceptions to the reporting requirements would be domestic and livestock wells, as well as wells with a capacity of less than 100 gallons per minute and those that produce less than 10 acre feet annually.

SB 300 by Uresti – establishing the transportation infrastructure grant program in the state general revenue fund to be used only to administer a program to make grants to counties for transportation infrastructure projects and directing the comptroller to transfer a portion of state funds received from oil production taxes to the new transportation infrastructure fund.

SJR 24 by Watson – proposing a constitutional amendment prohibiting the diversion of statutorily dedicated revenue.