The 81st Session of the Texas Legislature adjourned "Sine Die" ("without a day") on June 1, 2009. Of the 7,419 bills that were filed, 1,459 passed through the process and were sent to the Governor. The Senate and House worked very hard during the 140-day period, and I am pleased overall with what was accomplished, though many would agree that some important items were lost in the political wash at the end of the session. Because several of these issues were not passed in time, on June 25, Governor Perry called a Special Session to convene at 10:00 a.m. on July 1, 2009. As stated in the Proclamation calling the session, the purpose was to "extend the operation of five critical agencies and help reduce gridlock by continuing to provide options for financing our state’s highways."
The Governor is the only person who has the authority to bring legislators back to Austin for a Special Session and is responsible for setting the agenda, also known as the "call". Other bills may be filed, but only the Governor can add them to the call and allow them to become law. The First-Called Special Session of the 81st Legislature was limited to only three agenda items, realized in the following bills:
- HB 1 - This bill authorizes the Texas Department of Transportation to issue $2 billion in transportation bonds, an action authorized by voters in 2007, with half being loaned back out through the existing State Infrastructure Bank.
- SB 2 - Also known as the "Sunset Safety Net Bill", this legislation ensures that the Texas Department of Transportation, Texas Department of Insurance, Texas Racing Commission, and several other agencies would not cease to exist this September 1st under the Texas Sunset law. The Sunset law requires state agencies to undergo review by the Sunset Advisory Commission every 12 years or so to ensure the continuing need for each agency and to consider changes to improve each agency's operations and activities. SB 2 keeps these agencies alive until they undergo a completed Sunset Review cycle in the next regular Legislative session.
- HB 3/SB 3 - This bill would extend existing comprehensive development agreements (CDA) until 2013 and allow new ones under strict limitations. A CDA is a contract between governments and private road builders who agree to invest their own money in return for the authority to collect a toll on the new road.
The language in HB 1 and SB 2 both had widespread support in the Regular Session, but did not pass before the Session concluded. These bills were quickly approved by both chambers and passed by the Legislature during the Special Session. However, the CDA legislation, HB 3/SB 3, did not enjoy much support and was not passed out of committee in either the House or Senate.
The remainder of this Update is an overview of the actions taken during the 81st Regular Session. While it is not exhaustive, I have included as many links as possible that might help you with further questions. As always, you are encouraged to call my office with questions or comments.
District 16 Accomplishments
It was a privilege to once again be appointed by Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Transportation and Homeland Security. I am proud of the way this committee worked together and grateful to work with the other Senators and committees on a wide variety of legislation. Below are several of the bills I authored that passed the Legislature. While we are only in session for 140 days, many of these bills are the product of interim studies or have been in development for several years. I consider these accomplishments the result of the hard work of myself and many others and for the benefit of all Texans.
- SB 348 - provides TxDOT the ability to establish advisory committees. These committees will be extremely helpful on issues that come up between sessions and when extra attention needs to be given to an area of expertise within the agency.
- SB 379 - Amends the Government Code to require that the Texas Fusion Center submit an annual report detailing criminal street gangs, their threat to border communities and other areas of the state and recommendations for actions that may be taken to prevent and reduce gang-related crime.
- SB 469 - Provides a property tax exemption for totally disabled veterans. This is the enabling legislation for the constitutional amendment (Proposition 9) approved by Texas voters two years ago. While this bill died in the House during the last days of the Session, I added the language in SB 469 to HB 3613 which passed and was signed by the Governor on June 19, 2009.
- SB 833 - Allows a state employee called to military service to continue to accrue vacation and sick leave even when the person is considered to be on unpaid leave because he or she is not entitled to differential pay.
- SB 883 - Ensures that TxDOT cannot pledge or encumber money in the state highway fund to guarantee a loan obtained by a public or private entity for development for a toll project. This keeps our cash intact to spend on congestion, safety and maintenance projects.
- SB 1382 - Requires TxDOT to coordinate and develop a plan for statewide passenger rail.
- SB 1967 - Improves traffic safety by addressing motorcycle operation and awareness.
- SB 2225 - Addresses smuggling of guns into Mexico. I worked with Attorney General Greg Abbott on this issue.
