House and Senate members returned to Austin this week. The House met for around 20 minutes on Tuesday, and then again briefly on Wednesday, before adjourning until 2 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 16. During the Wednesday session, Chair Greg Bonnen (R-Friendswood) announced that the House Committee on Appropriations will hold hearings on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, Feb. 16-18.
The Senate met Tuesday and referred its “blocker bills” to the Administration Committee before adjourning until 3 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 16. They are known as blocker bills due to the fact that they are passed out of committee first so that they may always be at the top of the calendar. To bring any other bill on the floor, at least 18 senators must vote in favor of the motion to move it to the front of the line.
Senate Finance Committee hearings continue next week, when the committee will take up the Public Safety and Criminal Justice Agencies such as the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement, the Department of Criminal Justice and the Jail Standards Commission, as well as the Department of Motor Vehicles and the Department of Transportation
Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) issued committee assignments last week just as this newsletter was being released. See this article for more on House committee assignments.
Abbott Announces Texas Rent Relief Program
On Feb. 9, Gov. Greg Abbott and the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA) launched the Texas Coronavirus Relief Bill Rental Assistance Program, the first statewide rent and utility assistance program. The program will distribute the $1.3 billion allocated to Texas in the latest COVID-19 stimulus bill.
Landlords and tenants will be able to apply for help with unpaid or future rent; however, both must sign the application. To qualify for help paying rent or utilities, households must make no more than 80% of the area's median income as determined by TDHCA. Priority will be given to households if they make less than 50% of an area's median income or if at least one household member has been unemployed for 90 days or longer.
TDHCA will begin accepting applications for the program on Monday, Feb. 15. More information is available here, including median income by county and household size.
COVID Relief Bill Paused Amid Impeachment Trial
While both the U.S. House and Senate have passed the necessary procedural votes to include President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan (ARP) in the budget reconciliation process, all regular business has been suspended while the second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump is underway in the Senate. Republicans have offered a counter proposal of nearly $618 billion, which does not contain the $350 billion in state and county aid that the ARP includes. Congressional leaders and the White House will continue negotiations to reconcile the significant divide in the amount of financial aid that should be allotted. TAC will be working through Core Legislative Group members to express our support for state and county funding allocations. County governments have been on the frontline addressing health care needs, shortages of personal protective equipment and managing vaccine distribution, and continued support from Congress is critical. The Senate could vote on impeachment as early as this weekend, which would clear the way for renewed discussion of ARP.