At the close of today’s proceedings, 81 days will have elapsed in the legislative session. That leaves just 59 days for the 87th Texas Legislature to complete its business. With 7,000 bills and joint resolutions before them, lawmakers will be working overtime to advance their priorities with an eye toward May 31 or “Sine Die,” the constitutionally mandated end to the 140-day session.
This week’s actions included continued efforts to respond to Winter Storm Uri; institute election reforms; modify gubernatorial authority in disaster response; further restrict abortions; consider the George Floyd Act and other policing reforms; and prohibit the use of public funds for direct or association employment of a lobbyist – and those are just the high points. Read on to see more issues of interest to county officials.
Senate Local Government sets SB 10
Senate Bill 10 by Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) would prevent counties and cities from using public funds to communicate with the legislature. The bill has been set for a hearing in the Senate Committee on Local Government on April 6. Senate Bill 10 is similar to House Bill 749, heard last week by House State Affairs.
County Affairs Update
The House Committee on County Affairs, chaired by Rep. Garnet Coleman (D-Houston), is holding a hearing today to hear testimony on legislation important to counties. The first of note is House Bill 639 by Rep. James White (R-Hillister), which allows an emergency service district to contract with state or local government to provide public health services and charge a reasonable fee. The companion is Senate Bill 1337 by Sen. Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown).
Another that bears mentioning is House Bill 765, by Rep. DeWayne Burns (R-Cleburne), which lowers the minimum required population from 239,000 to 150,000 in Sec. 318.021, Local Gov. Code, allowing commissioners courts in five additional counties to appropriate money to a historical foundation or organization for the purposes of purchasing, constructing, restoring, preserving, maintaining or reconstructing historical landmarks, buildings and furnishings that are significant to the county. House Bill 1756, also by Rep. Burns is almost identical to HB 765 but completely removes the bracket, extending this option to all counties. The companion to HB 1756 is Senate Bill 1542 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston).
The committee is also hearing two bills important to the County and District Clerks' Association of Texas. House Bill 2414 by Rep. Yvonne Davis (D-Dallas), requires a person filing a document in person to be recorded in the county property records to present a photo identification to the county clerk. House Bill 3415 by Rep. Craig Goldman (R-Fort Worth), gives the county clerk in a county of 800,000 population or more the discretion to request a photo identification from a person filing an instrument in person to be recorded in the county property records.
Lynn Holt, justice of the peace for Bandera County’s precinct 3, is testifying in support of House Bill 2430 by Rep. Andrew Murr (R-Junction) on behalf of the Justices of the Peace and Constables Association of Texas (JPCA).
The bill grants authority to a commissioners court to reimburse mileage expenses for a justice of the peace that is filling in as a temporary justice of the peace for another precinct in the same county.
The House Elections Committee met on Thursday and heard testimony on House Bill 6 by Rep. Briscoe Cain (R-Deer Park), which had been left pending in committee last week. The bill addresses election integrity, providing measures to prevent voting fraud and criminal penalties. In addition, House Bill 1300 by Rep. Ryan Guillen (D-Rio Grande City) allows a child under 18 years of age to accompany his or her parent into the voting station and assist the adult to read and mark the ballot at the direction of the parent. House Bill 3269 by Rep. Candy Noble (R-Collin) requires that a mail-in ballot, once sent to the voter, be returned before the voter is allowed to vote in person. The early voting clerk shall submit each request for cancellation to the early voting ballot board to ensure a canceled ballot is not counted.
Eviction Moratorium Extended
On Monday, the Center for Disease Control renews its federal moratorium order on evictions until June 30. Funding and resources are still available to Texas tenants and landlords to help with costs starting as far back as March 13, 2020. Information on the Texas Eviction Diversion program can be found here.
House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence
Nicholas Chu, Justice of the Peace for Travis County’s precinct 5, testified on behalf of JPCA in support of House Bill 2864 by Rep. Nicole Collier (D-Fort Worth). The bill allows the governor to appoint a justice of the peace, municipal judge or an appointed magistrate who regularly presides at hearings held under Article 15.17, Code of Criminal Procedure, to the Texas Indigent Defense Commission.