- HB 55 - Prohibits an operator of a motor vehicle from using a wireless communication device while operating a motor vehicle within a school crossing zone unless the vehicle is stopped or the wireless device is used with a hands-free device.
- HB 339 - Strengthens and streamlines the requirements for teen driver education programs in order to enhance safety and improve teen drivers' knowledge.
- HB 1831 - Overhauls the Texas Disaster Act to improve energy security and maintenance, health and safety provisions, emergency services personnel utilization, judicial preparedness, judicial readiness and contingency planning and preparedness. Note: This bill was amended to include SB 2323 by Carona, requiring public schools and junior colleges to take security measures and report those measures to the Texas School Safety Center, the Governor, and the Legislature.
Budget & Revenue
Each regular session is always centered around passing the budget, the Legislature's sole required task each biennium. During this tough financial season, we balanced the state budget by reducing spending and utilizing some federal stimulus funding. We chose not to dip into the Rainy Day Fund. By leaving this Fund untouched, it is expected to reach $9.1 billion in 2011.
The House and Senate alternate carrying the major budget bill. This session, it was contained in SB 1, and is also called the General Appropriations Act. The budget for the 2010-2011 biennium totals $182.3 billion, with 41.4% going to education and 32.7% to health and human services. Education appropriations include $7 billion directed toward higher education and a $1.9 billion increase for public education. Healthcare appropriations reduce health-related waiting lists, add funding to improve state schools for the mentally disabled and add $450 million in bonds for cancer research.
SB 1 includes other appropriations in areas like criminal justice, natural resources and public safety. Some other highlights of the budget include:
- Reduces General Revenue and General Revenue-Dedicated Funds spending by more than 1% for 2010-11.
- Provides $378 million for road construction and maintenance, which reduces some diversions from the State Highway Fund.
- Provides $30 million in grants for public community or technical colleges and employers to provide customized job training in targeted industries and specialized occupations.
- Provides a $20 million boost to the Texas Enterprise Fund, the Governor's job creation initiative.
- Appropriates an additional $95 million for the Emerging Technology Fund.
- Provides for a $186.4 million increase for the student financial aid TEXAS Grants program, a 44% increase.
You may visit the Legislative Budget Board for more detailed information on the budget. HB 4586, the Supplemental Appropriations bill, also passed this session. This bill provides for emergency and supplemental appropriations and addresses budget shortfalls that have arisen in this current biennium.
Other bills relating to the budget and revenue:
- HB 1801 - Adds school supplies and backpacks to the annual August sales tax holiday weekend, which is August 21-23, 2009.
- HB 4765 - Exempts small businesses with gross receipts of $300,000 to $1 million from the franchise tax.
- SB 1569 - Authorizing the state to draw on federal stimulus funding for unemployment insurance.
Other Areas of Interest
- HB 3646 - Adds an additional $1.9 billion into public school funding formulas and provides for an across-the-board teacher pay increase.
- HB 4294 - Provides more flexibility for school districts and open-enrollment charter schools to use electronic textbooks, instructional materials and technological equipment.
- SB 3 - Overhauls the public school accountability system by focusing on the importance of students being college-ready and changing the student testing program.
- HB 3347 - Provides for a $500 supplemental payment to retired teachers if approved by the Texas Attorney General.
- HB 440 - Would have provided a 13th Check for TRS annuitants (cap of $2400).
- SB 175 - Modifies the top 10% automatic admissions law at The University of Texas at Austin by capping the percentage of the entering freshman class required to be admitted from the top 10% at 75 percent and allowing the remaining students to be selected based on other criteria.
- SB 297 - Provides in-state tuition for all military veterans.
- HB 51 - Includes funding and incentives to support emerging public research universities in developing and maintaining programs of the highest tier.
- SB 956 - Allows the University of North Texas to establish a law school in Dallas.
- SB 9 - Would have established framework to create more flagship universities in Texas.
- SB 1443 - Would have limited tuition increases at four-year public universities.
Appraisal Reform/Property Rights
- HB 3613 - Requires that the market value of a residence homestead be determined solely on the basis of the property's value as a residence homestead. Note: This bill was amended to include SB 469, providing a property tax exemption for totally disabled veterans.
