January 31, 2017

Join the City of Plano, Plano Chamber of Commerce, and Plano ISD in Austin for two days of quality programming from February 15-16, 2017. CLICK HERE for more information.

Info Session 1 - Thursday, Feb. 9, 7:30 AM - Learn more about the budget that the 85th Legislative Session is required to pass from Jim Pitts, former Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. CLICK HERE for details or visit mckinneychamber.com/ccdays to register.

Info Session 2 - Wednesday, March 15, 7:30 AM - Join Collin County chambers of commerce, city officials, business professionals, and community leaders for the second info session featuring a Workplace Development discussion. The panel will include input from local corporations, school districts, representatives, and more. CLICK HERE for details or visit mckinneychamber.com/ccdays to register.

Collin County Days in Austin
- Network with Collin County community and business leaders during two days of speakers, meetings, and meals in Austin from March 28-29, 2017. The second block of hotel rooms are still available at the Embassy Suites. CLICK HERE for more information and for the link to register via the McKinney Chamber's event page.
  • State of the State - Governor Abbott will deliver his message to a joint session of the Senate and House on Tuesday, January 31 at 11 AM
  • State of the Judiciary - Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court Nathan Hecht will deliver his speech to a joint session of the Senate and House on Wednesday, Feb 1, at 11 AM. 
  • Senate State Affairs Committee - Thursday, Feb. 2 at 8:30 AM in the Senate Chamber to discuss SB 4 by Charles Perry (R-Lubbock), which would eliminate "sanctuary cities."
CLICK HERE to view the full list of bills the Plano Chamber is tracking.  
The Senate Administration Committee met upon adjournment of the Senate on Monday to vote out SB 535 and SJR 31, the "blocker bills" that will remain at the top of the Senate's regular order of business calendar so that all bills behind them will have to be taken up on a three-fifths vote to suspend the regular order of business.

The House reconvened on Monday, January 30 at 2:00 PM.  

On January 23, Senator Jane Nelson, Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, presided over the committee's organizational hearing, which included an overview of the Biennial Revenue Estimate by Comptroller Glenn Hegar and an overview of SB 1, the appropriations bill, by Ursula Parks, Legislative Budget Board Director. Chairman Nelson said "SB 1 is a starting point and I look forward to working with an excellent group of colleagues who are as committed as I am to addressing our priorities, finding efficiencies, and passing a responsible budget that meets the needs of our growing state." The bill:
  • Appropriates $103.6 billion General Revenue (GR);
  • Continues the current funding formulas for both public education and higher education;
  • Adds $2.65 billion to cover student enrollment growth;
  • Dedicates approximately $5 billion for transportation in accordance with Proposition 7; and
  • Provides a $1 billion commitment to improve the state hospital system and address other state facility needs.
Chairman Nelson appointed two work groups:
  • The Workgroup on School Finance will work with the Senate Education Committee members who are not on the Senate Finance Committee, as well as stakeholders, to propose potential replacements for the current funding structure. School Finance Workgroup: Senators Larry Taylor, Chair; Paul Bettencourt; Brian Birdwell; Kelly Hancock; Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa; Kel Seliger; and Royce West.
  • The Workgroup on Health Care Costs will examine ways to contain the rising cost of health care in Medicaid, the Teacher Retirement System, the Employee Retirement System, and correctional managed care. Health Care Costs Workgroup: Senators Charles Schwertner, Chair; Joan Huffman; Lois Kolkhorst; Robert Nichols; Carlos Uresti; Kirk Watson; and John Whitmire. 
On Jan. 27, the Senate Education Committee held its organizational meeting and adopted committee rules. Immediately afterward, the Senate Education Committee and Senate Finance Committee's Workgroup on School Finance held a joint hearing to take invited testimony. CLICK HERE to watch the video. 

On Jan. 24, TSTA President Noel Candelaria commented on the Senate budget proposal stating, "Senate leaders should be ashamed of themselves for proposing a budget that continues to shortchange public school students and attempts to deceive local property taxpayers. This budget proposal would barely - maybe - cover enrollment growth, but only by increasing the burden on local school taxpayers, who already pay for the lion's share of school costs." CLICK HERE to read the full remarks. 

On Jan. 24, the Senate Finance Committee took up the budget of the TEA. Chairman Nelson opened the meeting saying, "Public education is critical to the future of our state and I think we need to send a real clear message about our priorities." The committee heard from Commissioner Mike Morath, who laid out his priorities for additional funding including continued support for the high-quality Pre-K program established by the 2015 legislature at the request of Gov. Abbott. He also requested an upgrade to the state's Internet infrastructure by providing a $25 million state matching fund to draw down $250 million in federal E-rate funds for fiber optic infrastructure. CLICK HERE to read more. 
On Jan. 25, the Senate Finance Committee took testimony on the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Board Chair Bobby Jenkins discussed the Coordinating Board's budget. He discussed the 60x30TX long-range plan for higher education with the goal for at least 60% of 25 to 34-year olds to hold a certificate or degree by 2030. He also said the Coordinating Board is requesting additional funding for financial aid so that 85% of eligible students can receive assistance. The committee also heard from institutions in the Texas A&M, Texas State and University of Houston systems and Texas Woman's University. On Jan. 26, the Senate Finance Committee heard from institutions in the University of Texas, Texas Tech, and University of North Texas systems and the Texas State Technical Institute components.  

On Jan. 25, Senator Van Taylor announced the filing of SB 14, the Ethics Reform & Anti-Corruption Act of 2017. Rep. Charlie Geren (R-Fort Worth) filed identical legislation (HB 1283) in the House. The bills are expected to be the major ethics reform legislation for the 2017 legislative session. CLICK HERE for Senator Taylor's remarks.

