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

As temperatures climb and spring blossoms, the 87th Legislature’s work continues to pick up speed, if it's not yet at full sprint. This week saw the House Appropriations Committee complete its work on the state budget, partake in a robust debate on firearm carry without permit, examine the issue of gender and sport in public schools, and hold a divided vote in the Senate on the much-discussed legislation to limit local government communication with the Legislature.

April 16, 2021

Legislative News

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As temperatures climb and spring blossoms, the 87th Legislature’s work continues to pick up speed, if it's not yet at full sprint. This week saw the House Appropriations Committee complete its work on the state budget, partake in a robust debate on firearm carry without permit, examine the issue of gender and sport in public schools, and hold a divided vote in the Senate on the much-discussed legislation to limit local government communication with the Legislature. With legislative work ongoing to prevent future power outages, Texans were dealt a shock when ERCOT issued a conservation call amidst mild spring temperatures. Luckily rolling blackouts did not ensue, but it certainly served as a reminder of just how important it is that we enhance reserve margins and emergency operations.

American Rescue Plan Pre-Award Guidance from Treasury

Thursday night, the US Treasury Department released its pre-award requirements for counties to receive the direct payment of funds guaranteed under the American Rescue Plan. Additional guidance on acceptable use and reporting requirements is expected by the end of April.

Of note, all federal financial assistance recipients must have a Data Universal Numbering System (DUNS) number and an active registration with the System for Award Management (SAM) database at SAM.gov. Accordingly, all eligible entities receiving direct payment from Treasury under the State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds Program will need a DUNS number and an active SAM registration to receive payment. The DUNS and SAM registration process may take several business days to complete. Treasury recommends that counties begin those registration processes if they have not already completed them.

As soon as possible, counties should:

  1. Ensure the county has a valid DUNS number. A DUNS number is a unique nine-character number used to identify an organization and is issued by Dun & Bradstreet. A DUNS number is required prior to registering with the SAM database, which is outlined below. Registering for a DUNS number is free of charge. Click here or call 1-866-705-5711 to begin the registration process.
  2. Ensure the county has an active SAM registration. SAM is the official government-wide database to register with in order to do business with the U.S. government. All federal financial assistance recipients must register on SAM.gov and renew their SAM registration annually to maintain an active status to be eligible to receive federal financial assistance. There is no charge to register or maintain your entity SAM registration. Please note that SAM registration can take up to three weeks; delay in registering in SAM could impact timely payment of funds. An overview of the SAM registration can be found here.
  3. Gather county payment information, including: Entity Identification Number (EIN), name, and contact information, the name and title of an authorized representative of the entity, and financial institution information.

County funding level estimates can be found here. The Texas Association of Counties will provide updates as they become available. Be sure to check our new American Rescue Plan resource webpage.

County Affairs

The House Committee on County Affairs, chaired by Rep. Garnet Coleman (D-Houston), held a hearing Thursday to hear testimony on important county related bills including the committee substitute to House Bill 2244, CSHB 2244 by Rep. Terry Wilson (R- Marble Falls), which reduces the percentage to 18 percent of judicial functions to qualify for the state salary supplement for constitutional county judges. Wichita County Judge Woodrow Gossom testified in support. Also heard was House Bill 4354 by Coleman that sets minimum standards for the provision of prescription medications to persons in the county jail and directs the Texas Commission on Jail Standards to issue rules managing the program. 

Constable Carlos Lopez (Precinct 5, Travis County) testified in opposition to House Bill 2329 by Rep. David Cook (R-Arlington) on behalf of the Justices of the Peace and Constables Association of Texas. The bill would change the qualifications required to hold the office of the constable.

House Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence

On Wednesday, April 14 the House Committee on Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence met for a public hearing. Judge Nicholas Chu, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 5, Travis County, testified in support of House Bill 2714 by Rep. Ana Hernandez (D-Houston) on behalf of the Justices of the Peace and Constables Association of Texas (JPCA). The bill would require certain judges, judicial officers and court personnel to complete implicit bias training regarding racial, ethnic, gender, religious, age, mental disability, and physical disability and sexual harassment issues. Chu also testified for JPCA in support of House Bill 3611 by Chairman Jeff Leach (R-Plano), relating to remotely conducting court proceedings. Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) filed the companion, Senate Bill 690.


The House Elections Committee met on Thursday, April 15 to take up 12 bills, including House Bill 3970 by Rep. Cody Vasut (R-Angleton), which alters procedures for early voting mail ballots and for counting the mail ballots. The bill gives poll watchers the authority to observe the acceptance of early voting ballots voted by mail, including the work of the early voting ballot board and the signature verification committee. House Bill HB 895 by Rep. Valoree Swanson (R-Spring) gives the election officer authority to photograph the voter’s entire face if there is a question on the authenticity of documentation presented by the voter. The voter may not be photographed while occupying a voting station. In addition, House Bill 3999 by Rep. Jacey Jetton (R-Sugar Land) gives the alternate presiding judge more authority in the polling place. House Bill HB 740 by Rep. Art Fierro (R-El Paso) allows for rank choice voting in run-off elections for certain voters voting by mail.

