March 13, 2017
Info Session 2 - Wed., 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 is still available at the Embassy Suites. CLICK HERE 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.
CLICK HERE to view the full list of bills the Plano Chamber is tracking.
The Senate will reconvene on Monday, March 13 at 2 PM. CLICK HERE to view upcoming schedules. 
The House was in session Monday-Thursday of last week conducting routine business. The House will reconvene on Monday, March 13 at 2 PM. CLICK HERE to view upcoming schedules.  
The deadline for legislators to file bills to be considered by the Texas Senate and House this session was 6:00 PM on Friday, March 10. Beginning this week, it will take a suspension of the rules to get permission to introduce a bill. The filing deadline does not apply to local bills, concurrent resolutions, or simple resolutions. As of March 3, 2931 HBs and HJRs had been filed and 1349 SBs and SJRs had been filed for a total of 4280 bills and resolutions. At the same point in the 2015 session, 3521 bills had been filed (750 less). In 2014, 2485 were filed in the last week.
On March 6, Gov. Abbott activated state resources to help combat wildfires in the Texas panhandle. In support of local efforts, the governor has deployed Texas Infrastate Fire Mutual Aid Strike Teams to assist local first responders. Other state agencies engaged in support of local officials include the Texas Forest Service, Texas Parks & Wildlife Game Wardens, Texas Dept. of Public Safety, and Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM).

Gov. Abbott said, "Due to the unpredictable nature of wildfires, I encourage local residents to heed all warnings from local emergency management officials as firefighters work swiftly to contain the fires." CLICK HERE to read his full statement.

On March 7, the Senate State Affairs Committee took up SB 6 by Lois Kolkhorst, which would require school districts, political subdivisions, and state agencies to develop a policy requiring multiple-occupancy bathrooms or changing facilities to be designated for and used only by persons of the same biological sex. The committee heard over 18 hours of testimony with 43 speaking in support and 266 speaking against. An additional 201 people registered support and 1333 registered opposition. A committee substitute was adopted and it was reported out of committee by a vote of 7 to 1. CLICK HERE to view the testimony. Commentary by key figures is below:

Senator Lois Kolkhorst - In laying out the bill, Senator Kolkhorst said, "In May of 2016, President Obama issued an edict that all school children could declare their own gender and use the restroom, locker room and shower of their choice. Thankfully, the newly-appointed Attorney General has since rescinded that order, saying it was done 'without due regard for the primary role of the states.' I agree, which is why I've been joined by over a dozen of my fellow state senators in authoring this bill, the Texas Privacy Act (SB 6). The bill codifies what most Texans already expect. The act designates separate showers, locker rooms and restrooms for males and females in public schools, colleges, universities and government facilities. ... We must put safety, and dignity ahead of social engineering that is disguised as civil rights. The Texas Privacy Act is inclusive, allowing personal accommodations for special circumstances while also respecting those who do not consent to a male entering a female restroom." CLICK HERE to read her full remarks.

Senator Jose Rodriguez, Chair of the Senate Democratic Caucus gave a Democratic response saying, "SB 6 is problematic in a number of ways, from creating legal issues to nullifying local control to targeting, instead of protecting, vulnerable Texans. While it is disturbing that we are being forced to fight what amounts to state-ordered discrimination, we must take this opportunity to educate Texans on the law and on the trans community, which needs our support, not to be vilified or discriminated against. First, SB 6 conflicts with federal civil rights laws because it discriminates on the basis of sex. Both Title VII and Title IX of our federal civil rights laws expressly prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex... And, because SB 6 cannot be reconciled with federal civil rights laws or the equal protection guarantee of the U.S. Constitution, it would put school districts, municipalities, and other governmental entities in Texas in an untenable position." CLICK HERE to read his full remarks.

On March 9, the Senate Business & Commerce Committee took up SB 80 by Jane Nelson, which would eliminate and streamline state agency reports that no longer serve their intended purpose or are redundant of other reporting requirements. It was left pending.

On March 6, the House International Trade & Intergovernmental Affairs Committee heard invited testimony on NAFTA. CLICK HERE for the full list of witnesses and testimony.

