The pace at the Capitol is picking up as lawmakers schedule hearings and begin crafting bills around the legislative priorities laid out by Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Speaker Dade Phelan. This is a period when county officials can help shape priority bills as they're being written by reaching out to their senators and representatives and by working with their county colleagues to create consensus on proposed legislation.
Two topics generated the most conversation at this week's Tuesday Morning Breakfast. Chambers County Sheriff Brian Hawthorne outlined the Sheriffs' Association's support for Patrick's proposed rural law enforcement funding initiative – Senate Bill 22 per the lieutenant governor's list of priority bill numbers released Feb. 13. As with most of the bills on Patrick's list, details are to come, but Hawthorne said sheriffs are looking at backing language that would provide additional funding for counties with populations under 300,000.
Adam Haynes, policy director for the Texas Conference of Urban Counties, asked whether counties should "ask for a flat fee for all sheriff offices regardless of county population?" Hawthorne said his association's strategy was to stick close to Patrick's intent. An amicable conversation followed, with all agreeing it was a topic that merited further discussion.
Williamson County Elections Administrator Chris Davis piqued the meeting's interest when he brought up a provision in last session's omnibus election law, Senate Bill 1, that would require counties to replace their voting systems with currently nonexistent "write once, read many" (or "WORM") systems each election cycle, starting in 2026. The Secretary of State's office has estimated the replacement mandate initially will cost taxpayers $116.2 million and $38 million every two years after.
The measure could force some counties to count ballots by hand, said Davis, legislative co-chair of the Texas Association of Elections Administrators (TAEA). See this Feb. 10 news article by The Texas Tribune for a detailed look at the issue.
Chambers County Clerk Heather Hawthorne, legislative co-chair of the County and District Clerks' Association of Texas (CDCAT), drew attendees' attention to anticipated legislation that would prohibit polling places at public schools. "Counties across Texas rely on schools for voting sites. Eliminating the use of school facilities will create a lack of polling locations to run elections," CDCAT and TAEA say in a summary of their shared legislative priorities.
More than 200 election-related bills are among the 3,700 bills that have been introduced thus far this session. The Texas Association of Counties is tracking all bills that affect county government, as well as bills affecting specific county offices. Find them here.
Additional resource materials can be found at county.org/legislative.
TAC's Tuesday Morning Breakfasts will keep you on top of the Capitol's ever-changing legislative landscape. Please join us either in person or online each Tuesday from 7 to 8 a.m. through May 23.
Register here for the Feb. 28 Tuesday Morning Breakfast.
Virtual registrants will receive a Webex link in advance of the meeting. If you plan to attend virtually, this Webex Videoconferencing Best Practices document will help you troubleshoot any connectivity issues you may have.
The TAC building is located at 1210 San Antonio St. Breakfasts will be held in the TAC Boardroom on the fourth floor. Free parking is available in TAC garage. The entrance is on 13th Street between Nueces and San Antonio streets.
If you have questions or concerns about each week's Tuesday Morning Breakfast, please email Tuesdaymorningbreakfast@county.org, or contact Amy Ruedas at (800) 456‑5974.