On January 11, the Texas Legislature was gaveled into session for the 82nd time. For a period of 140 days, lawmakers will grapple with and make decisions on major challenges facing the state. This session is as important as any in recent history, and I am honored and humbled to once again represent Senate District 16. In this Email Update, I've listed broad subject areas with background information for you and included links to other additional information. Here is a list of the subject areas (in order) so that you may skip to areas of interest to you.
- Emergency Items
- Business & Commerce/Economic Development
- Banking and Consumer Finance
- Voting and Elections
- Public Education/Higher Education
- Health and Human Services
- Natural Resources
- Family Issues/Jurisprudence
- Transportation & Homeland Security
- Criminal Justice
- Sunset Advisory Commission
At the conclusion of each subject area, I've included a list of suggested committees to watch (Senate and House) for bills on these subjects and a list of suggested key terms to search for bills filed on these subjects. The number of bills already filed pertaining to each subject area are already too voluminous to include here. These tips and links will allow you to search for the subjects and bills that interest you. If at any time you have a question about searching for bills, please do not hesitate to call my Dallas office at 214-378-5751. You may call my office or send an email to me at firstname.lastname@example.org when you wish to comment on any subject or bill. Please be sure to include your name and address in any email correspondence.
On January 10, Comptroller Susan Combs released the state's Biennial Revenue Estimate for the 2012-2013 biennium. This number is the state's bottom line, the total amount of money available to the Legislature to develop a budget. According to the estimate, while General Revenue is expected to top out around $77.3 billion, a current $4.3 billion dollar deficit and an $800 million transfer to the Rainy Day Fund will leave the Legislature approximately $72.2 billion in General Revenue funds. To put this number in perspective, in 2009, the Legislature passed a (General Revenue) budget of $87 billion. Maintaining current spending levels would result in a $15 billion shortfall. It is important to note that current spending levels do not take into account population growth in our public schools or other programs or possible increases in the costs of goods and services. That is why you hear the amount of the budget deficit vary from $15-27 billion.
The paramount objective of many legislators this session is to balance the budget by making cuts to state programs, possibly consolidating agencies and trimming any excess "fat" that can be identified. One option available to legislators would be to access all or part of the Rainy Day Fund, which would mitigate some of the pain of budget cuts. The Rainy Day Fund is like a state savings account that sets aside a portion of revenues each session that is then available to help with shortfalls during economic downturns. Due to the circumstances of a shortfall in the current biennium and less revenue projected to be available for the next, it will take a 3/5 vote of the Legislature to access the Rainy Day Fund, which, according to the Comptroller, will have an estimated available balance of $9.4 billion. Both the House and Senate have released their preliminary budgets which reduce the budgets of virtually every state agency. When filed, the House bill will be known as HB 1; the Senate bill has been filed as SB 1. While these budgets show clearly how painful this process will be, please remember that these budget documents are a starting point only - the session has just begun.
Committees to watch: (S) Finance, (H) Appropriations, (H) Ways & Means
Key terms to search bills: Fees and Other Nontax Revenue, Political Subdivisions, Property Interests, Salaries and Expenses, State Employees, State Finances, Taxation
Every ten years after the Census is taken, states undergo a process referred to as redistricting. Redistricting involves a reconfiguration of the states' election districts, which is done by the Legislature. It is a controversial process and is likely to be one of the most talked about and controversial subjects of the session. You can reference my January 2010 Email Update - Focus for details about the process.
As a member of the Senate Select Committee on Redistricting, I am happy to report that the Committee has concluded its interim hearings, which were held around the state over the last year. We heard interesting and compelling testimony from many of the states' citizens. The overwhelming sentiment expressed was that we undertake a fair process. Chairman Seliger, the other members of the Committee and I are committed to working through the process to arrive at redistricting maps that are fair and legal for the people of the State of Texas.
We also learned recently that Texas will receive four new Congressional districts because of our population growth over the last 10 years. Where these districts will be located is the subject of much discussion, but decisions cannot be made until the official Census numbers are released sometime in February or March. Most of us believe that at least one of the districts will be located in the North Texas region, which has experienced significant population growth during the last decade.
