February 21, 2017
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.

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.
  • Senate Transportation Committee will meet on Feb. 22 at 8:00 AM for an organizational meeting, to adopt committee rules, and to hear invited testimony from TxDOT, Texas DMV, and Texas DPS.
  • House County Affairs Committee met on Feb. 20 to hear invited testimony from Dr. Steve Murdock, Texas State Demographer on the rapid changing demographics in Texas.
  • House Urban Affairs Committee will meet on Feb. 21 for an organizational meeting and to hear invited testimony.
  • House Public Education Committee will meet on Feb. 21 at 2:00 PM for an organizational meeting and to hear invited testimony on issues related to public education.
  • House Appropriations Committee's Subcommittees posted meetings for this week.
    • Subcommittee on Articles I (General Government), IV (Judiciary), & V (Public Safety & Criminal Justice) met each day from February 20-23.
    • Subcommittee on Article II (Health & Human Services) will meet each day from Feb. 20-23 at 7:30 AM.
    • Subcommittee on Article III (Education) will meet each day from Feb. 20-24 at 7:30 AM.
    • Subcommittee on Articles IV (Natural Resources), VII (Business & Economic Development), & VIII (Regulatory) will meet Feb. 20-23 at 7:30 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. The Senate reconvened on Tuesday, Feb. 21 at 11:00 AM.

So far, Senate members have filed a total of 912 Senate Bills and 37 Senate Joint Resolutions. The filing deadline is March 10. CLICK HERE to view the upcoming Senate Committee Hearings. 

The House was in session Monday through Thursday of last week conducting routine business. Since committees were appointed the week before, House reading clerks spent most of last week reading and referring bills. When the House adjourned for the weekend, a little over 500 bills had been referred to House committees.

The House reconvened on Monday, Feb. 20 at 2:00 PM. So far, House members have filed a total of 1986 House Bills and 58 House Joint Resolutions. The filing deadline is March 10.  CLICK HERE to view upcoming schedules.  
On Feb. 16, Rep. Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas) filed HB 1996, which would amend the Texas Election Code to allow primary voters to select candidates regardless of party. It would establish "open primaries" for all statewide and federal elections and would advance the top two vote getters to the general election, regardless of party. HB 1996 would amend the Texas Election Code, which currently separates primary candidates by party affiliation and restricts voters' freedoms by requiring them to vote for only one party's candidates.

Rep. Anchia said, "As Texans, we pride ourselves on our independence, especially when it comes to the ballot box. Government should not be able to tell us who we can and cannot vote for. Open primaries strengthen our democracy by allowing voters to choose the best candidates for the job, no matter which party they belong to ... Now more than ever, we need an electoral system that, instead of stifling bipartisanship, encourages it. This bill provides more freedom to voters and ensures our democracy is truly reflective of we, the people."
On Feb. 13, the Senate unanimously passed two single shot Ethics Reform bills, both authored by Senator Van Taylor. SB 502, which would reduce the meals reporting threshold for lobbyists from 60% to 30% of a legislator's per diem and would prohibit "ticket splitting" in which multiple lobbyists collaborate to make an expenditure above the reporting threshold; and SB 503, which would prohibit elected officials from registering as lobbyists.

On Feb. 14, the Senate took up two more single shot ethics bills, both authored by Senator Van Taylor. SB 504 would institute a "cooling off period" of one full legislative session before a member of the legislature can become a lobbyist, passed by a vote of 28 to 2. SB 505 would prohibit a retired officeholder who is a registered lobbyist from making a political contribution using their campaign account before the second anniversary of their departure from office, passed to third reading. On Feb. 15, one floor amendment was adopted and SB 505 received final approval by a unanimous vote. 

