Senator Carona's Email Update
[Back to Senator John Carona's Home Page]

E-MAIL UPDATE

June 28, 2013

On May 27, 2013, the Legislature adjourned Sine Die, which in Latin means "without a day." Although Sine Die usually signals the end of the legislative session, Governor Rick Perry called the Legislature into the First Called Special Session on the very same day. The Governor is the only person who has the authority to bring legislators back to Austin for a special session, and he is responsible for setting the session's agenda, also known as the "call." Initially, the Governor included only redistricting of congressional and legislative districts in the call; however, he has the authority to add other issues, and he did so on June 10 and June 11. Specifically, Governor Perry added transportation funding, juvenile justice, and abortion regulation issues to the call. The First Called Special Session concluded at midnight on June 25. On June 26, Governor Perry called the Second Called Special Session to take up matters not concluded in the First Called Special Session. The Second Called Special Session will begin on Monday, July 1, 2013.

During the 140-day Regular Session, 6,061 bills and joint resolutions were filed, 1,447 of which were passed and sent to the Governor's desk. The Governor vetoed 26 of these bills. During the First Called Special Session, an additional 149 bills and resolutions were filed involving a variety of issues, however the Legislature considered only those bills that directly related to the Governor's call, three of which passed.

I am pleased overall with what we accomplished, although some important items were left undone. In this Email Update, I will recap what was covered in the Mid-Session Email Update and highlight some of the important measures that passed along with some that failed in both the Regular and First Called Special Sessions.


Business and Commerce
Finance
Education
Higher Education
Health and Human Services
Natural Resources
Transportation
Criminal Justice
Veterans Affairs
Redistricting

Business and Commerce

I was honored that Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst reappointed me to chair the Senate Committee on Business and Commerce. The Committee was presented with some particularly difficult issues during the Regular Session and from those realized important accomplishments. I have highlighted some of those for you here.

Beer Industry Reform — One of the more significant accomplishments of the Regular Session was passage of a set of bills, SB 515-518 (Eltife) and SB 639 (Carona), which represent the most comprehensive reform of the state's beer industry in recent memory. These bills allow for on-site beer sales and increased self-distribution rights for craft breweries, as well as off-site sales for brewpubs.

SB 515 status: Signed by the Governor, effective immediately
SB 516 status: Signed by the Governor, effective immediately
SB 517 status: Signed by the Governor, effective immediately
SB 518 status: Signed by the Governor, effective immediately
SB 639 status: Signed by the Governor, effective immediately

Property Tax Lending — I am pleased to report that through SB 247 (Carona) the Legislature instituted a wide variety of consumer protection reforms in the property tax lending industry. The reforms in SB 247 will ensure that good actors in the industry can continue to operate while also ensuring that property owners and communities are better protected from fraudulent, risky, and predatory behavior.

SB 247 status: Signed by the Governor, effective immediately

Texas Universal Service Fund — The Legislature also passed SB 583 (Carona), a bill that reforms the Texas Universal Service Fund (TUSF). The TUSF was created to provide incentives for the development of telecom infrastructure in high-cost rural areas of the state. Over time and with the development of telecom infrastructure, the need for such incentives has diminished. Under SB 583, companies claiming a need for the subsidy must now prove the need.

SB 583 status: Signed by the Governor, effective June 14, 2013

Captive Insurance Companies — Captive insurance is commonly used by large companies that wish to insure their own risk rather than contract with an outside insurance company. SB 734 (Carona) allows Texas to join 33 other states that currently authorize the formation of captive insurance companies.

SB 734 status: Signed by the Governor, effective immediately

Reverse Mortgages — SJR 18 (Carona) is another measure that passed which, if approved by voters in the November, 2013 election, will allow homeowners to access the equity in their current home and subsequently finance the acquisition of a new home in one transaction rather than two. If approved, SJR 18 will amend the Texas Constitution to expressly allow homeowners to utilize products known as "reverse mortgages for purchase," which can save homeowners from having to pay closing and other transactional fees twice.

