More than 600 county officials and staff from various corners of the Lone Star State convened in Austin from Aug. 30 to Sept. 1 for the Texas Association of Counties' 2023 Legislative Conference. An additional 238 participants joined remotely, as attendees dove into the implications of decisions made by the 88th Texas Legislature and their ramifications for county governance and local taxpayers.
The three-day conference began with a keynote address by Texas Secretary of State Jane Nelson. The former state senator from Denton County, now serving as the state's chief elections officer, emphasized her commitment to helping county election officials conduct smooth, fair and accurate elections. "The Texas Secretary of State has their back," she said.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick took the stage after Nelson to address concerns regarding Senate Bill 22 by Sen. Drew Springer (R-Muenster), the state's new law enforcement salary assistance grant program for counties with populations under 300,000. The legislation has sparked questions and uncertainties regarding its provisions and potential long-term costs for counties.
Patrick sought to quell these concerns by emphasizing the program's permanence. "This is now a fundamental program, and no one's going to take this money away," he said.
The administration of SB 22 has been entrusted to the Comptroller's Office, which is expected to release preliminary guidelines before the end of this month. A 60-day period for county officials to provide feedback on the proposed rules will follow, with final rules expected by mid-November.
Between the conference's opening and closing general sessions, TAC's Legislative team moderated 10 insightful panel discussions featuring county officials, state lawmakers, policymakers and representatives from the National Association of Counties. Topics ranged from SB 22 and elections to property taxes, broadband funding, the American Rescue Plan Act and legislative investments in water infrastructure.
Throughout the event, participants highlighted the importance of building relationships with fellow county officials, legislators and legislative staffs. The closing general session, which featured a panel discussion on local control, reinforced the message of collaboration.
"We're a team. We shouldn't be competitors," state Rep. Todd Hunter (R-Corpus Christi), chairman of the State Affairs Committee in the Texas House, said.
As participants were packing up and beginning to head home, TAC Executive Director Susan Redford expressed satisfaction with the conference's outcomes. High registration numbers, excellent content and outstanding panelists demonstrated "that our elected and appointed officials are getting more engaged in what's going on at the statewide level and the national level and are hungry for the information that was shared this week," she said.
TAC's 2024 Legislative Conference is scheduled for Aug. 28-30 in Austin. Registration will open in January via www.county.org/calendar-of-events.