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

It was a significant week for transportation and water. On Tuesday, the Senate passed a proposed constitutional amendment, SJR 1, which would allocate money from the state’s rainy day fund (RDF) for certain water and transportation infrastructure projects. Specifically, it would allocate $2 billion for the state water implementation fund and $2.9 billion for transportation infrastructure. Additionally, the bill would allocate $800 million from the rainy day fund for public education. The bill now heads to the House. There are several bills in motion that would tap into the rainy day fund to fund infrastructure, but SJR 1 is the first one to depart its chamber of origin. This is also a constitutional amendment, meaning it would require a vote of the people. It also means the bill is not subject to a veto and may not count against the state’s spending cap.

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

Mental Health Check Up. HB 205 by Rep. McClendon, one of the most significant mental health bills filed this session, is on the move and needs your support in the House Calendars Committee for it to be scheduled for floor debate. The bill establishes an advisory panel for planning future state hospital beds and inpatient and outpatient treatment needs. Please contact Calendars Chairman Todd Hunter () or visit the Calendars Committee office to express your support of this bill if you are in town next week for County Government Day. HB 2401 by Rep. McClendon is still pending in the House Public Health Committee, which is chaired by Rep. Kolkhorst. The committee substitute has produced a much lower fiscal note – down to $13.5 million from $137 million! This should be within the reach of the state budget considering federal funding for regional Medicaid 1115 waiver projects are anticipated to be applicable to the expanded outpatient treatment options referenced in the committee substitute.

“Onward!” in Criminal Justice. SB 1522 by Sen. Hegar is the “blue warrant relief” bill that will help alleviate some of the expenses and logistics associated with holding certain parole violators in county jails pending revocation hearings; the bill has been voted favorably from the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice. A similar bill was vetoed by the governor in 2007. The Senate passed SB 1839 by Sen. Whitmire, relating to the detention of certain juvenile offenders. As filed, the bill intended to repeal some of the problematic and unintended consequences that arose from legislation passed last session dealing with housing juveniles certified as adults in county jails. As passed, SB 1839 is better than what is currently in statute regarding sight/sound/staffing requirements but it is not as acceptable to county officials as the “filed” version. The current version requires direct supervision of defendants under the age of 17 at any time “incidental contact” with adult defendants is possible in the jail (this is being interpreted as “double” staffing and will still be a cost driver in jail budgets). The Senate also passed SB 1189 by Sen. Huffman, which provides authority and procedures for law enforcement seizure and disposition of firearms when a person in mental crisis is taken into custody. HB 2442 by Rep. Parker, which reconfigures the board of the Texas Juvenile Justice Department, is scheduled for floor debate on April 30. Commissioners Court representation on this board would go from three seats to one; one chief juvenile probation officer would also remain on the board.

Sure is a bumpy ride. The Senate Finance Subcommittee on Fiscal Matters heard testimony this week on the need for funding county road repair. SB 1778 by Sen. Zaffirini gives counties a new tool for addressing county road damage by establishing a grant program for infrastructure repair and development under the transportation infrastructure fund. A 25 percent cut from the severance tax will be used to fund the program. SB 1780, also by Zaffirini, allows counties and hospital districts to hold an election to determine whether to treat the increase in total taxable value of oil and gas as “new property” value for the purpose of calculating the effective tax rate. In addition, the committee considered SB 1434 by Sen. Hegar, a bill that also allows counties to include the increased value of oil and gas in place in the definition of ��new property” but without the requirement for an election — which allows the effective tax rate to automatically increase proportionately with oil and gas activity. 

Cruising onSJR 1 by Sen. Williams, authorizing money from the rainy day fund for water and transportation, passed the Senate with a floor amendment adding $800 million from the fund to be dedicated for education. Additionally, SB 1747 by Sen. Uresti, creating county energy transportation reinvestment zones, passed the Senate. The Senate adopted an amendment that would require an economically disadvantaged county to provide just 5 percent in matching funds to be eligible for a grant.

E-Filing Bill Advances. The House passed HB 2302 by Rep. Hunter, a bill that 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. The bill also authorizes 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.

Best jury duty excuseI'm psychic so I already know who is guilty — The House Committee on County Affairs heard HB 2518 by Rep. Springer, a bill that reduces the amount a juror will be reimbursed from $40 to $34 for each day or fraction of each day the person is in attendance in court after the first day of service. Also considered was HB 3124 by Rep. Lucio, a bill that allows a commissioners court to adopt a $2 records technology and infrastructure fee. Both bills were left pending.