Committees to watch: (S) Select Committee on Redistricting, (H) Redistricting
Key terms to search bills: Redistricting
During the first 60 days of any regular session, the Legislature is prohibited by the Texas Constitution from passing any legislation. However, the governor has the authority to designate certain issues as "emergency items," which are then eligible for immediate consideration by the Legislature, bypassing normal time constraints. On opening day, Governor Perry declared two emergency items:
- 1. Legislation to abolish sanctuary cities in Texas.
- 2. Legislation to protect private property rights and address eminent domain issues.
On January 20, the Governor declared two additional emergency items:
- Legislation to require a voter to present proof of identification when voting.
- Legislation to provide for a federal balanced budget amendment to the United States Constitution.
On January 22, the Governor declared one more emergency item:
- Legislation to require an abortion provider to offer a sonogram to women choosing to end a pregnancy.
Items 1 & 2
Committees to watch: (S) Intergovernmental Relations, (S) State Affairs, (S) Criminal Justice, (H) State Affairs, (H) Urban Affairs, (H) Land & Resource Management, (H) Homeland Security & Public Safety
Key terms to search bills: City Government, Property Interests, Special Districts, Authorities
Items 3 & 4
Committees to watch: (S) State Affairs, (S) Government Organization, (H) State Affairs
Key terms to search bills: Congress, Legislature, Aliens, Elections-General, Identification Cards, City Government, Local Government
Committees to watch: (S) State Affairs, (H) State Affairs
Key terms to search bills: Abortion, Informed Consent
As Governor Perry's emergency item designation might have indicated, I expect immigration to be one of the predominant issues of the session. A number of immigration bills have already been filed, some in the manner of the recent legislation passed in Arizona, which would allow a law enforcement officer to inquire about the residency status of certain individuals. Immigration issues will spill over into other areas, such as education, where a bill has been filed which would require schools to report children without documentation. While supporters believe this legislation will help curb the flow of undocumented immigrants into the state, opponents to these measures claim they are unfunded mandates that will constrain already limited local government resources. In a state as diverse as Texas, these issues will be contentious.
Committees to watch: (S) Transportation & Homeland Security, (S) State Affairs, (H) Border & Intergovernmental Affairs, (H) State Affairs, (H) Homeland Security & Public Safety
Key terms to search bills: Aliens, City Government, County Government, Law Enforcement
Business & Commerce / Economic Development
As chair of the Senate Committee on Business & Commerce, I am pleased to have the opportunity to work with my colleagues on a number of issues which will affect industry, jobs and the economy.
Committees to watch: (S) Business & Commerce, (S) Economic Development, (H) Economic & Small Business Development, (H) Business & Industry, (H) Technology
Key terms to search bills: Business and Commerce, Economic, Industrial Development
Regulatory - The Senate Committee on Business & Commerce is responsible for legislation and policy relating to all business and industries regulated by the State of Texas. Most of our state's occupational regulation is handled by the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation (TDLR). TDLR administers 29 statutes, with 142 license types, and over 620,000 licensees. Their license types include cosmetology, towing, combative sports and electrician programs. They affect the lives of all Texas citizens in day-to-day activities that range from getting a haircut or riding an elevator to seeking the help of a licensed interpreter.
Committees to watch: (S) Business & Commerce, (H) Licensing & Administrative Procedures, (H) Business & Industry, (H) County Affairs
Key terms to search bills: Alcoholic Beverage Regulation, Occupational Regulation
Banking and Consumer Finance - The recent passage of the federal Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (Pub.L. 111-203, H.R. 4173) will have a wide-ranging effect on the banking and consumer finance industry, including establishing a new federal agency, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and casting a shadow over Texas' financial regulatory structure. On the state level, there has been an increase in consumer dissatisfaction with certain practices within the home mortgage servicing industry. Though the vast majority of mortgage servicers are upstanding in the performance of their work, some of these reports have been of great concern to me. The Committee on Business & Commerce recently held a hearing on this issue, and I intend to pursue legislation during the upcoming session to ensure that Texas consumers have a place to go if they encounter these problems.
Payday lending legislation has been filed in both the House and the Senate to address other areas of concern in the consumer finance industry such as so-called payday lenders, title lenders and similar operations. As in most industries, some of these businesses are good corporate citizens while others take advantage of customers through loopholes and questionable business practices just beyond the reach of current law and regulation.
