November 21, 2017
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.
On October 23, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick asked Senate Committees to study 81 additional interim legislative charges in addition to the 25 interim charges he released last month directly related to issues resulting from Hurricane Harvey.  
Lt. Gov. Patrick said, "The Texas Senate will continue to take the lead in transforming our conservative principles into sound public policy. These charges are serious directives that reflect both my priorities and the priorities of the Texas Senate."  
The lieutenant governor also established a Select Committee on Employment Practices, which will make recommendations on how to best guarantee the integrity of the state's workforce. The Senate passed an E-Verify bill in the last legislative session that addressed this issue, but the bill died in the Texas House. The 106 new interim charges were determined by the lieutenant governor's policy priorities.  
On October 23, Speaker Joe Straus released the full list of House interim charges, assigning almost every committee at least one charge related to the state's recovery from Hurricane Harvey. In issuing interim charges to House committees, Speaker Straus highlighted issues that should receive study and discussion leading up to the next legislative session. Committees will report their findings to the House before that session begins in January 2019.  
Speaker Straus said, "This is an opportunity for the Legislature to better understand the impact of the storm, to evaluate the response of state agencies and to prepare for future disasters. Hurricane Harvey will impact just about every major issue in the next legislative session, and the House should be fully prepared for that moment."  
As he released interim charges, Speaker Straus also created the Select Committee on Opioids & Substance Abuse, which will study the prevalence and impact of substance abuse and substance use disorders in the state. The speaker added, "Two years ago, we formed the Committee on Mental Health to look at behavioral health and substance abuse issues, and this new committee will continue some of that work." In total, Speaker Straus issued more than 230 interim charges.
On October 26, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick announced his appointments to the Sunset Advisory Commission. Lt. Gov. Patrick said, "An effective and efficient government is the hallmark of conservative leadership... and I am confident that these appointees will work diligently to ensure that Texas state agencies continue to operate with efficiency and accountability to best serve the people of Texas."
On October 25, House Speaker Joe Straus made the surprise announcement that he is not seeking re-election to the House and therefore will also not be Speaker for an unprecedented 6th term. He said, "We have accomplished what I had hoped the House would accomplish when I first entered this office and I am increasingly eager to contribute to our state in new and different ways. Instead of acting on behalf of the entire House, I will now have a greater opportunity to express my own views and priorities. ... I plan to be a voice for Texans who want a more constructive and unifying approach to our challenges, from the White House on down." CLICK HERE to read Speaker Straus' full remarks at his press conference.
On October 25, House Appropriations Committee Chairman John Zerwas, M.D. announced that he is running for Speaker of the Texas House. His announcement came less than 1 hour after House Speaker Joe Straus announced that he is not seeking re-election. Rep. Zerwas said, "I have been honored to work under the leadership of both Speaker Craddick and Speaker Straus, and am thankful for the opportunities that have been provided to me by both of them. ... I look forward to thoughtful conversations with my colleagues in the weeks and months ahead."   
On October 10, Comptroller Glenn Hegar announced the release of the Certification Revenue Estimate (CRE) for the fiscal 2018-19 biennium. Before each regular legislative session, the Comptroller's office issues a Biennial Revenue Estimate (BRE) that estimates how much revenue will be available for spending in the state's next two-year budget cycle. After the session, the agency releases the CRE to:
  • provide the detailed basis by which the Comptroller certified the budget,
  • revise estimates in the BRE to reflect legislative activity and current economic information, 
  • take into account final revenue numbers for the recently ended fiscal year.
Comptroller Hegar said, "The diversity of the Texas economy, coupled with conservative fiscal management and strengthening in the oil and gas sector, allowed the state economy to return to its normal pattern of growth, which exceeds that of the national economy. While revenues remained in line with the estimates we made in January, some uncertainty remains in our outlook for the biennium due in part to the ongoing assessment of the economic impact of Hurricane Harvey."
As a result of actions taken by the Legislature and an updated economic forecast, the Comptroller's office now expects revenue available for general spending in 2018-19 to total about $107.33b, versus the BRE estimate of about $104.87b. This revenue will support the $107.23b in general-purpose spending called for by the 85th Legislature, and will result in a final balance available for certification of $94m.