In addition to the comprehensive ethics reform bills, Senator Taylor and Rep. Geren filed separate bills containing each article within SB 14/HB 1283 - Senate and House Bills 500, 501, 502, 503, 504, and 505. CLICK HERE for Lt. Governor Dan Patrick's comments.

On Monday, Gov. Abbott announced several appointments to boards of regents of universities.
  • Texas A&M University System - Gov. Abbott announced the reappointment of Elaine Mendoza and Cliff Thomas and the appointment of Tim Leach to the Texas A&M University System Board of Regents, effective February 1, 2017, for terms set to expire February 1, 2023.
  • Texas Tech University System - Gov. Abbott announced the appointments of J. Michael Lewis and John B. Walker as well as the reappointment of John D. Steinmetz to the Texas Tech University System Board of Regents, effective January 31, 2017 for terms set to expire January 31, 2023.
  • University of Texas System - Gov. Abbott announced the appointments of Janiece Longoria, Kevin Eltife, and Rad Weaver to the University of Texas System Board of Regents, effective February 1, 2017 for terms set to expire February 1, 2023.
    • Senator Royce West (D-Dallas) held a press conference pointing out that the UT System Board of Regents, as presently comprised, does not have an African American regent and will not when the new appointments assume their posts on February 1. CLICK HERE to read Senator West's remarks.
The Senate Nominations committee wasted no time in taking up the nominees for the University of Texas System regent nominees. The committee interviewed Kevin Eltife, Janiece Longoria, and James Weaver on January 26. 




On Jan. 24, Gov. Abbott attended and delivered remarks at the Texas School Choice Week Rally where he promoted school choice as "not just a Republican issue or a Democrat issue - it is a civil rights issue." Gov. Abbott proclaimed January 22-28 as School Choice Week in Texas as part of a national effort to raise awareness for expansion of educational opportunities. CLICK HERE for more.

  • Lt. Gov. Patrick blamed the House for not passing school choice legislation in 2015, saying "last session, the senators passed the first-ever school choice bill out of this building with money attached through a tax credit program and it never got a vote in the rest of the legislature. I say, if you block a bill from a vote on school choice, you are blocking the future of that child, of that family, of that American dream."
  • Sen. Jose Rodriguez (D-El Paso), Chair of the Senate Democratic Caucus, commented on the rally saying, "we need to put public schools first because that's where the vast majority of all students get their education. Whether they call it 'vouchers' or 'choice,' it all comes out to the same - diverting public funds to private school pockets and allowing these private institutions to pick and choose their students with little accountability. Voucher schemes will do more harm than good to the vast majority of low-income and minority students, especially those left behind in under-resourced neighborhood schools. We must carry out our constitutionally mandated responsibility of providing an efficient system of public schools."


Prior to the school choice rally, Texas Freedom Network called on the Texas Legislature to focus its efforts on providing support for neighborhood public schools instead of "funneling public tax dollars to repackaged private school voucher schemes with little or not accountability for how our tax dollars are spent." Charles Luke, Coordinator of the Coalition for Public Schools said, "There is only one state education budget, and Texans cannot afford to pay for two systems of education - one for 93% of our children who attend public schools, and another to provide an entitlement to a few affluent families that went to send their kids to a private school."   



On Jan. 24, Senator Bettencourt (R-Houston) filed SB 542 while Rep. Bohac (R-Houston) filed the companion bill HB 1184, which would create a $100 million school choice tax credit scholarship pilot program. The bills would allow corporations to receive an insurance premium tax credit when they contribute to nonprofits that award K-12 scholarships to students with financial and academic need. Key provisions of the bill include:  

  • Private donations could be made to community nonprofits that give scholarships to eligible families based on financial and academic need.
  • The program is capped at $100 million.
  • It requires schools to meet or exceed TEA-recognized accreditation and curriculum.
  • Scholarships would be 75% of statewide maintenance and operations (M&O) funding or the maximum tuition, whichever is lower.
  • Public school students are offered $750 scholarships for academic support programs.
  • The program is considered a pilot because it is capped at $100 million (which would serve approx. 15,000-18,000 students).


On Jan. 24, Gov. Abbott reappointed Donna Bahorich as the Chair of the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE), effective Feb. 1, 2017 for a term set to expire Feb. 1, 2019. Bahorich was elected to the SBOE in Nov. 2012 and took office on Jan. 1, 2013.  



On Jan. 25, Sen. Don Huffines (R-Dallas) announced the filing of SB 610, which would expand access to the virtual school network to students in kindergarten, first, and second grades. CLICK HERE to watch the press conference.  

On Jan. 23, the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association (TTARA) released a report on what they called "the state's single-most important economic development tool: Chapter 313 of the Tax Code." Chapter 313 allows school districts to offer a temporary limitation on the taxable value of certain new investments projects. CLICK HERE to read TTARA's overview of the program, its impact on school finance, and how TTARA has addressed some of the criticisms levied at the program.

On Jan. 23, Senator Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown) filed SB 575, also known as the Small Business Tax Relief Act. It would raise the total revenue exemption on the state's business franchise tax from $1 million to $4 million. CLICK HERE to read Sen. Schwertner's comments.

During the Senate Finance Committee hearing on Jan. 25, Senator Bettencourt called for the Houston ISD's Board of Trustees to schedule another HISD "recapture" vote for May and avoid the situation created when the voters in Houston ISD voted down a proposal to send its recapture funds to the state, thereby requiring the Commissioner to begin detaching commercial property from HISD and attaching it to nearby property-poor districts. He called for HISD trustees to let people vote on the inevitable tax hike that will come with the Education Commissioner's detachment of high-value business properties in HISD, both for the detached properties and the properties that remain in HISD, since those properties will have to make up the shortfall to pay debt from HISD losing nearly $18 billion of its tax base. 

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