February 7, 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 and 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 and 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's address was delivered on Tuesday, January 31 at 11 AM
  • State of the Judiciary - Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court Nathan Hecht's speech was delivered on Wednesday, Feb 1, at 11 AM. 
CLICK HERE to view the full list of bills the Plano Chamber is tracking.  
The Senate was in session Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of last week conducting routine business. They were in joint session in the House chamber on Tuesday for the Governor's State of the State address and on Wednesday for Chief Justice Nathan Hecht's State of the Judiciary speech.

The Senate reconvened on Monday, February 6 at 2:00 PM.

The Senate was in session Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday of last week conducting routine business. On Tuesday, they were joined on the House floor by the Senate for the Governor's State of the State address and on Wednesday for the State of the Judiciary speech. 

The House reconvened on Monday, February 6 at 2:00 PM.  

On February 1, Chief Justice Nathan L. Hecht delivered the State of the Judiciary address to a joint session of the Senate and House. He urged legislators to redouble courthouse security across Texas and provide money to protect judges from known threats as well as changes in the law to protect their personal information.

Justice Hecht advocated Texas Judicial Council proposals for more effective treatment for criminal defendants who suffer mental illness and for reforming procedures by which minor offenders are assessed fines and fees. More than $1 billion was collected and 16% - offenders in about 640,000 cases - were jailed for failing to pay fines and fees involving minor cases. CLICK HERE to read Justice Hecht's complete State of the Judiciary address. 

On Feb. 3, Sen. Donna Campbell filed SB 616, designed to ensure more concise ballot language. SB 616 follows a recommendation by the Senate Intergovernmental Relations Committee to address recent ballot language controversies by municipalities in which citizens felt issues were obscured or the will of the voters got lost. CLICK HERE to read Senator Campbell's comments. 

On Feb. 1, members of the Texas Conservative Coalition (TCC) held a press conference to unveil their 2017 Pledge with Texans, a pledge that they said was intended to advance legislation to fulfill six core principles, including:
  • Protecting constitutional rights;
  • Advancing economic freedom by reducing barriers for first-time employers and job seekers;
  • Promoting government reform, accountability, and fiscal responsibility;
  • Encouraging job creation through tax reform, reduction, and elimination;
  • Improving education; and
  • Working to strengthen border security and stem illegal immigration.
Over 40 members of the Texas House of Representatives were in attendance to announce the pledge. CLICK HERE to read remarks by TCC President Rep. James Frank's (R-Wichita Falls) andTCC Vice President Rep. Jason Isaac (R-Dripping Springs).

On Jan. 30, Rep. Kevin Roberts announced the filing of HB 1290. Under the proposed legislation, agencies would have to take one rule off the books for every rule that they add. It would not apply to rule-making authority granted directly by the legislature or any rule that is necessary to ensure the safety of Texans through the Health and Human Safety Code. CLICK HERE to read more.

A 2014 report by the National Association of Manufacturers found that compliance with regulations cost the U.S. economy $2 trillion a year and that compliance costs fall disproportionately on small businesses. In the National Federation of Independent Business' 2016 Problems & Priorities report, Texas small business owners identified "uncertainty over government actions" and "unreasonable government regulations" as two of their top five biggest concerns.   
On Jan. 31, a bipartisan workgroup of Texas House members appointed by Speaker Straus announced that it has agreed on legislation to improve CPS and foster care in Texas. The legislation would reorganize the Texas Department of Family & Protective Services (DFPS), moving it out of the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) and making it a stand-alone agency. The DFPS Commissioner would become a direct appointee of the Governor under this legislation.
Other reforms being considered by the group include expanding Kinship Care placements and developing a system of community-based services for placement of children in foster care (community care) instead of superficially repairing the flawed system. The group will introduce legislation in the next few days and continue to explore other changes that would improve CPS and the foster care system. CLICK HERE to view the members of the workgroup, including House Human Services Committee Chairman Richard Peña Raymond (D-Laredo).

Gov. Abbott
on CPS - "Last year, more than 100 children died in our Child Protective System. We must reform the system so that no more children die in it." CLICK HERE to read the remainder of Gov. Abbott's State of the State speech. 

On Jan. 31, Governor Abbott delivered his State of the State message to a joint session of the Senate and House. He outlined his emergency items and priorities for the 85th legislative session including four emergency items: reforming Child Protective Services, banning sanctuary cities, implementing meaningful ethics reforms and passing a resolution calling for a Convention of States. Gov. Abbott said "Since my first State of the State two years ago, more kids are graduating from high school, we doubled the number of Tier One universities and more Texans have jobs today than ever before. We had a downturn in the oil patch like we have almost every decade.

"And like every other time, Texas has come roaring back. Last year when oil hit bottom, Texas still added more than 200,000 new jobs. If Texas were its own country we would now be the 10th largest economy in the world. Our economy is larger than Australia, Canada and even Russia. Texas leads the nation in areas like oil and gas. Importantly though, Texas is in the middle of an innovation renaissance that weans our economy off of energy. Biotech, defense tech, wearable tech, and clean tech are technologies developed in Texas that are changing the world. By every measure, last session was a tremendous success. We made Texas freer, stronger, safer and smarter. This session, we have new challenges to solve and old challenges that need new solutions."