The State Highway Fund (SHF) and Economic Stabilization Fund (ESF or the state's "Rainy Day Fund") both receive funding from oil and gas severance taxes. Fiscal 2018 transfers will total $734m each to ESF and SHF, and the CRE projects $777m will be transferred to each fund in fiscal 2019. Additionally, the constitutional amendment passed in 2015, which directs up to $2.5b in annual state sales tax revenue in excess of $28b into the SHF, begins to take effect in fiscal 2018. In 2018, the $28b threshold is not expected to be reached until August. As a result, a projected $2.31b transfer will not occur until September 2018, the first month of fiscal 2019. In 2019, the state is projected to reach the $28b threshold in July, triggering a $920 million transfer to the SHF in August. The remaining estimated $1.58b from August collections will be transferred in Sept. 2019 - the first month of the 2020-21 biennium - leaving that amount available for certification in 2018-19.
In addition to market turbulence, energy price fluctuations, and potential changes in national economic policy, the impact of Hurricane Harvey contributes some uncertainty to this estimate. While some agencies were able to provide preliminary estimates of the costs associated with recovery efforts as well as estimates of federal revenue expected to offset those costs, Texas remains in the very early stages of the recovery. The full impact to the state's economy and revenues have only begun to take shape and will likely change in the coming months.  
On October 12, Speaker Straus appointed a new House Select Committee on Economic Competitiveness to study and highlight the most effective ways for Texas to compete for jobs, investments and highly skilled workers. Over the next 60 days, the committee will look at issues such as workforce readiness, infrastructure and state and local economic development tools. The committee will also study the reasons that employers give for choosing, or not choosing, to do business in a particular state. One of the goals of the committee is to highlight the principles that the Texas House believes are critical to economic growth.  
On September 25, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) formally submitted to the U.S. Dept. of Education the state's Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) consolidated plan. ESSA requires federal review and approval of a state consolidated plan, which provides a comprehensive overview of how each state will use federal funds to advance its own goals and visions of success for students. The U.S. Dept. of Education has 120 days to review Texas' state plan and will conduct a peer review as part of the process.

On October 6, Lt. Gov. Patrick announced appointments to the Texas Commission on Public School Finance. Lt. Gov. Patrick said, "For the first time in nearly four decades, legislators will be convened to exclusively examine the state's school finance system and recommend the best path forward for our state." The Texas Commission on Public School Finance is charged with developing and making recommendations to improve the current public school finance system. 
On October 9, Commissioner of Education Mike Morath announced that certain school districts and charter schools within the Governor's state disaster declaration for Hurricane Harvey will be eligible for an adjustment to their average daily attendance (ADA) funding for the 2017-2018 school year, holding them harmless for losses of funding due to enrollment declines stemming from the storm.  
Commissioner Morath said, "Many of our school systems have seen major disruptions in their communities because of Hurricane Harvey. This one-time adjustment is meant to bring some certainty for the remainder of this school year as school leaders face a number of major financial decisions following this devastating storm." Because average daily attendance is a major component in determining Foundation School Program (FSP) funds, a loss of ADA would normally result in a loss of FSP funding or an increase in recapture obligations. To mitigate against these changes in FSP funding for the 2017-2018 school year, Commissioner Morath is exercising his authority to adjust ADA for affected districts during the 2017-2018 school year. 
On October 17, Commissioner Morath announced the launch of Start Smart Texas, a collaborative effort between the TEA, Texas PBS, and the United Ways of Texas. Start Smart Texas is a parent-focused initiative designed to work with families, community leaders and schools to promote the role of parents in making any time a learning time.  
Gov. Abbott said, "Texas is continually looking for new and innovative ways to give our children every advantage possible when it comes to education. Start Smart Texas is a great way to promote the role of the family in the learning process, and I thank Commissioner Morath, Texas PBS, and the United Ways of Texas for this inspired program." Commissioner Morath added, "Academic success for every child in Texas begins before they ever set foot in the classroom. By providing parents with simple reading preparation tips for their son or daughter, the Start Smart Texas campaign can help build a foundation for success in school and in life."  
Public service announcements airing on PBS stations throughout Texas are part of this effort, reinforcing the message to parents that "Anytime is Learning Time." In addition to the public service announcements, Start Smart Texas will work in partnership with statewide organizations and local community groups to build local-based strategies and a network of organizations to increase reading proficiency rates across the state. 
On October 27, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick announced appointments to the P-TECH Advisory Council.  
In making the appointments Lt. Gov. Patrick said: "The P-TECH Advisory Council will work to expand partnerships between school districts, higher education institutions and business employers. It is one more way that Texas is working to meet our workforce needs while ensuring that students receive a focused education and skills that will prepare them for high-demand jobs."  
The P-TECH Advisory Council provides recommendations to the commissioner of education regarding the establishment and administration of the P-TECH program and the criteria for a campus's designation as a P-TECH school.
Advocacy initiatives are made possible with support from:

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