Budget Passed,
School Bond Vote,
Bills, Bills, Everywhere
April 23, 2021

This week's newsletter is brought to you by multiple cups of coffee (Coke Zero in my case) -- last night was our biennial "budget night," where members stay on the Floor late into the evening to debate, amend, and ultimately pass the appropriations bill that funds our state government for the next two years. While it's a lengthy process, it's also a reflection of the Legislature's tradition of allowing each member to have their say and fight for the priorities that matter to their constituents. It was a long night (though 10:30 is actually the earliest we have finished in my 5 terms), but I'm satisfied that we ended up with a fiscally responsible budget that will serve our state well for the next two years. I've included some of the bill's highlights below. 

As most of you know, one of our big priorities this session is ensuring that residents in nursing homes and assisted living facilities have the right to see their loved ones face-to-face, even in a pandemic. Our bill and constitutional amendment enshrining this right were previously heard in committee, and now the Senate companions have made their way through the House Human Services Committee as well. This brings us one step closer to the finish line, and I'm confident that we will get this important bill into law before the session is over. 

If you're wondering why last year's WFISD bond proposal was split into two--you aren't alone. My office has received a number of inquiries about this, so I wanted to explain the issue. As part of ballot transparency measures passed into law last session, school bond proposals which deal with athletics, recreational, or performing arts facilities (among others) must be on a separate ballot. Prior to the changes in 2019, all school bond items could be presented in one proposal. Though voters narrowly approved the bond for new school construction last year, the separate bond for extracurricular facilities failed. The school board has decided to bring it to voters again on the current ballot. More on this below. 
Looking ahead, we are quickly approaching the point in session where bills need to be heard and passed out of committee in order to have a decent chance at becoming law. We have been really fortunate so far in that most of our priority legislation is still on track and moving at a steady pace. In fact, we had two more bills reported favorably out of committee this week, and our Medicaid improvement bill unanimously passed the House. We've included the details below. 

May God bless you and your family,
James B. Frank Signature
James B. Frank

The Budget

There is only one bill that the Texas Legislature is constitutionally required to pass every session - the budget. Last night we took a major step towards reaching the final budget by passing, on a unanimous 149-0 vote, the House version of the bill. Because the Senate has also passed their version of the budget, the two chambers will now begin the conference process of ironing out differences between the two versions of the bill.

While the bill we passed last night will not be the final product that heads to the Governor's desk, it's pretty close to it. I wanted to take this opportunity to go over a few highlights and key numbers so that you are aware of where your tax dollars are being spent. 

First, the total amount appropriated is just shy of $247 billion over the next two years. That's actually a 6.8% decrease from the previous budget. The drop in spending is largely due to the projected revenue shortfall caused by the COVID pandemic. I'd note that the shortfall is nowhere near as bad as originally projected, but we still needed to reign in spending to stay in the black. As in the past, the biggest ticket items are Medicaid ($69.3 billion) and public education ($65.7 billion). Those brave enough can venture into the 897-page bill here

It's also important to remember that the federal government has appropriated significant funding to the states (moving taxpayer money from one pocket to the other). That said, there are several outstanding questions regarding the availability, amount, and conditions surrounding the money that still need to be worked out. In all likelihood, the Legislature will need to pass another bill at a later date to portion out these funds.

Bond Explainer 

Prior to 2019, bond proposals for all new school facility construction were lumped together, forcing voters to cast one vote for instructional facilities and extracurricular/athletics facilities. The Legislature passed a new law in 2019 requiring they be split into separate proposals. Regardless of how you feel about the bond proposals, it's clear that the law change had an effect as voters in Wichita Falls approved instructional facility construction in 2020 but did not approve new athletic facilities. Those interested can find the bill text here

I encourage every voter to know as much as possible before heading to the polls. WFISD has provided information as to what is in the proposal being voted on in the next couple of weeks. That information can be found here.

While they don't get the headlines and attention of issues in Washington or even in Austin, these local decisions are often the ones that impact our lives the most. I encourage everyone to take a look at the information about the upcoming bond proposal and vote-either during early voting (April 19 - 27) or on Saturday, May 1. More information on voting locations and times can be found on page 5 here

Bills Moving

I'm pleased to report that two of our bills were voted out of their respective committees this week, and one was unanimously voted out of the House. I've talked about each of these bills before, but as a reminder:

Out of Committee

HB 547 would allow home-school students to participate in interscholastic activities in the public school district in which they live in the same manner as students enrolled in public school. The bill voted out of committee will require UIL to promulgate rules that will allow (permissive) each school district to decide whether or not to allow home-school students to participate. 

Many of you know that this bill has been a priority of mine for quite some time. 

HB 4051 would end certain insurance contract provisions that do not allow patients who have health insurance to pay directly for a service if it means it's cheaper. It would also ensure that anyone who is uninsured does not pay a higher price than someone with health insurance.

Additionally, HB 4051 would end the ability of insurance companies AND large providers to write "most-favored nation" clauses in their contracts that attempt to keep potential competitors from negotiating for rates more advantageous to patients.

Out of the House 

HB 2658 makes a series of changes to Medicaid contracts, procedures and policies in order to re-align funding, reduce administrative complexity and provide for flexibility in the managed care program.

Photo of the Week

Enjoyed the chance to speak with some bright, hard-working students from Wichita Falls who are members of the Junior Bar Association. 

Bill Tracker

COVID-19 Protocols at the Capitol

If you are planning to visit the Capitol during the next few months, I encourage you to contact my Austin office (512-463-0534) to get the latest updates on health and safety protocols before making the trip down.  The rules are constantly changing but are gradually heading toward normalcy once again. 

You may find the following information useful as your plan your visit:
  • My office is always open to constituents. 
  • The House Gallery will be open to the public at reduced capacity.
  • Committee hearings will be open to the public both in-person and virtually. 
  • There are no public tours, groups, or sponsored event spaces.
  • All visitors must enter the Capitol through the north door.
  • COVID-19 rapid testing is available prior to entering the Capitol (located outside, north of the building).
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