Governor Abbott outlined his legislative and budget priorities. He concluded by saying, "Texas is the Lone Star State for a reason. We stand apart as a model for the rest of the nation. It's our privilege and our duty to preserve the cause of liberty. Courageous heroes died so Texas could be free. Let's use this session to build a Texas worthy of their sacrifice. Let's keep Texas the most exceptional state in America." Specific issues are included in the issue categories below.


Gov. Abbott reconfirmed his commitment to ethics reform. "The faith that people have in their democracy is linked to the trust they have in their elected officials. That trust is eroded if they perceive that elected officials are acting in anything other than the people's best interests. It's time to let Texans know if elected officials have government contracts paid for by taxpayers. Voters deserve to know if officials are working for themselves or the people who elected them. I want to thank Rep. Charlie Geren and Sen. Van Taylor for approaching this effort in ways to avoid the pitfalls that led to the demise of ethics reform last session."

Gov. Abbott issued proclamations on Jan. 31 designating emergencies on 4 issues. Only bills on issues designated as an emergency by the governor can be passed before the 60th day of the session (March 10, 2017). The designated emergency issues are:
  • Legislation relating to state or local government cooperation with federal immigration law or federal immigration officials.
  • Legislation or resolutions relating to a Convention of States.
  • Legislation relating to CPS or foster care.
  • Legislation relating to ethics reform.
Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Jose' Rodriguez commented on the speech saying, "There is much in the governor's speech upon which I agree; the need for ethics reform, funding Pre-K programs, public investment to spark business via enterprise funds, and reforming CPS to ensure it works for the children in its care. I agree that he made two of those items priorities - ethics and CPS reform. But there is unfortunately too much that goes beyond what we can cooperate on." CLICK HERE to read Senator Rodriguez's full remarks.  
Coinciding with his State of the State address, Governor Abbott released his budget for the 2018-19 biennium. CLICK HERE to read more. Highlights of the budget:
  • Adds $500 million for reforming CPS;
  • Maintains $800 million in funding for border security;
  • Fully funds $5 billion in additional road construction without new taxes, fees, debt, or tolls;
  • Fully funds optional, high-quality Pre-K programs;
  • Fully funds job creation programs like the Texas Enterprise Fund (TEF);
  • Fully funds the Governor's University Research Initiative (GURI);
  • Fully funds disaster-relief programs;
  • Cuts taxes on employers (franchise tax) by another $250 million; and
  • Maintains funding for development grants that support Texas military bases.
Gov. Abbott called for state agencies to institute an immediate hiring freeze, saying "We must cut spending in our current biennium to ensure we live within our budget. To accomplish this, I am directing state agencies to impose an immediate hiring freeze through the end of August. This should free up about $200 million in our current budget. And in the next biennium, I'm confident we can balance the budget without looting the Rainy Day Fund."

The Senate Finance Committee met Monday through Thursday last week. On Jan. 30-31 they took testimony on Article II (Health and Human Services) agencies. On Feb. 1, they heard invited testimony on health care costs from the Health and Human Services Commission, Employees Retirement System, and Teacher Retirement System. They also heard from Texas Department on Criminal Justice regarding correctional managed health care. They took invited testimony on Article I agencies (General Government). On Feb. 2, they continued testimony on Article I agencies. On Feb. 3, the Senate Finance Committee's Workgroup on Healthcare Costs took invited testimony.

The Senate Finance Committee has posted meetings for this week. They are scheduled to meet Feb. 6-9 at 9 AM to take testimonies on Article I agencies (General Government), Article IV agencies (Judiciary), Article V agencies (Public Safety & Criminal Justice), and Article VI agencies (Natural Resources), respectively. CLICK HERE to view schedules, bills, minutes, and more. 

Gov. Abbott called for a franchise tax reduction and property tax reform in the State of the State.

On Jan. 31, Senator Jane Nelson, Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, filed SB 669, which would reform the property tax appraisal process. CLICK HERE to read her remarks. SB 669 would amend the Tax Code to:
  • Increase education requirements for Appraisal Review Board (ARB) members and arbitrators and require the Comptroller to establish and supervise a training program for arbitrators;
  • Provide additional ways for taxpayers to provide feedback of their experience with ARB;
  • Establish term limits for ARB members in larger counties;
  • Allow ARB members to choose the chairman instead of the appraisal district board of directors;
  • Require appraisal districts to provide taxpayers any evidence to be used at a hearing and prohibit its use if not delivered to the taxpayer;
  • Prohibit ARBs from raising a property's appraised value above the amount in the notification and require that protest hearing orders be issued within 15 days; and
  • Allow taxpayers' agents to postpone a hearing if appraisal districts fail to comply with law, require related hearings be held consecutively, and require ARBs provide its recommended value to taxpayers at the end of a hearing.