Banking and Consumer Finance
Committees to watch: (S) Business & Commerce, (H) Pensions, Investments & Financial Services, (H) Appropriations S/C: Business & Economic Development
Key terms to search bills: Corporations, Consumer Protection, Financial, Payday Loans, Property Interests
Insurance - The Committee on Business & Commerce traditionally handles legislation dealing with certain types of insurance. Legislation in this area might cover such topics as defining the limits of certificates of insurance for homeowner insurance and addressing the issue of "steering," which is when an auto insurance company directs a policy holder to a certain shop for work.
Committees to watch: (S) Business & Commerce, (H) Business & Industry, (H) Insurance
Key terms to search bills: Insurance
Committees to watch: (S) Business & Commerce, (H) Insurance
Key terms to search bills: Insurance
The Texas Windstorm Insurance Association (TWIA) is a quasi-state agency that sells windstorm insurance as a "provider of last resort." In 2009, the Legislature changed the way TWIA could finance disasters through the use of assessments on insurance companies, acquiring reinsurance and through post-event bonds. TWIA will once again be a significant issue this session as we address such issues as insurance rates, pre-event bonds, reinsurance and funding the Catastrophe Reserve Trust Fund.
Committees to watch: (S) Business & Commerce, (H) Insurance
Key terms to search bills: Insurance
Though residential title insurance can be a somewhat ambiguous service, it plays a vital role in Texas' system of property ownership and assists in the efficient transfer of property ownership. Over the recent interim, the Legislature has been looking into some specific issues relating to title insurance, including the structure of the current process for establishing the rates that Texas title insurers can charge customers. I want to keep rates low and have been working over the interim to develop legislation that would make the title insurance rate-setting process more efficient.
Energy - In 2005, the Legislature passed Renewable Portfolio Standards, which set goals for renewable energy use. The objective of this legislation, 5,880 megawatts of renewable energy by 2015, has already been exceeded with approximately 10,090 megawatts currently available--the vast majority generated from wind energy. The Legislature will discuss the state's next steps regarding the Renewable Portfolio Standards, such as instituting a non-wind goal or using incentives and rebate programs to promote a single renewable energy like solar energy.
Renewable Portfolio Standards
Committees to watch: (S) Business & Commerce, (H) Energy Resources, (H) Environmental Regulation, (H) State Affairs
Key terms to search bills: Energy, Utilities
In 2007, the Legislature passed statewide energy efficiency goals requiring electric utilities to meet new electricity demand through cost-effective efficiency gains by incrementally increasing certain energy efficiency goals. While these standards have been adopted by rule, it is possible that there will be legislation to alter or increase the energy efficiency goals. Additionally, there could be legislation to create a separate energy efficiency agency or coordinating council, thereby consolidating the efforts of the six state agencies that currently have energy efficiency oversight. Other measures could include a monitoring and verification process for energy efficiency measures. I support improved efficiency short of creating a new agency.
Committees to watch: (S) Business & Commerce, (H) Energy Resources, (H) State Affairs, (H) Urban Affairs
Key terms to search bills: Energy, Utilities
Voting and Elections
As you may recall from last session, the subject of voter identification was very controversial and resulted in a slowdown in the legislative process during the last days of session that killed many important bills. While the voter ID bill did not pass last session, there have already been several bills filed that, if passed, will require voters to present some form of photo identification when casting a ballot. As noted earlier, the Governor has declared legislation that requires a voter to present proof of identification when voting as an emergency item and voter ID legislation debate began in the Texas Senate on Monday, January 24. Other legislation has been filed that will eliminate the ability of voters to straight ticket vote, and it is possible the Legislature might consider campaign finance reform.
Committees to watch: (S) State Affairs, (H) County Affairs, (H) Elections
Key terms to search bills: Elections-General, Ethics, Identification Cards
Public Education/Higher Education
While we must take into account economic realities, I believe most lawmakers want to minimize the impact on education. Key legislators in the public education arena are considering an overhaul of the current school finance funding mechanism, although it is unclear whether it will be resolved in time to pass this session. The state might also consider shifting public education and community college funding to local entities. While this would remove some of the burden on the state, it is possible that local entities could consider raising property taxes as a way to pay for these costs.
Some lawmakers have identified changes in classroom size requirements as an area in which the Legislature could save money. Current law limits the size of all public K-4 classrooms to no more than 22 students per teacher. Some lawmakers have proposed making the average class size 22 rather than the cap. Under this proposal, current classrooms would gain an average of three pupils. While this measure is estimated to save the state $558 million a year, many argue the losses in student learning in the crucial early grades would cost far more.
Universities and colleges are already feeling the crunch. Prior to the Session starting, Texas A&M University and The University of Texas at Austin cut 135 tenured professors through buy-outs in order to save money. The Legislature must balance the looming budget cuts with the increasing pressure to improve graduation rates. Cuts to higher education could result in higher tuition rates and a decrease in financial aid. Lawmakers may consider student financial aid proposals that include changing the state's primary financial aid program, TEXAS Grant, to put more emphasis on performance in order to increase graduation rates. Lawmakers may also consider raising eligibility standards for this program. Other programs, such as legislation that passed last session to fund emerging research universities (referred to as Tier I universities), could be in jeopardy.
Committees to watch: (S) Education, (H) Public Education, (H) Appropriations S/C: Education
Key terms to search bills: Education
Committees to watch: (S) Higher Education, (H) Higher Education
Key terms to search bills: Education-Higher
Health and Human Services
This past fall, a joint committee hearing of the Senate Committees on Health and Human Services and State Affairs was held to address questions about the implementation of the Affordable Health Care for America Act, better known as the federal health care reform act. This legislation, which passed Congress last year, requires states to establish a health insurance exchange that uninsured individuals can use to purchase health insurance. If the state decides to run the exchange, it will face a number of decisions involving implementation of the program. If the state chooses not to act, the federal government will establish an exchange in Texas.
There are several other health care issues I expect to be taken up this session, such as concerns about the rising cost of Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and ways to address the state's doctor shortage. Because of our growing population and the millions of new Texans expected to enroll in Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), these programs will have to be changed or it will become necessary to provide greater access to care. Lawmakers may also consider increasing the number of graduate medical education slots or addressing student loan repayment rates. They may attempt to expand the scope of practice of nurse practitioners' or other health professionals in order to increase the number of health providers that may treat patients for minor illnesses or injuries. Another issue will be consideration of legislation now declared an emergency item that would require an abortion provider to offer a sonogram to women choosing to end a pregnancy.
Committees to watch: (S) Health & Human Services, (H) Federal Legislation, (H) Human Services, (H) Public Health, (H) Appropriations S/C:HHS
Key terms to search bills: Abortion, Health, Health Care Providers, Hospitals, Human Services, Mental Health, Mental Retardation
The Senate will be taking up several issues related to environmental regulation and our state's allocation of natural resources. Of great importance, especially to the North Texas region, is implementation of the State Water Plan. Financing for the Plan has been a significant roadblock to its implementation, and given our current budget situation, that is not likely to change. During the session, we'll be looking for possible solutions.
Discussions about gas drilling concerns in the Barnett Shale area will also be on the agenda. This matter has been a controversial topic for several years now, and it is likely that there will be legislation proposed to further regulate drilling operations to mitigate their potentially hazardous effects, especially in urban areas.
An issue that has received a significant amount of press has been air quality. There is an ongoing tug of war between the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over which agency will administer Texas' air permitting process. Permitting has been under the purview of the state, but the EPA had been threatening to take over the process and recently it did just that. The EPA contends that TCEQ is not following new regulations imposed by the EPA to control greenhouse gas emissions. The Attorney General has filed suit to block the EPA's takeover and the dispute is now being worked out in the courts. In the meantime, the Senate's Committee on Natural Resources has been holding hearings on its interim charges, one of which asks the Committee to review the EPA's implementation of its rules on greenhouse gas emissions and TCEQ's participation in the process. The Committee's recommendation on the interim charge could result in legislation to address the issue during the upcoming session.
Committees to watch: (S) Natural Resources, (H) Environmental Regulation, (H) Natural Resources
Key terms to search bills: Environment, Mines and Mineral Resources, Oil and Gas, Water
The Senate Committee on Jurisprudence held interim hearings studying the effectiveness of the guardianship program supported by the Department of Aging and Disability Services (DADS) and Adult Protective Services. Recommendations have been made to tweak the program in order to ensure that a ward would remain in the guardianship of a family member whenever possible and that a guardian would have an appeal process when allegations of cruelty or neglect are brought against them. Other legislation may address different aspects of guardianship programs, as well as altering the process of information sharing among agencies to best serve at-risk youth.