On March 9, the House Economic & Small Business Development Committee heard invited testimony. Witnesses included: 
  • Dale Craymer of Texas Taxpayers & Research Association (TTARA) suggested that the state needs a "one stop shopping" portal for businesses seeking economic development incentives to apply in one location even if therea re multiple applications to submit. He also suggested the legislature should review how it evaluates incentives. Because fiscal notes are static, they only report the amount of money the state or local entities lose because of an economic development incentive. He recommended that reports on incentives should also look at the benefits brought to the state and amount of money the state would have lost if the incentivized project was not in the state.
  • Joe May, Chancellor of Dallas County Community College (DCCC) reported that community colleges are the number one provider of workforce training in Texas. He also talked about the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) housed at his institution. He discussed the workforce shortage (currently, there are 42,000 job openings in DFW). To help address the issue, DCCC is requesting approval by the legislature to offer baccalaureate degrees in early childhood education, nursing, and applied technology and manufacturing.
  • Robert McKinley of the University of Texas at San Antonio discussed activities of his institution's SBDC. He said that while the Texas Enterprise Fund (TEF) addresses large projects, SBDCs provide services to the smaller businesses that are often the suppliers for the large businesses that receive TEF assistance. SBDCs help small businesses, rural businesses, and women and minority-owned businesses with access to capital, workforce training, turnaround services, and access to international markets.
  • Carleton Schwabb of Texas Economic Development Council discussed Type A and Type B local economic development corporations (EDCs). Since the programs were started in 1989, 723 EDCs have been established - around 500 Type B corporations and a little over 200 Type A corporations. The projects that have been funded have created over one million jobs and accounted for 20% of the state's job growth between 1989 and 2015.
  • Bill Peacock of Texas Public Policy Foundation made a case against economic development incentives. He argued that states that perform best economically are the states that have the lowest per capita spending and are also the states with low economic development spending per capita. He said, "States that reduce spending and taxes have the strongest economies. States with the highest economic performance spend the least per capita on economic development." He suggested:
    • slow spending growth by basing the spending cap on population growth plus inflation;
    • not dipping into the Economic Stabilization Fund; and
    • phasing out local and state economic development incentive programs.
  • Barrett Groves of the Center for Public Policy Priorities discussed the declining middle class and the reduced number of mid-skill jobs available compared to 1979. There is growth in high-skill jobs and in low-skill jobs. He suggested the state needs to align workforce training and education efforts with available jobs.
On March 6, the Senate Finance Committee took up:
  • SB 132 by Brandon Creighton would allow state agencies to retain one-half (instead of one-fourth) of the amount of general revenue saved under the Savings Incentive Program and would remove the 1% cap on the amount subject to retention. It was reported favorably and is on the Senate Intent Calendar for March 13.
  • SB 135 by Van Taylor would require state agencies to provide a prioritized budget request that reduces spending by 1%, 5%, and 10%. It was reported favorably and is on the Senate Intent Calendar for March 13 (first placement).

On March 13, the Senate Finance Committee will take up SB 2 and SB 669.

SB 2 by Paul Bettencourt is an omnibus property tax reform bill. It would:
  • Lower the rollback tax rate from the current 8% to 4%.
  • Require automatic tax ratification elections if the taxing unit adopts a tax rate that exceeds the rollback rate, thus removing the onerous petition requirement in current statute.
  • Standardize tax ratification elections across the state by requiring them to be held on general election dates.
  • Create a Property Tax Administration Advisory Board in the Comptroller's office to oversee the entire property tax process.
  • Statutorily set the deadlines for all property tax protests to be filed in Texas to May 15, thereby eliminating confusion by owners of multiple classification of property owners.
  • Require all appraisal districts to use the appraisal manuals issued by the Texas Comptroller, which will result in more transparent, accountable, and consistent appraisals statewide.
  • Establish specialized Appraisal Review Board (ARB) panels in counties with a population of 120,000 or more than can hear more complex taxpayer protests.
  • Clarify that a majority vote by ARB is binding for decisions, thus eliminating the requirement of some ARB panels for a unanimous vote.
  • Eliminate Sunday ARB hearings and evening hearings that begin after 7 PM or before 5 PM.
  • Mandate that all members of each Appraisal District Board of Directors must be elected officials within their respective counties, thus directly answerable to the citizens.
  • Increase the value of properties that have the option of going to binding arbitration to $5 million, thereby providing taxpayers an alternative to costly litigation.
  • Raise the exemption from filing income producing business personal from $500 in value to $2500 to cut compliance cost for taxpayers and appraisal districts.
  • Prohibits local governments from challenging the value of an entire class of properties.

SB 669 by Jane Nelson would reform the property tax appraisal process. It would:

  • Increase education requirements for ARB members and arbitrators and require Comptroller to establish and supervise a training program for arbitrators;
  • Provide additional ways for taxpayers to provide feedback of their experience with the ARB;
  • Establish term limits for ARB members in larger counties;
  • Allow ARB members to choose the chair 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 to be held consecutively, and require ARBs provide its recommended value to taxpayers at the end of a hearing.
The full House Appropriations Committee met March 8 to consider budget recommendations and receive invited testimony on Articles I (General Government) and VII (Business & Economic Development). On March 9, they considered budget recommendations and received invited testimony on Article II (Health & Human Services). The subcommittees met earlier in the week.
On March 10, House Appropriations Committee Chair Zerwas filed HB 2, the supplemental appropriations bill for the 2016-17 budget cycle. It would use $1.4 billion from the Economic Stabilization Fund and provide:
  • funding for emergency needs in CPS, including the hiring of additional staff and pay raises that state leaders approved last year in order to bring stability to the CPS workforce;
  • appropriations needed to fund the Medicaid program through the end of current budget cycle;
  • funding for critical infrastructure needs at aging state hospitals and state-supported living centers;
  • increased forensic bed capacity in state hospitals and mental health hospitals; and
  • funding to preserve access to Medicaid therapy services.
Chair Zerwas said, "This bill will pay for improvements that have already begun at Child Protective Services. It will also allow us to pay other bills that will soon be due and ensure that we are on sound fiscal footing heading into the next two years. HB 2 covers these expenses by appropriating $1.4 billion from the state's Economic Stabilization Fund (also known as the Rainy Day Fund), which is projected to contain $12 billion at the end of the next budget cycle. Using a small portion of the Economic Stabilization Fund, combined with spending reductions, is the responsible way for us to close out the current budget cycle and respond to the slowdown in our economy."

Speaker Straus added, "HB 2 is a responsible approach that combines spending reductions with a modest withdrawal from the Rainy Day Fund. I believe this is a better option than leaving $12 billion sitting in the bank while making deep cuts to higher education and significantly increasing health care premiums on retired teachers. Our approach keeps spending low but also recognizes some very important priorities and some very real obligations." 
On March 6, House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty filed HB 21, which would provide $1.6 billion in additional resources for education and makes other improvements to Texas' school finance formulas. When compared to what they are scheduled to receive under current law, more than 95% of Texas school districts receive additional per-student funding under HB 21. In addition, almost every charger school gets additional dollars.
Funding for HB 21 is included in HB 1, the House's proposed state budget. Chairman Huberty said, "We are putting more resources in the classroom and making needed reforms to our school finance formulas. By increasing state funding for schools, we can improve instruction and reduce the need for higher property taxes. This bill would keep more local tax dollars in local public schools." Specifically, it would:
  • Reduce the amount of money that local taxpayers would pay in Recapture by $163 million in 2018 and $192 million in 2019.
  • Increase the Basic Allotment from $5,140 to $5,350.
  • Create new transportation funding at $125 per student funded through the Basic Allotment, which would benefit charters and allow districts that pay Recapture to fully access state transportation funding for the first time.
  • Provide weighted funding for students with dyslexia.
  • Provide a two-year hardship grant program to help districts affected by the expiration of Additional State Aid for Tax Reduction.
Chairman Huberty concluded, "This plan helps students across the board, including those who attend charter schools. We are beginning to fix flaws in our school finance system and helping schools meet the increasingly high demands that have been put on them." Speaker Straus encouraged legislators to continue working on school finance reforms. He added, "Our school finance system needs a lot of work, and Chairman Huberty's bill is a very good start. We have the time and the resources to improve public education this year, and I want to thank Chairman Huberty for presenting a strong and bipartisan plan to address this priority."
On March 7, the Committee took up HB 21. CLICK HERE to read the full list of organizations and schools in support and opposition. It was left pending.
The House Public Education Committee will meet March 14 at 12 PM or adjournment to take up:
  • HB 136 by Cecil Bell, Jr. would add CTE and workforce to the mission of public education.
  • HB 404 by Rafael Anchia would require the Commissioner of Higher Education to appoint a higher education curriculum team to review each subject undergoing a TEKS curriculum review to make recommendations to State Board of Education to ensure the proposal is factually accurate, aligned with contemporary scholarship, and prepares students for college
  • HB 639 by Charles "Doc" Anderson would allow school districts to purchase insurance coverage to cover students participating in CTE training programs to provide immunity for participating businesses.
On March 6, the Senate Agriculture, Water, & Rural Affairs Committee heard invited testimony. CLICK HERE to read the full list of witnesses who provided testimony.