On Feb. 1, Education Commissioner Mike Morath issued a directive stating that the TEA would recognize 50% of the local optional homestead exemption (LOHE) for the 2016-17 school year, which will reduce the calculation of the recapture and will reduce the requirement for Commissioner Morath to detach commercial property by $60 million. The directive will reduce the value of property required to be detached from $17.4 billion to $11.1 billion. CLICK HERE to read the letter.  

In his State of the State address, Governor Abbott gave a shout-out to the Texas Enterprise Fund. "Every man and every woman in this state should have greater opportunity for economic advancement. To promote that goal, we need to further diversify our economy by attracting jobs to Texas from outside the energy sector." CLICK HERE to read his full speech. 

On Jan. 31, Comptroller Hegar issued a report examining healthcare-related spending by 68 state agencies and higher education institutions from fiscal 2011-2015. The report includes an analysis of all state government healthcare spending an in-depth look at the five state agencies reporting the largest share of that spending - the Texas HHSC (59.1%), Department of Aging & Disability Services (11%), Department of State Health Services (4.9%), Employees Retirement System (4.4%), and Teacher Retirement System (3.1%). Together, these agencies accounted for 82.5% of all state healthcare spending in fiscal 2015. CLICK HERE to read Comptroller Hegar's remarks. Among the report's findings:
  • In fiscal 2015, Texas spent $42.9 billion on healthcare, representing 43.1% of all state appropriations;
  • From fiscal 2011 to fiscal 2015, state healthcare expenditures rose by 19.7%, a rate exceeding the growth of both inflation and the Texas population in the same time period;
  • In Texas, healthcare spending represents about 12% of gross state product.
In his State of the State address, Governor Abbott asked for continued support for the Governor's University Research Initiative (GURI), which was his higher education priority in 2015. CLICK HERE to read his 2017 legislative report.

One of Gov. Abbott's 2015 priorities was establishing a high quality Pre-K program in Texas. He expressed his continuing support for the program and criticized the proposed Senate and House budget bills for not placing a higher priority on the program. CLICK HERE to read more.

Among the education priorities the governor discussed in the State of the State were broadband connectivity, math innovation zones, reading and math academies, charter schools, school finance reform and school choice. 

On Feb. 3, Texas Aspires, a statewide education advocacy organization, unveiled its 2017 legislative agenda and called on legislative leaders to make a commitment to Texas children by implementing "meaningful education policies" this session. Texas Aspires' policy priorities include:
  • Replacing high school end-of-course exams with the Texas Success Initiative Assessment for accountability and graduation purposes;
  • Creating a process for locally-developed teacher quality plans that highlight strategies for recruiting, developing, and retaining effective educators;
  • Facilitating statewide conditions that encourage and incentivize district-charter partnerships;
  • Implementing and improving the A-F campus and district rating system;
  • Providing facilities funding for charter schools; and
  • Increasing post-secondary readiness and defending rigorous standards. 
On Jan. 30, Lt. Gov. Patrick and Senator Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), Chairman of the Senate Education Committee, held a press conference announcing SB 3, which would create school choice through two methods. CLICK HERE to read their remarks. 
  • Method 1: Allow parents to receive a portion of the money intended to educate their child at a traditional public school, which averages about $9,000 per year. This money would be place in a trust account and could only be used for educational costs, like private school tuition or online courses. The amount received would be based on need, ranging from 60% of the cost for educating a student at a public school in a year for families above two times the federal poverty level, to 75% for poor families, and 90% for families with disabled children.
  • Method 2: Allow the creation of tax credit scholarship accounts, where people or businesses can donate money to the education of eligible children in exchange for a tax deduction. This amount would be capped at $100 million per year to start and would be open to students who are below the 200% federal poverty line threshold, are in foster care, or are the children of military service members.
Texas State Teachers Association President Noel Candelaria responded to the SB 3 press conference saying, "This so-called school 'choice' proposal has nothing to do with parental choice but instead is another attack on public education. It would further shortchange Texas public schools and the vast majority of children who will continue to be educated in them. If Dan Patrick and his fellow senators wanted to give all students and their parents a meaningful educational choice, they would more adequately fund public education, so that children of all economic backgrounds would have a full menu of academic offerings and electives in their neighborhood public schools." CLICK HERE to read Mr. Candelaria's full remarks. 

On Feb. 3, Senator Schwertner introduced a slate of legislation meant to support the rights of private landowners and strengthen protections against unfair taxation and abuse of eminent domain. Bills in his property rights package include:
  • SB 626 would require a condemning authority to specify which parcel of a landowner's property is needed for a desired project and which is not subject to condemnation, and would require separate compensation offers for each.
  • SB 627 would provide landwoners with increased disclosure of existing survey-related rights, including the right to negotiate survey terms and recover damages caused by survey, as well as the landowner's right to refuse access to their property without a court order.
  • SB 628 would strengthen existing "Landowner's Bill of Rights" protections, which allow landowners the right to repurchase property seized through eminent domain unless the condemning entity can demonstrate "actual progress" on the project within a defined period of time.
  • SB 629 would eliminate the 7% interest penalty assessed on taxes owed by farmers and ranchers when they convert their property from an agricultural or open-space designation to another use.
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