SJR 18 status: Filed with the Secretary of State

Texas Windstorm Insurance Association — One of the more difficult issues the Legislature has faced in recent years is reform of the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association (TWIA), the coastal windstorm insurer of last resort. This session, I filed SB 18 and SB 19 (Carona) to address the significant risk to our coastal residents of being left without adequate coverage for a windstorm event of even moderate size and the corresponding consequences to the state. Unfortunately, the bills failed as members of the Legislature were simply unable to come to a consensus on the best approach for reforming the organization. I had hoped that a late agreement could be reached allowing Governor Perry to consider adding the issue to the call for the First Called Special Session. Since that did not happen, this seemingly intractable problem remains to be addressed. I am prepared to continue to work with my legislative colleagues on this important issue over the interim.

SB 18 status: Failed
SB 19 status: Failed

Payday and Auto Title Lending Reform — I was particularly disappointed when SB 1247 (Carona), a bill I filed to reform the payday and auto title lending industry, failed. We were able to pass a strong reform bill out of the Senate only to see it stall in the House. The bill would have significantly strengthened the regulatory program for payday and auto title lenders and implemented much-needed consumer protections in the industry. I feel strongly that this is an issue that the Legislature should take up again.

SB 1247 status: Failed

Smart Meters — In response to citizen concerns, I filed SB 241 (Carona), which would have allowed consumers to opt-out of smart meter programs electric utility companies are implementing across the state. Utilities use smart meters to collect real-time information about the transmission and use of electricity. Although some consumers prefer not to have them installed, there was significant opposition to the measure from the electric utility industry and others, ultimately causing the bill to fail.

SB 241 status: Failed

    return to list


Finance

The Budget — Because the Texas Constitution provides that the Legislature's only required accomplishment is to pass a budget, every regular session centers on this task for the upcoming biennium. In the Mid-Session Email Update, I provided you with an overview of the filed version of SB 1 (Williams), the General Appropriations Act, which allocates funds for the 2014-2015 budget. The Senate and House reconciled their separate versions of the bill, and SB 1 was passed into law.

SB 1 increases appropriations over the current budget from $189.8 billion to $196.9 billion for the upcoming 2014-2015 biennium. This represents a 3.7 percent increase over appropriations for the 2012-2013 biennium. This figure may appear to be significant, but it is actually lower than the increase that is required to meet expected population and inflation growth. The Legislative Budget Board's website contains additional resources that provide a more comprehensive look at the budget. The list below highlights some of the more significant aspects of SB 1.

SB 1 status: Signed by the Governor with several line item vetoes, effective September 1, 2013

Tax Cuts and Fee Rebates — I am proud to report that Legislators approved measures that create significant tax relief for Texans. HB 500 (Hilderbran) makes permanent the $1 million small business exemption from the margins tax. It also creates a tax credit for research and development and a sales tax exemption for telecommunications equipment. Under HB 7 (Darby), low-income utility customers will receive $850 million in rebates from payments made into the System Benefit Fund.

HB 7 status: Signed by the Governor, effective immediately
HB 500 status: Signed by the Governor, various effective dates

Funding for Water and Transportation Infrastructure Projects

Funding for Water Infrastructure — The Legislature faced a number of tough budget-related issues this Session and among the most pressing was the need to shore up the state's water and transportation infrastructure. Legislators appropriated $2 billion from the state's Economic Stabilization Fund, better known as the Rainy Day Fund, to be used as seed money to fund water projects. The funds will be deposited into a new fund, the State Water Implementation Fund of Texas, or SWIFT, which was created by HB 4 (Ritter), to be used as a revolving fund for local authority water development projects in accordance with the State Water Plan. SJR 1 (Williams) makes the creation of SWIFT contingent upon voter approval in the November, 2013 election. Together, these bills will pave the way for billions of dollars in funding for local and regional water projects to meet long-term goals identified in the State Water Plan. This accomplishment represents an important step forward in addressing the state's water supply shortages.