- HJR 14 - Proposes a constitutional amendment to prevent government from taking private property unless it is for a legitimate public use. This legislation also clarifies what kind of compensation is required in such cases. This will be subject to voter approval in November.
- SB 2301 - Would have required each taxing unit to calculate and publish a rollback tax rate, or revenue cap. This bill would have lowered the rollback tax rate local taxing jurisdictions may set from eight to five percent.
Business & Commerce
- HB 873 - Increases funding for the state’s film incentive program from $20 million to $60 million.
- HB 4409 - Eases previous funding restrictions on the Texas Windstorm Insurance Agency (TWIA) by allowing coverage of up to $2.5 billion in losses through various funding methods. Allows damage payments to be funded by premiums, reserves, public securities, commercial paper and other market source financial instruments.
Transportation & Homeland Security
- HB 2086 - Gives law enforcement additional tools to combat the spread of transnational gangs and expand gang prevention efforts. Note: Amended to include majority of SB 11 by Carona.
- HB 3097 - Separates unrelated customer functions from TxDOT to allow the Transportation Commission to focus on its primary duties of infrastructure development and finance. Vehicle titles and registration, dealer regulation, and automobile theft and burglary prevention will now be part of a new Department of Motor Vehicles.
- HB 2730 - Department of Public Safety sunset bill, contains several measures that started as Carona bills, including provisions from SB 1783, specifying the circumstances under which the DPS must accept an offender identification card as proof of ID for a driver license, and SB 1785, requiring an applicant for a driver license to provide proof of residence. This bill was focused on addressing a loophole in the law, which allowed Isaac Bannai to assist hundreds of individuals who could not prove their lawful status in the United States, to obtain standard 6-year Texas driver licenses.
- SB 702 - A towing regulatory cleanup, requires the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation to issue a dual towing license for a person who is a vehicle storage facility employee and towing operator, meets certain requirements, and submits to the department the required license application and fee. The bill creates a temporary training license for towing operators and adds alcohol testing to the policy a towing company is required to establish for towing operators.
- SB 357/SB 2568 - Would have temporarily suspended the business licenses of employers who intentionally hire undocumented workers and operate on a cash-only basis.
- SB 358/SB 2584 - Would have provided that a local governmental entity may not enact a policy under which the entity will not fully enforce federal immigration laws.
- SB 855 - Would have allowed local entities to choose from a menu of options for raising transportation funds through fee assessments and increases, all of which would require voter approval. Also, it would have created a mechanism by which counties would be authorized to hold elections on such measures.
Environment & Natural Resources
- HB 1796 - Authorizes the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) by rule to adopt standards for the location, construction, maintenance and monitoring of a carbon dioxide repository and requires a study of state-owned offshore submerged land to identify potential locations for such a repository. Note: Includes parts of SB 16, a major air quality bill.
- HB 469 - Creates significant incentives for the development of clean coal technology.
- HB 1822 - Requires the Public Utility Commission of Texas to define common terms used by certificated telecommunications utilities, retail electric providers and electric utilities in retail bills.
- SB 545 - Would have provided incentives and rebates to help Texas attract investment by solar equipment manufacturers.
- SB 1425 - Would have provided for the establishment and funding of the Texas clean fleet program to encourage the conversion of fleets of diesel-powered vehicles to alternative fuel or hybrid vehicles or to encourage the replacement of such fleets with alternative fuel or hybrid vehicles.
Health & Human Services
- SB 643 - Increases oversight and accountability for the protection of intellectually and developmentally disabled residents in state schools and community-based care.
- HB 2154 - Increases funding for physicians in rural, border and underserved areas by increasing taxes on smokeless tobacco.
- HB 4471 - Establishes a funding process to ensure Texas nursing schools receive up-front funding to hire faculty to increase the number of nursing graduates at their schools.
- HB 5 - Would have banned smoking in all indoor workplaces and public places.
- SB 7 - Would have made changes to the Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program to improve health information technology, allow quality-based hospital payments, create a standardized patient identification system and increase equity in uncompensated hospital care reporting and reimbursement.
- SB 182 - Would have required that a woman have the option to see an ultrasound before an abortion.