On Feb. 13, the Senate State Affairs Committee took up two of Lt. Governor Patrick's priority bills:
  • SB 13 by Joan Huffman (R-Houston) would prohibit union dues payroll deductions by state and local government employees. It was voted out favorably as substituted on Feb. 16.
  • SB 24 by Joan Huffman (R-Houston) would shield pastors' sermons from government subpoena power. It was voted out favorably on Feb. 16.
On Feb. 14, the Texas Freedom Caucus was launched with the mission to "amplify the voice of liberty-minded grassroots Texans who want bold action to protect life, strengthen families, defend the bill of rights, restrain government and revitalize personal and economic freedoms in Texas." Caucus officers include:  
  • Rep. Matt Schaefer (R-Tyler), Chair;
  • Rep. Bill Zedler (R-Arlington), Vice-Chair;
  • Rep. Jeff Leach (R-Plano), Policy Director;
  • Rep. Matt Shaheen (R-Plano), Grassroots Liaison; and
  • Rep. Tony Tinderholt (R-Arlington), Secretary-Treasurer
Caucus Chairman Rep. Schaefer said, "The caucus is committed to restoring first principles - the right to life, liberty, and property that are at the core of the freedom of America and the exceptionalism of Texas. The caucus will outline a set of legislative priorities after it holds a series of discussions with grassroots representatives from all across Texas. Thereafter, the TFC will support or oppose legislation in accordance with those principles." CLICK HERE to read more. 
Other members include Reps Kyle Biedermann (R-New Braunfels), Briscoe Cain (R-Houston), Matt Krause (R-Fort Woth), Mike Lang (R-Granbury), Matt Rinaldi (R-Irving), Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford), and Valoree Swanson (R-Spring). James Bernsen will serve as Executive Director. 
The Senate Finance Committee met Monday and Tuesday last week. On Feb. 13, they took testimony on Article IV agencies (Judiciary) and Article VII agencies (Business & Economic Development). On Feb. 14, they took up the Lottery Commission, Article III agencies (Regulatory), and Article IX agencies (Special Provisions).

On Feb. 14, Chairman Jane Nelson appointed work groups, listed below, to develop final recommendations for SB 1. When making the appointments, Nelson said "We have had four productive weeks of hearings and hear extensive testimony on each agency budget request. SB 1 is a starting point, and now we turn our attention to making decisions about our funding priorities. In a lean budget year, we will have to prioritize, but I am confident we will pass a responsible budget that meets our needs."
  • Articles I (General Government), IV (Judiciary), and V (Public Safety & Criminal Justice) - Senator Joan Huffman, Chair; Senators Kelly Hancock, Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa; Lois Kolkhorst; and John Whitmire
  • Article II (Health & Human Services) - Senator Charles Schwertner, Chair; Senators Brian Birdwell; Lois Kolkhorst; Carols Uresti; and Kirk Watson
  • Article III (Education) - Senator Larry Taylor, Chair; Senators Paul Bettencourt; Kelly Hancock; Kel Seliger; and Royce West
  • Article VI (Natural Resources), VII (Business & Economic Development), and VIII (Regulatory) - Senator Robert Nichols, Chair; Senators Paul Bettencourt; Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa; Kel Seliger; and Kirk Watson
  • School Finance Workgroup - Senator Larry Taylor, Chair; Senators Bettencourt, Birdwell, Hancock, Hinojosa, Seliger, and West
  • Healthcare Costs Workgroup - Senator Charles Schwertner, Chair; Senators Huffman, Kolkhorst, Nichols, Uresti, Watson, and Whitemire
CLICK HERE to view schedules, bills, minutes, and more.     
On Feb. 13, the House Appropriations Committee held its first meeting of the session. They heard invited testimony on general budget matters. On Feb. 14, they heard testimony on 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 Feb. 15, they heard testimony on public education funding, Medicaid, mental health, CPS, border security funding, and transportation.  
Also on Feb. 15, Chairman John Zerwas (R-Fulshear) appointed budget subcommittees, below:  
  CLICK HERE to view schedules, bills, minutes, and more.
On Feb. 15, Senator Borris L. Miles (D-Houston) announced a legislative package to increase business opportunities and grant awards for HUBs. Senator Royce West (D-Dallas) is co-author of the legislation. SB 794 would require the annual report for the Texas Enterprise Fund (TEF) to include the number of grants awarded to HUBs. SB 795 would require TEF grant funds to be awarded to HUBs in the same proportion as HUB awards of government contracts.