HB 4 status: Signed by the Governor, see remarks for effective date(s)
SJR 1 status: Sent to the Secretary of State

Funding for Transportation — While the Legislature made important progress in funding the state's water infrastructure needs during the Regular Session, funding for transportation infrastructure did not see any significant increase. Current appropriations will allow the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) to continue road projects through 2014-2015. Then, however, bond revenue and money from toll project funding will be significantly lower causing funding for transportation to drop to 2002 levels. Bills that looked to address transportation funding, such as HB 3157 (Harless) (increasing the motor fuels tax), failed to pass this Session. This is problematic for a state growing and developing as quickly as Texas, and for this reason, on June 10, the Governor added this important issue to the call for the First Called Special Session.

HB 3157 status: Failed

**Special Session Item**   Currently, all revenue from the oil and gas severance tax is deposited into the Rainy Day Fund. SJR 2 (Nichols) proposed a constitutional amendment that would have dedicated half of the revenue to the State Highway Fund. Use of these funds would have been limited to the construction, maintenance, and acquisition of right-of-ways for public roadways. This measure was expected to generate over $800 million per year in additional transportation funding; however, due to a filibuster on another bill in the last hours of the First Called Special Session, the bill was not reached for a vote and therefore did not pass. The issue has now been included in the call for the Second Called Special Session. At a minimum, I expect funding for the state's transportation infrastructure to continue to be a top priority for the state even in the next Legislative Session.

SJR 2 status: Failed

    return to list


Education

Omnibus Education Bill — HB 5 (Aycock) is the most significant, comprehensive education bill the Legislature passed during the Regular Session. The bill replaces the current "recommended degree" program for public high school students with a "foundation diploma" program. Rather than four credits in each major subject (the 4X4 plan), the new program requires students to earn four credits in English, three credits in math, three credits in social studies, and two credits in science. Under HB 5, a "distinguished diploma" program that requires an additional credit in math or science will also be available to students. HB 5 also reduces the number of end-of-course examinations required under current law from 15 to 5 and creates "endorsements" in areas such as technology and business allowing students to take courses in these subject areas in place of math or science courses.

HB 5 status: Signed by the Governor, see remarks for effective date(s)

Charter Schools — SB 2 (Patrick) lifts restrictions on the number of charter schools allowed in the state, which is currently capped at 215, and additionally makes a number of changes in the way charter schools are authorized, established, and governed.

SB 2 status: Signed by the Governor, effective immediately

    return to list


Higher Education

Governing Board Powers — SB 15 (Seliger) would have addressed the authority and powers of university governing boards by requiring that regents undergo training in ethics and their role in institutional governance. This bill passed both chambers but was vetoed by the Governor.

SB 15 status: Sent to the Governor, vetoed

Fixed Rate Tuition — HB 29 (Branch) requires general academic institutions to offer a four-year, fixed-rate tuition.

HB 29 status: Signed by the Governor, effective immediately

Transfer Requirements — Because it is often difficult for students to transfer between institutions, HB 30 (Branch) would have codified requirements for transfers. The bill failed to pass; however, some of the bill's provisions were added to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board Sunset bill, SB 215 (Birdwell), which did pass.

SB 215 status: Signed by the Governor, effective on September 1, 2013
HB 30 status: Failed

Tuition Revenue Bonds — SB 16 (Zaffirini) would have authorized the use of tuition revenue bonds to fund certain capital projects at public universities. The bill failed to pass in the House. Due to its importance to universities, some had hoped that it would be added to the Special Session call, but it was not.

SB 16 status: Failed

    return to list


Health and Human Services

Long-term and Acute Care Services — SB 7 (Nelson) will increase healthcare options for Texans with disabilities by expanding long-term and acute care services by increasing quality-based payments and improving service coordination. This legislation is expected to save the state $8.5 million in Medicaid expenses by increasing managed care services.

SB 7 status: Signed by the Governor, see remarks for effective date(s)

Medicaid Fraud and Abuse — SB 8 (Nelson) is intended to ensure that public money is being spent efficiently and effectively by implementing measures that will detect and prevent fraud and abuse within the Medicaid system and other Health and Human Services programs provided by the state. These changes are expected to bring significant savings to the state.