Heather Hawthorne, Chambers County Clerk, representing the County and District Clerks’ Association of Texas, and Chris Davis, Williamson County Election Administrator, representing the Texas Association of Election Administrators, testified on various bills heard in committee.

Disaster Related Bills

On Wednesday, the House State Affairs Committee met to discuss a full agenda of legislation. House Bill 1656  by Rep. Jim Murphy (R- Houston) relates to certain orders, proclamations, and regulations issued in response to a disaster by the governor or the presiding officer of the governing body of a political subdivision. The author stated the bill clarifies that, during a declared disaster, a gubernatorial executive order will supersede local disaster orders and will add clarity to the governor’s authority under the Emergency Powers Act. There was discussion among committee members that the bill should include some allowances for localized disasters, include thresholds for what is considered a disaster and regarding the scope of the definition of “emergency.” HB 1656 was left pending in committee.

On Tuesday in the upper chamber, the Senate discussed disaster related legislation by Sen. Brian Birdwell (R- Granbury). Senate Bill 1025 addresses the authority of the Legislature and the governor with respect to certain disaster or emergency declarations. It would require the governor to call the Legislature into special session to declare a statewide emergency that lasts more than 30 days. In 2020, Governor Abbott addressed the pandemic under the Texas Disaster Act of 1975. Under SB 1025, in a special called session, the Legislature would be able to terminate or adjust executive actions taken by the governor, or pass new laws related to the current disaster or emergency.

The bill stipulates that the Legislature may only exercise authority regarding the operation of businesses in each county impacted by the disaster after consultation with the county judge. As amended, SB 1025 passed to engrossment on a vote of 30-1 and has been received in the House. If passed by the House, SB 1025 would require approval of the constitutional amendment, SJR 45, by Texas voters on Nov. 2 for it to take effect.

House Appropriations Committee Approves Substitute for Senate Bill 1

The House Appropriations Committee adopted its substitute for Senate Bill 1, as engrossed, on Monday. The budget totals $246.8 billion in All Funds, a decrease of $18.0 billion or 6.8 percent compared to 2020-21 spending levels, and $124.2 billion in General Revenue and General Revenue-Dedicated Funds, an increase of $2.7 billion or 2.2 percent compared to 2020-21 spending levels. Funding from General Revenue Funds in the House CSSB 1 is $0.4 billion less than the “pay-as-you-go” limit, based on the 2021 Biennial Revenue Estimate from the Comptroller of Public Accounts. This calculation includes an estimated $5.7 billion in 2020-21 biennial savings, contingent on the passage of the Committee Substitute for House Bill 2 and realization of anticipated fiscal year 2020 lapses in General Revenue appropriations. For more on the Committee Substitute for House Bill 2, the supplemental appropriations bill for the two-year budget that ends August 31, 2021, see this Legislative Budget Board document.

Like the Senate budget, the House version of SB 1, approved on Monday, does not include any funds from the $1.9 trillion stimulus package approved by Congress in early March. Nor does the House budget include any appropriations from the Economic Stabilization Fund (ESF). Instead, Chair Bonnen’s committee appropriates $876.3 million out of the ESF in the House Committee Substitute for HB 2; these ESF funds will be used for purposes including completion of construction of replacement campuses at Austin State Hospital and San Antonio State Hospital, continued implementation of the State Flood Plan and to provide grants for county courthouse restorations and emergency projects.

In closing the Appropriations Committee hearing, Chair Bonnen indicated that the House Committee Substitute for SB 1 would be taken up on the House Floor on Thursday, April 22. Unlike its Senate counterpart, the House accepts floor amendments to the general appropriations bill. The deadline for pre-filed floor amendments is Tuesday, April 19. As has been the practice in the last several sessions, the “put and take” rule will be in effect – meaning no additional spending out of General Revenue or General Revenue-Dedicated funds may be made without an offsetting reduction.

For details on funding for items of interest to counties in the House Committee Substitute for Senate Bill 1, see this worksheet. A summary is available from the Legislative Budget Board.

13-Term Congressman Kevin Brady to Retire

US Representative Kevin Brady (TX-8) will retire after more than 26 years in Congress. Brady’s retirements could mean a scramble among Texas House and Senate members to fill a solidly Republican seat. Texas’ 8th Congressional District is made up of Grimes, Houston, Leon (part), Madison, Montgomery, San Jacinto, Trinity and Walker counties. State Representatives with districts that are wholly or partially within the Texas 8th are Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin), Ben Leman (R-Iola), Steve Toth (R-The Woodlands), Will Metcalf (R-Conroe), Cecil Bell (R-Forney) and Ernest Bailes (R-Shepherd). State Senators wholly or partially within the 8th are Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown), Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville) and Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe).