The Senate broke the seal on weekend work early this session with committee work on redistricting, but neither full chamber has yet convened on a day beginning with “S.” The House has tentative plans to meet tomorrow, although with future weekend work all but definite, that may well change as members look to a last repose this Mother’s Day weekend.
To the still very small group of bills that have cleared both chambers and are, or will soon, go to the governor for signature or veto, add “constitutional carry” or “permitless carry,” which passed the full Senate on an 18-13 vote. Already before him is legislation to increase protections for Texas landowners in eminent domain proceedings, alongside some less prominent measures, including a slate of healthcare reforms.
There are 61 bills that have now reached the governor’s desk, and three have been signed into law. None have yet been vetoed. While those numbers still shock us considering the 7,000 bills filed, 120 days worked and mere 20 days remaining, those 61 bills represent an exponential increase over last week’s six. We will not see another increase of that magnitude this session, but a significant jump is assured, as are long hours and increasingly contentious debate.
SB 476 Heard by County Affairs
The House Committee on County Affairs held a hearing Tuesday, May 4, to discuss Senate Bill 476 by Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) which mandates the creation and operation of a sexual assault response team in every county. A committee substitute bill with important changes was presented, including raising the population bracket to 250,000 to allow smaller counties to form a joint program in a contiguous area. This allows greater flexibility than the previous requirement that the counties be contiguous.
House Elections Committee
The House Elections Committee met and took up nine election bills, including House Bill 46 by Rep. Arthur Fierro (D-El Paso), requiring a space to be allocated on the application for a ballot-by-mail for a voter to include their email address. This provides an additional method of contact to inform a voter their application for a ballot-by-mail contains clerical errors and may be rejected if not corrected. The Committee also heard House Bill 661 by Rep. Michelle Beckley (D-Carrollton), which expands the categories of voting equipment that can be used in a countywide polling place program. In addition, House Bill 3424 by Rep. Shelby Slawson (R-Stephenville) was considered. It creates civil liability penalties for anyone who engages in organized election fraud activities.
On Thursday, May 6, Senate Bill 7 by Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) regarding elections security and integrity was laid out by Chairman Briscoe Cain (R-Deer Park) for consideration on the House floor. After much debate, there were 18 amendments adopted on the bill. The bill was passed to third reading and will be taken up by the House on Friday, May 7, for final passage.
It has been rumored the House Elections Committee will not be holding any future hearings on legislation unless it is to vote pending bills out.
This session, there have been about 255 election bills filed. Of those, approximately 105 have passed from their originating committee and are moving through the legislative process.
House Criminal Jurisprudence Meets to Hear Mix of House and Senate Bills
On Monday, May 3, the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence met to hear a short agenda of legislation, which included both House and Senate bills. One bill of interest was House Bill 2162 by Rep. Richard Raymond (D-Laredo), creating a conviction integrity unit within the Office of the Attorney General. The unit would be required to: accept all requests by any person to review a criminal conviction; develop criteria for determining which convictions the unit would review; review convictions for error; refer persons to attorneys or organizations to provide representation in post-conviction proceedings; and make recommendations to local prosecutors on appropriate post-conviction proceedings indicated by investigations. Kaufman County Criminal District Attorney Erleigh Wiley and Comal County Criminal District Attorney Jennifer Tharp testified against the bill, voicing concerns that much of this work is already being done by public law schools and the Innocence Project in Texas, at great monetary cost to the state. While Tharp and Wiley commended Raymond for the intent of his legislation, they testified that there would be potential conflict of interest issues, as the Attorney General's office does assist local prosecutors in certain cases. HB 2162, as introduced, would have a negative fiscal impact of $7,832,212 through the biennium, according to the fiscal note produced by the Legislative Budget Board.
Another bill of interest was House Bill 3586 by Rep. Carl Sherman (D-DeSoto). The bill would create the Texas Sentencing Commission, to be tasked with: evaluating the efficacy of sentencing laws and policies throughout the state; developing suggested sentencing standards for each trial judge in this state that hears criminal cases; developing a sentencing information form to be used; analyzing the information included on each completed form; and updating sentencing standards and forms as necessary. Tharp and Wiley also testified against this bill, expressing concerns that the bill as written does not contemplate the fact that in Texas, a defendant has the right to select sentencing by jury instead of by judge. Wiley pointed out that sentencing may vary from county to county for a variety of reasons, one being distinct community values and standards. HB 3586 would have a negative fiscal impact of $1,355,089 through the biennium according to the fiscal note produced by the Legislative Budget Board.
2022-23 Biennial Revenue Estimate Updated — $3 Billion More Available for State Budget
Citing changes in estimated revenue collections and updated estimates of the state obligation for Foundation School Program (FSP) funding, Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts Glenn Hegar increased his revenue estimate for general-purpose spending by the 87th Legislature. The ending balance for the current biennium ending August 31, 2021, is now a surplus of $725 million. The surplus, combined with greater revenue collections expected for the 2022-23 biennium, results in a $3.12 billion increase in revenue available to spend on the 2022-23 state budget. The revised estimate does not account for any savings from the 5% reductions agencies submitted in June 2021, the replacement of state funds by federal relief funds for eligible expenditures, nor any other reductions or changes proposed in House Bill 2, the supplemental appropriations bill for the current two-year budget.
Due to rising energy prices and oil rig counts, the Comptroller also increased his estimate of oil and natural gas production tax collections. As a result, transfers to the Rainy Day and State Highway funds are now expected to be $1.26 billion in Fiscal Year 2022 and another $1.67 billion in Fiscal Year 2023. The estimated balance in the Rainy Day Fund, before any appropriations by the 87th Legislature, climbs to $12.1 billion.
The Conference Committee on SB 1 has not met officially since an organizational meeting on April 29. Given the $3.1 billion increase in available revenue to spend, county officials may want to reach out to the SB 1 conferees, to remind them of county funding priorities such as indigent defense, broadband development, and to advocate for restoration of the 5% reduction in funding for county programs. Finally, county officials might also request funding for any unfunded mandates found in bills being considered by the 87th Legislature.
For more information, view the contact information for the SB 1 conferees and a list of items of interest to counties.
Congressional District 6 Headed to Runoff Election
In the crowded race (23 candidates) to succeed the late U.S. Representative Ron Wright (R-Arlington), two candidates garnered enough votes to head to a runoff in the special election to represent Texas’ 6th Congressional District. While a date has not yet been set for the runoff, state Representative Jake Ellzey (R-Waxahachie) will square off against the late Congressman’s wife, Susan Wright (R-Arlington). Wright captured 19% of the votes, with 14% going to Ellzey.
FCC Emergency Broadband Benefits Program Start Date – May 12
The Federal Communications Commission announced that eligible households can begin enrolling in the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program on May 12. The program discounts the cost of broadband service from approved providers. Eligible households can enroll through an approved provider or by visiting this page.
For more information about the program, visit this page.