The Senate Agriculture, Water, & Rural Affairs Committee will meet March 13 at 2 PM to take up:
  • SB 226 by Van Taylor would prohibit the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality from referring an amendment to a water right application to the State Office of Administrative Hearings for a contested case hearing if the amendment adds a purpose of use that does not alter the nature of the right authorizing non-consumptive use to a right authorizing consumptive use or a pattern of use that is explicitly authorized by the original right; adds a place of use located in the same basin; or changes the point of diversion.
  • SB 865 by Charles Perry would authorize groundwater conservation districts to use electronic fund transfers for payroll disbursements or for other disbursements.
  • SB 1009 by Charles Perry would allow a groundwater conservation district to require a permit or permit amendment application other information for administrative completeness and information reasonably related to an issue that a district is authorized to consider.
On March 9, Gov. Abbott reappointed Kathleen Jackson to the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) for a term set to expire February 1, 2023. TWDB provides leadership, planning, financial, and technical assistance for the responsible development of water for the State of Texas. CLICK HERE to read more about Kathleen Jackson.



The House Environmental Regulation Committee will meet March 14 at 8:00 AM to take up:

  • HB 402 by Dan Huberty would allow low-income vehicle repair assistance, retrofit, and accelerated vehicle retirement program (LIRAP) money to be used for local initiative projects to improve air quality; and would require at least 90% of the revenue derived from fees collected in Harris County to be used on the LIRAP program in Harris County.
  • HB 484 by Drew Springer would require training provided to license holders by Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to be provided at a location within 100 miles of the place of employment of a person required to receive the training; or provide online training; or reimburse the person for travel and lodging expenses incurred in attending training if it is not available at a location within 100 miles of place of employment.



On March 10, House Ways & Means Chairman Dennis Bonnen filed HB 15, the Property Taxpayer Empowerment Act, which he said is designed to help Texans hold local governments accountable for selling property tax rates. CLICK HERE to read Chairman Bonnen's full remarks. Specifically, HB 15 would:

  • Require local governments to publish annually their "No New Taxes Rate," which is the rate that would raise the same amount of money as the previous year.
  • Create a searchable statewide database that gives taxpayers information on how each jurisdiction's proposed tax rates will directly affect their individual tax bill, along with detailed information about how they can make their voices heard in the local rate-setting process.
  • Remove the "Estimate of Tax Due" on appraisal notices. This figure is based on applying last year's tax rate to this year's appraisal.
  • Reduce the maximum increase in taxes from 8% to 4%.
  • Make a property tax rollback election automatic after a government taxing unit proposes a rate that exceeds the rollback rate, no longer requiring citizens to gather signatures to petition for a rollback election.
On March 6, the House Human Services Committee took up  SB 1107 by Charles Schwertner, which would establish a clear definition of telemedicine in state law and clarify that the same standard of care that would apply in a traditional setting also applies to telemedical services. It would allow practitioners to interact with patients through a real-time audiovisual interaction, or through an asynchronous "store and forward" process that includes clinically relevant diagnostic imagery as well as the patient's relevant medical history, laboratory results, and prescriptive history. CLICK HERE to read the full list of witnesses in support and opposition. It was left pending.

On March 9, the Senate Business & Commerce Committee took up SB 404 by Lois Kolkhorst, which would prohibit healthcare practitioners from providing alcoholic beverages to a patient or to a person accompanying the patient in practitioner's office, and impose an administrative penalty for violations. It was left pending.

On March 6, Senator Brandon Creighton filed SB 28, the Texas Ports Act, to enable funding opportunities for Texas ports. During the 84th Interim, Lt. Gov. Patrick appointed Senator Creighton to chair the Senate Select Committee on Texas Ports tasked to study Texas' port assets, both coastal and inland hubs. The Committee paid special attention to the economic impact of the Panama Canal expansion and made several trips to Texas ports. CLICK HERE to read Senator Creighton's remarks. CLICK HERE to read Lt. Gov. Patrick's comments.
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