Senator Miles said, "Texas is over 60% minority, but the business opportunities do not reflect the population, and that's a problem that needs to be addressed. SB 794 and 795 will increase opportunities for minority owned businesses and hold the state accountable when awarding these funds. The bottom line is, this legislation will create jobs and ensure that minority owned businesses receive a fair share of the opportunities. If Texas is going to be progressive and forward thinking, we cannot continue this disparity between minority businesses and grant funding." CLICK HERE to read more.
On Feb. 15, Rep. Matt Krause (R-Fort Worth) announced the filing of HB 1865, which would set the school start date as the Tuesday after Labor Day and the end date as the Friday preceding Memorial Day. Rep. Krause said, "Having our schools start and end their school years together will be a great benefit to our state. It will give families more predictable summer holiday schedules and better support the industries that revolve around summertime travel and recreation. HB 1865 will have a positive impact on the state's economy. According to a 2013 Perryman Group study, creating a uniform summer schedule is estimated to have a potential $800 million positive impact to the state's economy and provide an estimated 5,800 jobs." 

Jim Brothers, Chair of Texas Travel Industry Association added, "HB 1865 would not only benefit families but it will ensure Texas tourism creates even more needed jobs while adding approximately $1 billion into the Texas economy." 

On Feb. 16, Rep. Brooks Landgraf (R-Odessa), filed HB 1979, the "Texas Fuels" bill, to harness funds restricted exclusively for emissions reduction purposes to promote the use of natural gas-based fuels in state fleet vehicles. HB 1979 would authorize portions of the Texas Emissions Reduction Plan (TERP) fund to be used to convert state fleets to include vehicles with engines that run on natural gas-based fuels.

Rep. Landgraf said, "This Texas Fuels bill is good for Texas. It will help create jobs in places like the Permian Basin that are blessed with an abundance of natural gas, but it will also provide a path for economic growth and cost-savings for Texas taxpayers. Texas is the largest natural gas producer in the nation, and the Permian Basin is the largest natural gas producer in the state. These co-products come from natural resources that should be used to their fullest extent." 

On Feb. 14, Senator Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) and Rep. Four Price (R-Amarillo) filed SB 860 and HB 10, which would require treatments for mental health conditions and substance use disorders to be covered by health insurance plans under the same terms and conditions as treatments for physical health conditions. Specifically, the lawmakers' "mental health parity" legislation would:
  • Allow the Texas Department of Insurance (TDI) not only require parity protections for all fully insured health plans, including small and individual plans, but also to prevent the health plans from imposing less favorable limitations on mental health and substance use disorder benefits than on medical or surgical benefits.
  • Create an Access to Behavioral Health Ombudsman at the Texas Health & Human Services Commission (HHSC) to help Texans overcome barriers to mental health and substance use care and designate a stakeholder workgroup to facilitate implementation of mental health parity.
  • Require TDI and HHSC to gather data regarding the denial rate of mental health and substance abuse services compared to denials of medical and surgical services to better understand what parity issues currently exist.
Senator Zaffirini said, "Mental and physical health are equally important to a person's well-being, and comprehensive mental health parity is necessary to ensure persons with mental illnesses and substance use disorders have access to the treatments they need. No Texan should be denied coverage of a diagnosed illness simply because the illness is mental and not physical."

Rep. Price added, "It is important to address parity so that those suffering from mental illness can receive the same level of care as those suffering from a physical ailment. Healthcare is about treating the whole person, not a single segment of the body, and this bill will help break down barriers to accessing mental health care."    
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