It was an eventful week at the Capitol, as Tuesday, Jan. 8 marked the first day of the 86th Legislative Session. The House elected a new speaker for the first time since 2009. Both chambers adopted the rules that will govern how they operate. And Comptroller Glenn Hegar projected that the Legislature would have $9 billion more—that’s an additional 8.1 percent—in state revenue available for the next budget.
From now until the end of the regular session, TAC legislative staff will report weekly on the highlights of what’s happening (and not happening) at the Capitol, as well as what we can expect in the weeks ahead regarding all matters important to county government. Stay tuned.
“We’re Baaaack!” - The Texas Legislature gaveled in this week getting off to an interesting start. The Texas Senate convened with one prominent person missing - Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. As it turns out, the lieutenant governor was summoned to Washington D.C. by President Donald Trump, leaving the opening day ceremonies to be run by Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound). At the time, there was speculation regarding the purpose of Patrick’s trip, leaving many to believe he would get a presidential appointment. It now appears that is not the case. “The lieutenant governor’s job is the best job in politics and I'm not going anywhere," Patrick said.
Moving to the west side of the building, there was an important change in leadership. The Texas House unanimously elected Rep. Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton) as its first new speaker in 10 years. Speaker Bonnen, who was first elected to the House in 1997 at the age of 24, has served in many different roles while in the Legislature. Those roles include Speaker Pro Tempore, chair of House Ways and Means, chair of Environmental Regulation and chair of the Sunset Commission. Bonnen now faces the difficult task of assigning members of the House to committees. There is much speculation about when those assignments will be released. We will all be watching and waiting to see how it all unfolds.
The “Big Three” Pledge to Tackle School Finance and Property Tax Reform – This week, Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Speaker Dennis Bonnen held a joint press conference to display a united front and discuss their plans to work together on a number of shared priorities this session. All three highlighted property tax reform and school finance reform as their priority issues. Gov. Abbott also discussed addressing disaster relief and school violence as other significant priorities. We’ll learn more about how those issues take shape over these next five months of the session.
Comptroller Releases Revenue Estimate for the Next Budget Cycle – On Jan. 7, Comptroller Glenn Hegar released the biennial revenue estimate, projecting that the Legislature would have about $119.1 billion in state funds available to spend for the 2020-2021 budget. This is about 8 percent more in funds than was available during the last budget cycle.
Hegar noted that the revenue increase is due in large part to the healthy economy and increased sales tax collections. The comptroller also noted, however, that the strong rate of growth may be affected by the recent decline in oil prices and other economic uncertainties.
While the Legislature will have more funds to work with this session, it also faces significant costs, such as those relating to Hurricane Harvey, health care and school finance.
House and Senate Rules Adopted – Both the House and Senate adopted their rules, which will guide the legislative process throughout the session. The adopted Senate rules are largely unchanged. However, the rules do call for the creation of two new committees. The Senate will now have a Committee on Property Tax, which will include five members, as well as a Committee on Water and Rural Affairs. The former Committee on Agriculture, Water, and Rural Affairs has been renamed the Committee on Agriculture.
The adopted House rules included a few revisions, including altering the number of members on numerous committees and making some committee jurisdictional changes.
The leaders of the House and Senate have not yet announced committee appointments.
Helpful Tracking Links for Legislation
- County Bills by Office as tracked by the Texas Association of Counties.
- Senate and House committee postings are available on Texas Legislature Online.
- MyTLO section of Texas Legislature Online – use it to create customized alerts for specific committee meetings or to track specific bills.