- SB 841 - Would have increased the maximum income level used to determine a child's eligibility for the Children's Health Insurance Program from a net family income at 200 percent of the federal poverty level to a net family income at 300 percent.
- HB 1736 - Increases the lump-sum compensation for persons wrongfully convicted of a crime from $50,000 to $80,000 per year of incarceration.
- HB 498 - Creates the Timothy Cole Innocence Commission to investigate and prevent wrongful convictions.
- SB 730 - Would have prohibited an employer from adopting policies to prohibit employees from storing legal firearms or ammunition in locked privately owned vehicles.
- SB 1164 - Would have allowed persons with a concealed handgun license to carry on college campuses.
- HB 3180 - Would have required licensing of dog and cat breeders with the intent of banning puppy mills.
Perhaps the most debated issue this Session was voter identification legislation, namely SB 362. Due to the ongoing controversy over this bill, some members of the House chose to delay bringing it up for a vote by a method called "chubbing". "Chubbing" is a term that refers to the practice of stalling a bill through extended debate or questioning. In this case, when the House Local and Consent Calendar (agreed-to bills that usually pass at lightning speed) was being considered, some members chose to ask questions and debate each of these bills. This chubbing had the effect of delaying the major bills that were to be brought up for vote. While a few in the House managed to pass some priority bills before the deadline, many bills died in the process. Below are a few of the bills that died because of the "chubbing."
- SB 18 - Would have made changes, additions, and deletions, to provisions in Texas law in an attempt to reform the power, limitations, process, and various other aspects of eminent domain and condemnation in this state.
- SB 331 - Would have protected the personal safety of public employees by designating certain personal information as confidential A portion of this bill passed in another bill, but it applies strictly to hospital districts.
- SB 1007 - Would have authorized the Texas Department of Insurance to continue operation and make necessary changes to the agency.
The deadline for Governor Perry to veto legislation passed by the 81st Legislature was Sunday, June 21, 2009. Governor Perry vetoed a total of 35 bills. Among the bills he vetoed:
- HB 103 - Would have required that a student health center at an institution of higher education with a student enrollment of more than 20,000 accept and process a patient's private health insurance for all care administered by the health center.
- HB 130 - Would have allowed school districts the opportunity to expand their Pre-K programs from half-day to full-day for children who are currently eligible for Pre-K under Texas law.
- HB 821 - Would have created the Television Equipment Recycling Program to require television manufacturers to recycle their market share of the televisions recycled in Texas, regardless of the brand of television.
- HB 2142 - Would have authorized the Texas Department of Transportation to use advertising to inform the public about the status of pending or ongoing state highway toll projects, rather than spending tax funds to advocate for the development and use of toll projects or toll roads. The bill also stated that the department is not authorized to engage in marketing, advertising, or other activities for the purpose of influencing public opinion about the use of toll roads or the use of tolls as a financial mechanism.
- HB 2656 - Would have added an additional retiree position and made both retiree positions elected directly by TRS retired members. The SBOE-nominated positions would have been reduced from two to one to maintain a nine-member board.
- SB 488 - Would have defined which individuals may be designated as vulnerable road users. The bill provided that a safe passing distance of a vulnerable road user is three feet for a car or light truck and six feet for a truck other than a light truck.
- SB 1440 - Would have amended the Family Code to clarify that the signature of the judge of a referring court is not required on a child support or child protection associate judge's proposed order or judgment to become the order of the referring court.
For a complete list of the Governor's vetoes and links to the bills, click here.
I hope this update has been helpful and informative. If you are interested in a specific bill, you can call my office or visit the Texas Legislature Online. For example, if you wanted more specific information on the budget, Senate Bill 1, you would type SB 1 into the "search" box. This would allow you to locate bill analyses, all actions or the text of the bill. There are also links on the home page to find out more about the legislative process, as well as links to the individual pages of House and Senate members.
It is an honor to represent Senate District 16 in the Texas Legislature. I look forward to your feedback and will continue to work on your behalf in the interim.
State Senator - District 16
|P.O. Box 12068|
Austin, TX 78711
|8080 N. Central Expy.
Suite 1440, LB 44
Dallas, TX 75206
|5401 N. Central Expy.
Dallas, TX 75205