SB 8 status: Signed by the Governor, effective September 1, 2013

Drug Testing for Welfare Benefits — SB 11 (Nelson) would have required drug testing prior to receiving welfare benefits. The bill passed in the Senate but failed in the House. However, a similar bill, SB 21 (Williams), which requires drug testing prior to receiving unemployment benefits, did pass and was signed by the Governor.

SB 11 status: Failed
SB 21 status: Signed by the Governor, effective September 1, 2013

Expansion of Medicaid — Several proposals to extend Medicaid benefits to approximately 1.5 million lower-income Texans under the federal Affordable Care Act failed.

**Special Session Item** Abortion Regulation — SB 5 (Hegar) is a measure that would have regulated abortion facilities and abortions performed in the state. Specifically, SB 5 would have restricted abortions after 20 weeks post-fertilization, required an abortion provider to have admittance privileges at a hospital located within 30 miles of the provider's facility, and required abortions to be performed at an ambulatory surgical center. SB 5 was the target of the filibuster at the end of the First Called Special Session and therefore died when the time for a vote expired at midnight on June 25. The Governor has included the issue in the call for the Second Called Special Session.

SB 5 status: Failed

    return to list


Natural Resources

PACE — SB 385 (Carona) authorizes local governments to establish Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) districts, which enable certain property owners to improve their properties with energy or water-efficient retrofits. Considering current drought conditions and the state's struggle with resource adequacy, SB 385 could potentially transform the ability of municipalities and homeowners to improve energy and water efficiency.

SB 385 status: Signed by the Governor, effective immediately

Green House Gas Emissions — Under current law, the federal Environmental Protection Agency is the permitting authority for greenhouse gas emissions in Texas. HB 788 (Smith) will now authorize the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to issue these permits. This change will expedite the permitting process in Texas and put Texas on par with other states that have this authority.

HB 788 status: Signed by the Governor, effective immediately

Common Carrier Status — HB 2748 (Lewis) would have established a procedure to determine whether a pipeline operator is a common carrier with the right to exercise eminent domain powers over private property. The bill passed in the Senate but failed in the House.

HB 2748 status: Failed

    return to list


Transportation

Toll Legislation — SB 1253 (Zaffirini) would have prevented TxDOT from employing disincentives to use toll roads, such as a reduced speed limit on non-tolled roads adjacent to toll roads. This measure failed; however, SB 1029 (Campbell), which limits TxDOT's authority to toll non-tolled lanes, passed.

SB 1253 status: Failed
SB 1029 status: Signed by the Governor, effective immediately

Wireless Device Use While Driving — SB 28 (Zaffirini) and HB 63 (Craddick) attempted to ban texting while driving, and HB 41 (Menendez) attempted to prohibit the use of all wireless devices in a car unless parked. All three of these bills failed to pass.

SB 28 status: Failed
HB 41 status: Failed
HB 63 status: Failed

    return to list


Criminal Justice

Electronic Search Warrants — HB 2268 (Frullo/Carona) creates an expedited process for obtaining search warrants for electronic information stored in other states. Internet communications companies often possess information that is vital to the prosecution of an offense under state law, particularly information related to Internet crimes. Although the electronic communication at issue may take place within a certain state, law enforcement officers must apply for a local search warrant in an Internet company's jurisdiction, which is often found out of state. This limitation hampers law enforcement's efforts to obtain evidence about Internet criminals who are able to remove or change identifying data much faster than law enforcement officers can obtain the necessary warrants. This bill was particularly important in the investigation and prosecution of Internet crimes against children.

HB 2268 status: Signed by the Governor, effective immediately

The Michael Morton Act — SB 1611 (Ellis) creates a uniform discovery statute in criminal cases. This will ensure that discovery obligations are consistent statewide and that a defendant in a criminal case will have access to relevant evidence held by the state and prosecutors.

SB 1611 status: Signed by the Governor, effective January 1, 2014

Campus Carry — HB 972 (Fletcher) would have allowed concealed handgun license holders to carry a handgun on Texas public university campuses. Although this measure passed in the House, it failed to receive Senate approval prior to the end of the Session.