Committees to watch: (S) Jurisprudence, (H) Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence
Key terms to search bills: Aging, Family
Transportation and Homeland Security
The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) has reported that projected levels of funding will leave no funds for new highway construction after 2012. The Legislature will be reviewing several different funding proposals including authorizing the Texas Transportation Commission (TTC) to issue up to $3 billion in remaining general obligation bonds, reducing diversions of motor fuels tax revenue for purposes other than building and maintaining highways and allowing local-option elections on local increases in motor fuels tax with the revenue going to fund local highway improvements.
Some transportation leaders purport that the state is not ready for a new comprehensive development agreement (CDA) program that would entail public and private entities building new toll roads. However, proposals are being considered to re-enact the state's authority to enter into CDA's with limitations such as modifying the duration of these agreements, allowing potential projects to be solicited only after an environmental clearance or further strengthening restrictions on the non-compete clauses sometimes found in these contracts.
Committees to watch: (S) Transportation & Homeland Security, (H) Emergency Preparedness, (H) Public Safety, (H) Transportation, (H) Transportation Funding
Key terms to search bills: Highways, Law Enforcement, Transportation, Vehicles, Traffic
Illegal immigration and steps the state can take to secure its border will be seriously debated in the criminal justice committees. With a raging drug war in Mexico, it is more necessary than ever that Texas develop measures to curb the flow of illegal substances into the state and halt the flow of vehicles, weapons and money going out of the state. There will be discussion about methods of improving the Texas Gang Database, a Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) database that is used to communicate with local law enforcement about tracking various gang members in and out of state prisons and consideration of proposals that strengthen border checkpoints and the role of law enforcement agencies in enforcing federal immigration laws.
Besides border security issues, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) and the Texas Department of Public Safety will be facing massive cuts. While TDCJ will likely not shut down any prisons, they will look to shift money to probation-type programs that rehabilitate non-violent offenders and cost significantly less than jail or prison time. Another cost-saving measure is a Sunset recommendation that would consolidate the Texas Youth Commission and Juvenile Probation Commission into a single entity. This new model would be a cost-saving measure emphasizing community-based support and rehabilitation. The functions of these departments would be transferred to a new state agency, the Texas Juvenile Justice Department, by 2017.
Committees to watch: (S) Criminal Justice, (H) Border & Intergovernmental Affairs, (H) Corrections, (H) Criminal Jurisprudence, (H) Appropriations S/C: Criminal Justice, (H) Homeland Security & Public Safety
Key terms to search bills: Corrections, Crimes, Criminal Procedure, Law Enforcement, Minors
Sunset Advisory Commission
There are a number of agencies under review of the Sunset Advisory Commission. The Sunset Advisory Commission periodically evaluates state agencies and makes legislative recommendations to improve their service and efficiency. The Texas Railroad Commission (RRC) is one of the more high profile agencies under review. In spite of the name, the RRC largely deals with oil and gas interests. The agency is currently made up of three statewide elected officials. A recommendation has been made to disband the RRC in favor of the Texas Oil and Gas Commission, which would be governed by a single elected commissioner. Some of the other agencies under review are:
- Texas Department of Transportaton (TxDOT)
- Texas Department of Insurance (TDI)
- Public Utility Commission
- Department of Information Resources
- Texas Commission on Environmental Quality
Legislation has been filed that would require the Sunset Commission to use zero-based budgeting when reviewing agencies. This entails a budget in which all expenses must be justified for each new period. Zero-based budgeting analyzes every function within an organization based on its needs and costs.
Committees to watch: (S) Government Organization, (H) Government Efficiency & Reform
Key terms to search bills: State Agencies (Boards and Commissions), State Employees, Sunset Bills
Last session, I was honored to carry legislation which gave a full homestead exemption to totally disabled veterans. This session, there has been legislation filed that will extend this exemption to surviving spouses of these veterans. There has also been legislation filed that would ensure this particular exemption follows the veteran if he or she chooses to move, rather than attach itself to the property.
Committees to watch: (S) Veteran Affairs & Military Installations, (H) Defense & Veterans Affairs
Key terms to search bills: Military, Veterans
I hope this has been a helpful overview of the 82nd Legislative Session. As always, please call my office with any questions or concerns about any legislation. I also encourage you to use the Texas Legislature Online, a wonderful resource which allows you to track bills as they make their way through the process.
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