This week's virtual breakfast meeting opened and closed over the course of a brisk 20 minutes — unlike last week's House State Affairs Committee hearing, which ended around 5 a.m. March 26, after 21 hours of testimony! House Bill 749, which would prohibit counties, cities and school districts from using public money to advocate for their interests at the Legislature, was among the two dozen bills State Affairs considered.
The committee didn't take up HB 749, filed by Rep. Mayes Middleton (R-Wallisville), until about 1 a.m. While some of the 72 witnesses registered to testify on the bill had already departed, testimony from the remaining witnesses went on until 5 a.m. at which time public testimony was closed and the bill was left pending. Noe Barrios, TAC's Director of Legislative Services, thanked the county officials who showed up for the hearing and stayed for its duration to voice their perspective on HB 749. Jim Allison, General Counsel for the County Judges and Commissioners Association of Texas, joined Barrios in thanking officials for their endurance.
Allison’s prediction that the Senate’s version of HB 749, Senate Bill 10 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), will soon be posted for a hearing proved prescient as the Senate Committee on Local Government will consider Senate Bill 10 on April 6. Allison called on county officials to keep reaching out to their state representatives and senators. Allison stated that when SB 10 comes up for a hearing, "I hope we don't have to pull another all-nighter, but we'll do it if we need to."
A few other highlights from Tuesday's meeting:
The House State Affairs Committee and the Senate Transportation Committee have signed off on two broadband internet expansion bills under consideration, HB 5 by Rep. Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin) and SB 5 by Sen. Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville). SB 5 has been placed on the Senate's intent calendar and will likely soon be considered by the full chamber. SB 5 would establish a State Broadband Development Office attached to the University of Texas System, while HB 5 would create a Broadband Development Office under the control of the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts.
Drama surrounded hearings on election bills last week. After a parliamentary maneuver forced a four-day delay, the Senate State Affairs Committee passed SB 7 by Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) on March 26. SB 7 would require a voter verifiable paper audit trail on all electronic voting machines by 2026, among other changes. It was placed on the Senate's intent calendar on Tuesday. On the House side, the Elections Committee’s hearing on HB 6 by Rep. Briscoe Cain (R-Deer Park) was derailed by a rules misstep and rescheduled to today, April 1. The County and District Clerks' Association of Texas is watching a passel of election bills closely; many of them would impose significant unfunded mandates on county governments.
Intense interest remains focused on the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, which includes $5.6 billion in direct, flexible aid for Texas counties. The National Association of Counties (NACo) has created an online clearinghouse of information to help counties understand what's in the plan. NACo is also inviting counties to take a survey to help the federal government finalize the plan's rules.
What happens at the Texas Capitol affects Texas counties. Stay up to date by joining TAC's virtual Tuesday Morning Breakfasts each week at 7:30 a.m.
Please register for the next breakfast on Tuesday, April 6, by 5 p.m. Monday, April 5. Login instructions will be sent with confirmation of your registration.
Please contact Amy Ruedas at AmyR@county.org or (800) 456-5974 with any questions about the breakfast meetings. And stay up to date with the latest from TAC Legislative Services by visiting www.county.org/legislative.