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

February 05, 2021

Legislative News

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The Senate Special Committee on Redistricting, chaired by state Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston), continued its scheduled hearings this week; video, hearing documents and written public comments from the completed hearings are available here. The special committee has announced a schedule of upcoming hearings.

The Senate Committee on Finance will begin holding a series of hearings next week, starting with an organizational hearing on Feb. 8. The following day, when both chambers are scheduled to be back in session, the committee will take up Senate Bill 1, the general appropriations bill.

Five Emergency Items Unveiled in State of the State Address
Gov. Greg Abbott used his fourth State of the State speech to list five emergency items that can be considered in the first 60 days of the 87th session. See this article for details.

House Committee Assignments
Speaker Dade Phelan release committee assignments on Feb. 4. They are available by committee and by member.

Governor’s Budget for the 2022-23 Biennium
As required by statute, Gov. Abbott released his executive budget proposal for the 2022-23 Biennium to the Legislature this week. The Governor’s budget proposal is a policy document highlighting the Governor’s budget priorities for the legislative session. This proposal is a very different document than the baseline budget bills released by the House and Senate last week, which are each about 1,000 pages in length.

Drought Disaster Declared in 60 Counties
Gov. Abbott issued a disaster declaration on Feb. 2, certifying that exceptional drought conditions exist in 60 counties. See the proclamation for the full list of counties.



 
FEMA Cost Share Raised to 100% for Eligible Category B Expenses
On Feb. 2, President Joe Biden ordered the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to reimburse eligible Category B expenses for the COVID-19 pandemic at 100%, retroactive to January 2020, effectively reducing local cost sharing to zero. Further details implementing this order are expected from FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security. Details on eligible protective measures can be found on this FEMA page.

Expanding Broadband Internet Access
This article discusses important bills filed on expanding broadband internet access – one of Gov. Abbott’s emergency items. The National Association of Counties’ Broadband Task Force has created four subcommittees to address this issue:
  1. Laying the Groundwork
  2. Digital Divide
  3. Barriers for Buildout
  4. Future Proofing Your Local Economy
Republicans Propose $618 Billion Coronavirus Relief Package
On Monday evening, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) led 10 Republican senators in a meeting at the White House with President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris to discuss their counterproposal to the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan (ARP). The Republicans’ $618 billion package finds common ground with the ARP by setting aside $160 billion in support for health care providers, as well as for vaccine development and distribution. Both plans also include $4 billion for mental health and substance abuse counseling.

Aside from the overall monetary difference, key policy differences also exist between the competing proposals. The ARP includes a $1,400 stimulus check for most single and joint filers making up to $75,000 and $150,000 per year, respectively. The Collins proposal provides a $1,000 stimulus for most single and joint filers making up to $50,000 and $100,000 per year, respectively. The Collins proposal also includes a $500 credit for dependents.

There are a number of other areas where the ARP and the Collins proposal find common policy ground, but differ on funding levels. A conspicuous difference is the $350 billion in state and county funding in the ARP that is not included in the initial Collins proposal. The National Association of Counties (NACo) has identified state and county funding as essential to recover costs associated with COVID-19 protocol implementation, both past and future.

Calls for bipartisan cooperation have been more frequent in the early days of the Biden administration, and while both parties expressed optimism about Monday’s meeting, the White House has made it clear that it intends to move forward with a larger bill than what was offered. On Wednesday afternoon, along party lines, the Senate voted 50-49 to advance the budget reconciliation process to place the ARP into the previously adopted fiscal year 2021 budget bill. Reconciliation allows a simple majority in both the House and Senate to decide passage rather than being held to the usual 60-vote threshold in the Senate. TAC and NACo will be closely monitoring the situation as it evolves.

COVID-19 Vaccinations for Essential Workers
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is hosting a series of webinars on COVID-19 vaccination for essential workers, including a webinar specifically for the Water Sector on Feb. 10, 2021 at 1 p.m. EST. The webinar will provide an overview of vaccine distribution and implementation and briefly cover safety and efficacy. It is intended for the drinking water and wastewater treatment workforce, including engineers, sanitation workers, and other administrative and professional staff. Participants are encouraged to submit any questions they have when they register so the presenter can address any frequently asked questions. Register here.