The Week Behind Us – The 86th regular legislative session is drawing to a close with the Legislature scheduled to adjourn sine die on Monday, May 27. This week included a flurry of activity, as both chambers met late into the evening to pass legislation before their respective deadlines. Over the next couple of days, bills that were amended in the opposite chamber will either be approved as amended or negotiated in a conference committee.
The Big 3 (Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Speaker Dennis Bonnen) announced that a compromise has been reached on their top priorities: the state budget (HB 1), property taxes (SB 2) and school finance reform (HB 3). Additionally, an array of significant county bills are advancing or are on their way to the governor's desk, including the bill that would repeal the Driver Responsibility Program, disaster reform and flood mitigation bills, as well as mental health reforms.
This edition marks the last of our weekly County Issues newsletters for the legislative session. However, we will have another edition after the legislative session concludes to highlight some of the significant bills that passed (or didn't pass), and what may have been vetoed by the governor. Gov. Abbott has until June 16 to veto any legislation. A big thanks to all the county officials who were able to engage their legislators this session on matters important to you and your counties. While it was a challenging session, your engagement was critical in delivering the county message at the capitol and remaining 254 strong.
Property Tax and School Finance Update – Gov. Abbott, Lt. Gov. Patrick, and Speaker Bonnen held a press conference at the Governor's Mansion on May 23 to declare the Legislature had reached agreements on the budget (HB 1), the property tax bill (SB 2), and comprehensive school finance reform (HB 3). Gov. Abbott shared that the details associated with each of the bills are still being finalized, but conference committee reports should be released soon.
Patrick indicated that the compromise on SB 2 would limit counties to a 3.5 percent revenue cap; additional details about the bill are forthcoming. HB 3 (school finance reform) represents a significant overhaul of the state's investment in public school finance with estimates ranging from $9 billion to as high as $12 billion. The bill would make changes to the formulas funding public schools, provide incentive pay for proven outcomes, includes pay raises for teachers and contains property tax compression to lessen a property owner's tax obligation.
Speaker Bonnen noted that the compromise language in HB 3 reflects a property tax compression between 8 and 13 cents, will provide additional compensation for teachers, librarians and nurses, and will significantly reduce recapture – the funds a school district must send to the state. Additional information on HB 3 is available in this document, which was distributed at the press conference. The final version of the bill is expected to be made public May 24.
State Budget Update – The Legislature is close to finalizing HB 1, the state budget for the 2020-21 biennium. Additional information on the budget, including highlights on items of interest to counties, is available in our state budget update article.
Bill Repealing Driver Responsibility Program Heads to Governor – HB 2048 by Rep. John Zerwas (R-Richmond), which repeals the onerous Driver Responsibility Program, has passed both chambers and is headed to the governor's desk. The bill eliminates program surcharges assessed on drivers convicted of certain offenses and replaces lost revenue with increases in certain fees and fines so there is no impact to funding for trauma centers.
Disaster Relief, Response and Recovery Bills Reaching the Finish Line - As one of Gov. Abbott's emergency items for the 86th legislative session, Hurricane Harvey related legislation is reaching the finish line. Many different bills were filed for disaster relief, disaster planning prior to the next big storm, and recovery and resilience efforts for faster recovery within communities.
The high priority and low numbered bill package was drafted from policy recommendations made by the Governor's Commission to Rebuild Texas. The bills address all facets of disaster response and recovery, including the development of a disaster recovery task force to assist with financial issues, resiliency planning, eliminating red tape by maintaining a standing list of regulatory waivers needed during a disaster, pre-approved contracts for debris removal and coordinating the availability and construction of short-term and long-term housing, among many other much needed items.
Other legislation creates catastrophic debris management plans with contracting standards and also upgrades training and credentials for emergency management coordinators for larger counties. While some of the House and Senate bills are on their way to the governor's desk and other legislation is pending final action, all have the common goal of helping local communities respond more quickly because of improved recovery processes. A comprehensive list of Harvey-related bills passed will be available once the legislative session has been completed.
Flood Infrastructure Fund Bill Passes – SB 7 by Sen. Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe), which creates the Flood Infrastructure Fund, has passed both chambers and is headed to the governor. The fund will be administered by the Texas Water Development Board to make loans to political subdivisions — including counties— for flood projects, as well as loans for planning and design costs, permitting costs, and other costs associated with state or federal regulatory activities related to a flood project. The fund will also be used to provide grants to political subdivisions to provide matching funds for participation in a federal program for a flood project.
The fund consists of legislative appropriations, general obligation bond proceeds, dedicated fees, loan repayments, interest, gifts, grants and other sources. The primary source of funding will be $3.26 billion from the Economic Stabilization Fund. The effective date of the bill is Jan. 1, 2020, but only if HJR 4, providing for the creation of the Flood Infrastructure Fund, is approved by voters in the November 2019 general election.
Priority Mental Health Bill Finds a Path Forward – A priority mental health bill, SB 10 by Senate Finance Chair Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) and sponsored by House Appropriations Chair John Zerwas (R-Richmond), was revived this week after being “killed” on a technical “point of order” raised by Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford).
SB 10 is a critical bill for state leadership in addressing school shootings after the devastating Sante Fe High School shooting last year. The bill tackles this issue by creating a Mental Health Care Consortium to address urgent mental health challenges and improve the mental health care system in Texas. The consortium is made up of thirteen health-related institutes of higher education, the Health and Human Services Commission, non-profits, and leaves room for any other organizations the executive committee of the consortium considers necessary. This bill could be a great opportunity for counties to have a voice regarding their mental health needs.
Fortunately, SB 10 was added to SB 11, an omnibus school safety bill. The bill was added due to a procedural move by Rep. Greg Bonnen (R-Friendswood) in which he made a motion to reconsider his school safety bill so that the mental health bill could be amended to it. SB 11 now heads to a conference committee.
Additional Mental Health Legislation – The Legislature passed HB 601 by Rep. Four Price (R-Amarillo), relating to procedures and reporting requirements regarding criminal defendants who are or may be persons with a mental illness or an intellectual disability. The bill requires interviews and the collection of information by local mental health personnel of defendants regarding the potential mental illness or intellectual disability of a defendant. Magistrates would be provided with a written report of the interview and the information collected. The commissioners court would be authorized to adopt a fee schedule for the services of the authority that conducts the interview, and the authority would be allowed to request that a magistrate determine the amount for reimbursement. The report would replace the assessment of defendants currently required.
Another requirement would add certain services alongside treatment. Judges would be authorized to require a defendant to submit to certain mental health treatment or services if the defendant's ability to function independently will continue to deteriorate if the defendant does not receive the recommended treatment or services as a condition of release on a mental health bond.
An amendment added CSSB 562 by Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) to the bill. The amendment requires a county that transfers a defendant to the Department of Criminal Justice to deliver the written report of the interview and information collected required by this bill. The definition of forensic patient is amended to include persons with intellectual disabilities. Also, the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) would be required to transfer a defendant from a maximum security unit to a non-maximum security unit if a review board determines the defendant is not manifestly dangerous. A court would be required to hold a hearing to determine whether release from the facility or program is appropriate upon receiving notice from the head of a facility or outpatient treatment provider of intent to release the defendant.
The bill now heads to the governor.
Helpful Tracking Links for Legislation
- County Bills by Office as tracked by the Texas Association of Counties.
- MyTLO section of Texas Legislature Online – use it to create customized alerts for specific committee meetings or to track specific bills.