February 14, 2017
DON'T MISS IT
  
COLLIN COUNTY DAYS
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 to register.

PUBLIC POLICY COMMITTEE
Join the Plano Chamber of Commerce for our monthly Public Policy Committee meeting. This committee discusses legislation and issues that affect the business community. Attended by business professionals, elected officials, and key community representatives, these meetings are open to all members in good standing. CLICK HERE for more details.
NOTABLE MEETINGS
  • Senate State Affairs Committee met on Monday, Feb. 13 at 8:00 AM to take up two of Lt. Governor Patrick's priority bills: SB 13 and SB 24.
  • Senate Finance Committee posted meetings for Monday-Wednesday this week.
    • On Monday, Feb. 13, they met at 10 AM to take testimony on Article IV agencies (Judiciary) and Article VII agencies (Business and Economic Development.
    • On Tuesday, Feb. 14, they will meet at 9 AM to take testimony on the Lottery Commission and Article III agencies (Regulatory).
    • On Wednesday, Feb. 15, they will take up Article IX (Special Provisions).
  • House Administration Committee met on Monday, Feb. 13 for an organizational meeting and to adopt committee budgets.
  • House Appropriations Committee posted meetings for Monday-Wednesday, starting at 7:30 AM each day.
    • On Monday, Feb. 13, they heard invited testimony on budget matters.
    • On Tuesday, Feb. 14, they will hear testimony on the Sunset recommendations affecting the budget, audits affecting the budget, state contracting, the Employee and Teacher Retirement Systems, cybersecurity and information technology, and deferred maintenance and capital needs.
    • On Wednesday, Feb. 15, the committee will hear testimony on public education funding, Medicaid, mental health, CPS, border security funding, and transportation.
CLICK HERE to view the full list of bills the Plano Chamber is tracking.  
SENATE NEWS
The Senate was in session Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of last week. On Monday, they conducted routine business. 

The Senate reconvened on Monday, Feb. 13 at 2:00 PM. CLICK HERE to view the upcoming Senate Committee Hearings.


HOUSE NEWS 
The House was in session Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday of last week conducting routine business. The House reconvened on Monday, Feb. 13 at 2:00 PM. CLICK HERE to view upcoming schedules. 
STATEWIDE NEWS 
ETHICS REFORM
On Tuesday, Feb. 6, the Senate approved SB 14, the Ethics Reform bill by Senator Van Taylor, which was the first bill voted out of Senate this session. Senator Taylor said, "This bill is an affirmation to the people that our efforts to represent them rise above even the appearance of impropriety or self-service, and that after the dust settles from important public policy debates, they have the confidence to know, in no uncertain terms, that we work for them no matter our party or position." SB 14 as passed out of the Senate would:
  • Revoke taxpayer funded pensions of felon politicians;
  • Automatically eject felons from the Legislature and statewide elected office;
  • Require state officers and candidates for state office to disclose government contracts, bond counsel, and legal referral fees;
  • Cut the meals reporting threshold for lobbyists in half from 60% of per diem to 30% of per diem;
  • End the practice of "ticket splitting," in which multiple lobbyists collaborate to make an expenditure above the reporting threshold;
  • Prohibit elected officials from registering as lobbyists;
  • Establish a "cooling off" period of one full legislative session before members of the Legislature may become lobbyists; and
  • Institute a two-year freeze of campaign accounts before members of the Legislature may become lobbyists.

Lt. Governor Patrick complimented the Senate saying, "Government, at all levels, must inspire the public's trust in a transparent and ethically principled manner. I congratulate Senator Taylor on today's unanimous vote in the Senate to pass SB 14 - this is a victory for Texas voters."  

 

Gov. Abbott commented on the passage saying, "The faith that people have in their democracy is linked to the trust they have in their elected officials. Representatives in Austin must be voting with their constituents' interests in mind - not their own - and I am confident that this session will lead to increased accountability and meaningful reforms that are desperately needed in Texas."     

HOUSE NEWS
ECONOMIC STABILIZATION FUND 
On Feb. 7 Rep. Krause made a motion to take up HCR 67, which would have given House approval to the $7.5 billion minimum in the Economic Stabilization Fund (Rainy Day Fund), which was adopted as the "sufficient balance" by the Joint Committee on the Economic Stabilization Fund Balance on Sept. 2, 2016. That motion failed to receive the two-thirds vote required to be taken up. It failed by a vote of 78 "ayes" to 49 "nays" with most of the Democrats voting against the motion and Republicans split between voting for it and avoiding the vote. 

HOUSE COMMITTEE ASSIGNMENTS 
On Feb. 8, the House committee assignments were announced. Speaker Straus said, "We want to utilize House members' strengths and allow them to work on issues that matter to their districts. Some very good members are taking on new challenges. I'm looking forward to their leadership. There is always a balance to strike between continuity and fresh thinking, and I think we have the right mix." CLICK HERE to view the full list of House Committees and Chairs.

Rep. Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton) was re-appointed Speaker Pro Tempore. Rep. Tom Craddick (R-Midland) is still the Dean of the House. He has served in the Texas House since 1969 and was Speaker of the House from 2003-2008.
 

FACTS ABOUT HOUSE COMMITTEES 
  • Number of Committees - The House has 38 standing and procedural committees, the same number as in 2015 and 2013. Speaker Straus also appointed two Select Committees. Select Committee on State and Federal Power and Responsibility, which was created in 2015, was continued. A new Select Committee on Texas Ports, Innovation & Infrastructure was established.
  • Republican Committee Chairs - Republicans are chairing 25 of the House's standing and procedural committee (the same number as in 2015). In 2013, Republicans chaired 24 of the House's 38 standing and procedural committees.
  • Democratic Committee Chairs - Democrats are chairing 13 of the House's standing and procedural committee (the same number as in 2015). However, Rep. Deshotel was named chair of the new Select Committee on Texas Ports, Innovation & Infrastructure, which brings the Democratic chair count to 14. In 2013, Democrats chaired 14 of the House's standing and procedural committees.
  • Carry-Over Committee Chairs - 19 House Committee Chairs are presiding over the same committee they chaired in 2015.
  • New Committee Chairs - 8 House members will chair committees for the first time.
  • Returning Chairs with New Committees - 11 returning chairs will lead new committees.
BUDGET
SENATE FINANCE COMMITTEE
The Senate Finance Committee met Monday, Wednesday and Thursday last week. On Monday, the Committee took up the budgets of the Department of Information Resources, Texas Ethics Commission, Texas Historical Commission, Commission on the Arts, and the Library & Archives Commission. On Wednesday, the Committee took up Article IV agencies (Judiciary) and Article V agencies (Public Safety). Chairman Nelson pointed out, "[SB 1] prioritizes public safety - a fundamental responsibility of government. We remain committed to border security and hope the new administration moves quickly to do their part to secure our porous border."

On Thursday, the Committee discussed Article IV agencies and Article VI agencies. Chairman Nelson made the following points:
  • SB 1 provides $4.3 billion for Article VI, which funds agencies related to natural resources.
  • SB 1 provides $162.6 million All Funds for the Railroad Commission, which experienced a $44.9 million decrease in fee collections due to declining oil and gas activity. The agency is asking for a supplemental appropriation from General Revenue to make up the shortfall.
  • SB 1 provides $263 million All Funds for the General Land Office (GLO), which is asking for $43.5 million for the Alamo. Last session, the GLO received $32.1 million for the Alamo - a $30 million increase in General Revenue over the previous session.

CLICK HERE to view schedules, bills, minutes, and more.    

 

TAX ISSUES

FRANCHISE TAX PHASE-OUT

On Friday, Feb. 9, Senator Nelson announced the filing of SB 17, which would establish a formula with the goal of phasing out the franchise tax over the next 10 years. Senator Nelson said, "SB 17 keeps Texas on the path to responsibly eliminating the franchise tax while maintaining the ability to meet our needs. If we are to remain the friendliest state for businesses, we need to remove this obstacle to job creation and economy growth. Under SB 17, as the economy grows, so does tax relief." Specifically, SB 17 would:

  • Reduce the franchise tax every biennium if the comptroller certifies that the state will experience at least 5% revenue growth; and
  • Stipulate that 50% of the additional revenue is dedicated to franchise tax relief.

Based on current revenue estimates, the franchise tax would be phased out within about 10 years.

 

GROWTH IN PROPERTY TAX BILLS

On Thursday, Feb. 8, Senator Bettencourt released a data comparison chart showing that property tax bills are growing two and one-third times faster than that of household income from 2010-2015. The chart uses property tax bill growth for the median home in Texas versus published median household income from the  Dallas Morning News. The rise in property tax bills was calculated by the Texas Taxpayer and Research Association and is 33.7% over 5 years on the average home.  

 

Senator Bettencourt said, "This reliable Texas data replaces faulty federal data showing only a 13.9% increase in property tax bills over the same five-year period. ... Not only does the reliable Texas data support the Select Committee's findings, but 50 hours of public testimony taken from taxpayers across the state last year proves it as hundreds of Texans expressed their frustration with ever-rising property tax bills. These property tax increases are unsustainable. My SB 2 empowers voters to decide how much government they want to 'buy.' This will be achieved by lowering property tax rates as appraised values increase and by voting in an automatic election if the rollback tax rate is exceeded." CLICK HERE to read his full remarks.  

 

Center for Public Policy Priorities spokesman Dick Lavine commented on Senator Bettencourt's announcement saying, "Texas local governments - cities, counties, community colleges, and hospital districts - provide vital services to their constituents. Locally elected officials decide how to provide these services and how to pay for them, an arrangement that reflects the values and desires of local voters. The Texas Legislature is no threatening to interfere in these local decisions by limiting the ability of local governments to raise the revenue needed to deliver the public safety, health care, education, parks, libraries, and other services their communities wants. CPPP opposes SB 2 because it would override the values and desires of local voters and limits ability to provide services." CLICK HERE to read more from CPPP.  

HIGHER EDUCATION
SENATE HIGHER EDUCATION COMMITTEE
On Wed., February 8, the Senate Higher Education Committee held a brief, six-minute organizational meeting. The committee staff was introduced and committee rules were adopted. Johanna Sheffield is the Committee Director, Sara Harringon is Senior Policy Analyst, and Daniel Warner is Chief Clerk. Chairman Kel Seliger announced that the regular committee meeting time will be at 9:00 AM on Wednesdays.

PUBLIC EDUCATION
P-TECH
Senator Larry Taylor announced the filing of SB 22, the P-TECH model legislation. P-TECH (Pathways in Technology Early College High School) is a program designed to create a direct pathway for students from high school to college to the workplace.

The program is a partnership between school districts, higher education institutions, and business/ industry under which P-TECH students receive focused education and skills that will prepare them for high-demand jobs. Under the P-TECH model, a framework of career options is created that expands on traditional early college models to provide for completion of a high school diploma, an associate degree, a post-secondary certificate or industry certification, and work-based training that prepares students for high-skill, high wage industries. Students participating in P-TECH benefit from inclusion in a curriculum spanning up to 6 years to ensure mastery of the academic, technical, and essential workplace skills necessary to ensure successful preparation for employment. 

Texas Association of Manufacturers
CEO Tony Bennett said, "Texas manufacturers need workers with skills that range from engineering to welding, risk management to robotics and we need public policy that provides a variety of educational options for our students. TAM supports SB 22. P-TECH programs culminate in workforce-ready students receiving either an internationally-recognized certificate or an associate's degree. ... Manufacturing jobs are ready and waiting for skilled graduates and with policy like SB 22, Texas students will likewise be ready to seize those opportunities." CLICK HERE to read his full remarks. 
INVITE YOUR FRIENDS
Are your friends or colleagues interested in receiving regular updates from the 85th Legislative Session? Forward this email or CLICK HERE to sign up for the weekly email updates.