July 20, 2018

Inside this edition of Capitol Roundup:
State Senate committee continues school safety discussions

Texas Comptroller announces $2.8 billion additional in 2018-19 revenue estimate

Federal judges in San Antonio rule state voting maps should remain intact for 2018 elections

2018 special election dates set to replace outgoing state lawmakers

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Quote of the Week

"You have managed to be humorous and incisive on Twitter without crossing any of the lines - a perilous endeavor for any judge - but with a love of life and a personality that is irrepressible."

-Sen. Ted Cruz
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), right, made the remark during the Senate hearing to confirm Judge Don Willett, right, for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.  Willett, formerly a justice on the Texas Supreme Court, was on President Donald Trump's shortlist to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy on the U.S. Supreme Court until Trump nominated Judge Brett Kavanaugh for the position earlier this month. Willett, well known for his Twitter posts, has not been active on social media since his appointment to the Fifth Circuit in January. 
Texas lawmakers continue to discuss school safety solutions

Funding questions continue to arise as a bipartisan group of Texas senators met for the third time Wednesday to discuss school safety measures, including building safer schools and providing more mental health services.

In the third of four slated meetings, the Select Committee on Violence in Schools and School Security examined potential causes of school violence, which ran the gamut from a shortage of mental health professionals to social media.  Legislators repeatedly returned to questions of funding and how to prioritize resources as they heard testimony from counselors, researchers, and school staff and administrators.  Mental health concerns were constant. 

Sen. John Whitmire
Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston), a member of the select committee, said his district hardly has enough funding to hire enough teachers, let along school nurses or psychologists.  "We don't have nurses, we don't have counselors," Whitmire said Wednesday. "We don't have that kind of funding in HISD."

In previous meetings, the committee has discussed  designing schools to prevent threats, including plans to implement metal detectors and limit administrative offices to the front of schools.   Legislators have also discussed monitoring cameras, limiting school access points, improving locks, and arming school staff.

The Senate committee, chaired by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), was launched after Gov. Greg Abbott announced a plan of 40 recommendations to reduce violence in Texas schools following the May shooting at Santa Fe High School.  
Sen. Larry Taylor

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick subsequently formed the committee and added his own set of interim charges for the committee to consider. Outgoing House Speaker Joe Straus also commissioned members of his chamber to take action, including reviewing schools' emergency operations plans and targeting mental health strategies for children.

While some of Abbott's suggestions could be enacted with immediate funding from the Legislature, others will require passage of new legislation be be fully realized.  Abbott also indicated he was open to the idea of calling lawmakers to a special session to pass measures before school starts this fall.  However, Abbot says he will reserve the option until lawmakers show some "consensus on some laws that could be passed."

Other members of the committee include: Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston; Sen. Don Huffines, R-Dallas; Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown; Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills; Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas; Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville; and Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe.
State revenues exceed projections, Hegar adds $2.8 billion to estimate

Comptroller Glenn Hegar announced last week in a letter to the Legislature and statewide officials that his office expects the state to finish the 2018-19 fiscal year with a $2.67 billion balance, largely thanks to an influx of state sales tax revenue. 

Hegar's office expects the state to have just over $110 billion to spend in the upcoming two-year budget, which is a 2.6 percent boost from the $107 billion projection made in October.   Hegar said economic growth has continued to accelerate in Texas since the fall estimate.  

Glenn Hegar
"Texas in particular benefited from rising oil prices and production and the consequent increase in economic activity," Hegar's letter stated.  "The best ongoing indicator of the robust Texas economy is the state's rate of job growth.  Texas added more than 350,000 new jobs in the 12 months ending in May 2018, and the state's unemployment rate has been at or near historic lows in recent months."

The announcement is good news for lawmakers who have feared an impending budget hole since Hegar warned in march that  the state could face a  credit-rating downgrade  if lawmakers didn't come up with funds to address significant future liabilities, such as state government pensions and a health care program for retired teachers.

Hegar's revenue estimate could still fluxuate between now and January when the next legislative session begins in Austin. Then, the comptroller will issue a new estimate that detailing how much lawmakers can spend on the two-year budget they vote on in 2019.

"Though nearly all current economic indicators remain positive and revenue collections have exceeded our previous expectations, there are significant risks to the forecast," Hegar's letter said. "A trade war, a withdrawal from the North American Free Trade Agreement or a significant downturn in the price of oil would reduce our potential economic growth. The current outlook, however, is for continued growth through fiscal 2019 for both the economy and state revenue."

Sen.  Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound), chair of the budget committee in the Senate, is feeling optimistic. 
Sen. Jane Nelson

"This is welcome news - and another sign that our efforts to spur economic growth are working," Nelson said in a written statement. "Between Harvey and other supplemental needs, the upcoming budget will be a challenge. But this additional revenue will make a big difference."

San Antonio judges rule Texas voting district maps should remain intact ahead of 2018 elections

A panel of federal judges in San Antonio has ordered that the state's voting maps should remain unchanged this election cycle, despite lingering issues with one Texas House district. 

The three-judge panel made the ruling earlier this month, following a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court declaring the Texas state maps legal save for one district in the Fort Worth area - House District 90 - which the high court decided was subject to  racial gerrymandering where lawmakers had illegally used race as the major factor in making its boundaries.

The San Antonio panel of judges gave state lawmakers and the map's challengers until Aug. 6 to indicate to the court what alterations, if any, should be made to the district map. The court also ordered the two sides to address any other issues remaining by Aug. 29. 
Special election dates set to replace outgoing state lawmakers

Gov. Greg Abbott has announced special election dates to replace several outgoing state lawmakers, including Sen. Carlos Uresti (D-San Antonio) and Rep. Larry Gonzales (R-Round Rock).

Rep. Larry Gonzales
The election to replace Gonzales will take place Nov. 6, which is the same day voters were already scheduled to vote for his replacement.  Gonzales, a legislator since 2011 and a staffer before then, announce his retirement in June.   

Two candidates, Republican Cynthia Flores and Democrat James Talarico, have announced their intentions to run, with Flores gaining an endorsement from Gonzales.  Other c andidates have until Aug. 23 to file for the race. 

Earlier this month, Abbott also set a special election date of July 31 to replace Uresti, who resigned in June after being found guilty earlier this year of 11 felonies related to fraud and money laundering.  Uresti was sentenced to 12 years in prison. 
Carlos Uresti

Eight candidates have filed for the special election to replace  Uresti, including his brother, outgoing state Rep.  Tomas Uresti, according to the Secretary of State's office.  A mong the eight candidates who filed, there are four Democrats, three Republicans and one Libertarian. 

Abbott has also previously set a Nov. 6 special election to complete the term of former state Rep. Larry Phillips (R-Sherman). 

September 2018
21 - AGC TBB Board Meeting - Austin AGC Office

November 2018
6 - Texas General Elections
16 - AGC TBB Board Meeting - Austin AGC Office

January 2019
8 - First Day of 86th Legislature

May 2019
27 - Last Day of 86th Legislature