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

Monday, March 18, was the 70th day of the legislative session — the official halfway point until sine die. On Wednesday, the Senate passed its version of the state budget. The House Committee on Appropriations also passed its own version of the budget, with the full House expected to consider the budget soon before the appropriations bill heads to a conference committee.

Here’s a recap of what happened in both the House and Senate this past week on some significant county-related bills:

Fiscal Transparency Legislation ConsideredHB 14 by Pitts and its companion, SB 14 by Williams, were heard this week in subcommittees of the House Appropriations Committee and the Senate Finance Committee. These bills would impact many areas of county government. Among several provisions, the bills would require counties to maintain and post certain information on a website, change financial reporting requirements and change debt election procedures and associated ballot language. They garnered a great deal of testimony in opposition from both county and city officials. Both of the bills were left pending. For additional information on the legislation, click here.

Transportation Financing Alternative Moves Out of CommitteeHB 1290 by Phillips was voted out of the House Committee on Transportation this week. The bill would allow cities and counties with designated transportation reinvestment zones to enter into an agreement to provide for the joint administration of two or more adjacent transportation reinvestment zones. The committee substitute approved by the committee added some clarifying language. County government representatives supported the bill.

Freeze! You’re under care.  Bill Would Allow Handguns for EMTs and FirefightersHB 1531 by King of Hemphill was heard in the House Committee on Homeland Security and Public Safety. The bill would enable firefighters and emergency service personnel in counties under a population of 50,000 to carry a concealed handgun on duty. The bill was left pending.

Not in my mamma’s backyard! Halfway House Regulation Considered — The House Committee on County Affairs considered HB 691 by Phillips, which would allow counties to regulate the location of halfway houses in the unincorporated area of the county. The bill allows the county to require the halfway house to obtain a permit and charge a fee for processing the application. The bill was left pending. Also heard in committee was HB 1537 by Deshotel, which would allow counties to regulate new residential housing in the unincorporated area of the county. The bill was also left pending.

Juvenile Justice reform is still at the top of legislators’ minds as HB 2443 by Parker was considered by the House Committee on Corrections. The bill would reconfigure the board membership of the Texas Juvenile Justice Department from 13 members to seven. In doing so, commissioners court representatives are reduced from three seats to one. That one seat would be designated to either a commissioners court representative or a juvenile court prosecutor or a district juvenile court judge. In essence, the elected county commissioners court policy makers who are responsible for funding the majority of the juvenile probation department budgets (approximately 70 percent statewide) could end up with no representation on the board and no voice in the state and local process. Additionally, there would be fewer juvenile probation chiefs. Brown County Judge Ray West and Johnson County Judge Roger Harmon testified on the bill and encouraged the committee to ensure that commissioner court representatives remain on the board. The bill was left pending with substitute language anticipated.

Efforts to expand the DNA database are back this session — Three such bills were heard this week. HB 1038 by Eiland would require the collection of DNA samples upon arrest for any offense punishable as a Class B misdemeanor or higher during the fingerprinting and booking process. Chambers County Sheriff Brian Hawthorne and District Attorney Cheryl Lieck, along with Jackson County Sheriff A.J. Louderback, testified in favor of the bill as a law enforcement tool for solving cold case crimes. HB 1038 was filed because a Texas cold case of a murdered child was solved years later by a DNA sample provided upon an arrest in Louisiana. The bill was left pending in committee. Also heard this week were SB 767 by Patrick and HB 1063 by Hernandez-Luna, which would require the collection of DNA samples from defendants upon conviction or after being placed on deferred adjudication for Class B misdemeanor or higher offenses. Both bills were left pending.

Tax Assessors Education Bill Heard — The Senate Finance Subcommittee on Fiscal Matters heard SB 546 by Williams. The bill seeks to improve the continuing education structure for tax assessor-collectors and received favorable testimony. The bill was left pending in committee.

Bills Would Fund E-Filing in Courts — The Senate Committee on Jurisprudence considered two bills that would authorize fees to implement electronic filing in district and county courts, which was recently mandated by the Texas Supreme Court. The committee heard SB 1146 by West, which would authorize certain electronic filing fees and court costs for deposit in a statewide electronic filing system fund. The funds would be appropriated to the Office of Court Administration to support a statewide electronic filing technology project for courts, as well as provide grants to counties to implement components of the project. Additionally, the committee considered SB 1147 by West, which would authorize a local government that uses the electronic filing system for court documents to charge a $2 fee for each electronic filing transaction if certain criteria are met. Both bills were left pending.

It’s On Its Feet and Moving. Residential Inspection Bill Voted Out—The Senate Committee on Intergovernmental Relations voted out a committee substitute for SB 170 by West, which puts some much-needed teeth in the residential construction inspection authority counties may exercise.

The Week Ahead

Revenue Cap Legislation To Be Considered on Monday —The Senate Finance Subcommittee on Fiscal Matters is scheduled to consider two restrictive revenue cap bills, SB 102 by Patrick and SB 144 by Williams, on Monday, March 25. For additional information about these bills, please read this article.

Overweight Timber Truck Bill Set for Tuesday — On Tuesday, March 26, the House Committee on Transportation will consider HB 777 by White, allowing timber, wood chips or woody biomass haulers and increase in the maximum allowable gross load carried on any tandem axle of the vehicle to 44,000 pounds.  A committee substitute is expected.