HB 972 status: Failed

**Special Session Item** Sentencing for Juvenile Offenders — SB 23 (Huffman) was filed in response to the Miller v. Alabama decision of the United States Supreme Court, which was issued in June, 2012. In Miller, the Court held that an automatic sentence of life without the possibility of parole is unconstitutional when applied to a juvenile defendant. SB 23 would have amended current law relating to the punishment for a capital felony committed by a juvenile to conform Texas law with the Supreme Court's holding in Miller. Like the transportation funding and abortion regulation bills, this bill was not reached for a vote in the final hours of the First Called Special Session due to a filibuster, and it died. The issue will be taken up again in the Second Called Special Session.

SB 23 status: Failed

    return to list


Veteran Affairs and Military Operations

Veteran's Opportunities — SB 10 (Van de Putte) was designed to improve employment opportunities for veterans by maximizing their military training and experience allowing the training and experience to be credited toward various civilian certifications. In another disappointing outcome, the bill passed in the Senate but died in the House. However, SB 162 (Van de Putte) and SB 242 (Carona) provide for other measures to help veterans assimilate into the workforce, and both passed. SB 242 expands crediting of military service to occupational licensing requirements by requiring the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation to credit verified military service, training, or education toward the occupational licenses that the agency oversees. SB 162 seeks to ease the transition of service members to civilian life by creating a process to recognize professional occupational licenses issued by other jurisdictions.

SB 10 status: Failed
SB 162 status: Signed by the Governor, effective immediately
SB 242 status: Signed by the Governor, effective immediately

    return to list


**Special Session Item**   Redistricting

Due to ongoing legal challenges to the redistricting plans passed by the Texas Legislature in 2011, the state's redistricting process is not over. On May 29, 2013, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, San Antonio Division (the court handling legal challenges to Texas' redistricting plans) held a hearing to consider how to move forward with pending litigation. The Court is now expected to issue an opinion in the case at any time. For background information about what has occurred over the last two years and a more detailed explanation of the process, please refer to my previous Email Updates from September 2012, February 2012, and December 2011.

In the meantime, in an effort to conclude the litigation and move forward, Governor Perry called the First Called Special Session directing the Legislature to consider measures to ratify and adopt the "interim" redistricting plans that had been used during the 2012 elections. You may recall that since there were no finalized redistricting plans in place for the 2012 elections, the San Antonio Court created temporary or "interim" plans to use during the elections. It is these plans that Governor Perry asked the Legislature to consider permanently adopting. After holding hearings across the state and taking testimony from Texas' citizens about the proposed plans, the Legislature adopted without changes the interim plans for the Texas Senate (SB 2) (Williams) and United States Congress (SB 4) (Williams) and adopted with minor changes the interim plan for the Texas House of Representatives (SB 3) (Williams). It remains to be seen what impact the new plans might have on the pending litigation. It is also possible that new legal challenges could be brought against the newly adopted plans. As always, I will keep you informed about the status of this important issue.

SB 2 status: Signed by the Governor, effective immediately
SB 3 status: Signed by the Governor, effective September 24, 2013
SB 4 status: Signed by the Governor, effective September 24, 2013

    return to list


In Closing . . .
As we continue into another Special Session, I want to say thank you to all the residents of District 16 who contact my office about issues of importance. It is an honor to represent you again in the Texas Legislature, and I am grateful for your invaluable input.

Sincerely,

John Carona
State Senator - District 16
http://www.carona.senate.state.tx.us/

Capitol Office District Offices
P.O. Box 12068
Austin, TX 78711
512-463-0116
800-662-0334
512-463-3135 (fax)
john.carona@senate.state.tx.us
8080 N. Central Expy.
Suite 1440, LB 44
Dallas, TX 75206
214-378-5751
214-378-5739 (fax)
5401 N. Central Expy.
Suite 300
Dallas, TX 75205
214-521-3884
214-953-1886 (fax)

Top