Welcome to the latest edition of Texas Legislative News for the 88th Texas Legislature. In this weekly feature, we provide information on disability-related issues being considered at the State Capitol. We also include overviews of how lawmakers conduct business and provide details on upcoming TCDD events.
On Jan. 10, lawmakers convened for the 88th regular session of the Texas Legislature. They will meet for 140 days and adjourn on May 29. The Legislature’s most notable action on the opening day came in the House, where members reelected Rep. Dade Phelan as House speaker.
Though Phelan’s selection was widely anticipated, there was a question as to how much support he would receive due to a challenge from one of the more conservative lawmakers. In the end, Phelan won the vote overwhelmingly, with a margin of 145-3. In his acceptance speech, Phelan indicated his priorities for the session would include property tax relief, health care access, and infrastructure investments.
Chambers Adopt Rules
On the session’s second day, the House and the Senate adopted their permanent rules. The rules are largely unchanged from last session; however, the Senate downgraded its Committee on Higher Education into a subcommittee of the Education Committee. Senators also separated the Committee on Veteran Affairs and Border Security into two separate committees.
The most prominent rule change in the House came in response to a quorum break last session when over 50 Democratic lawmakers left the Capitol to block the passage of legislation to place new restrictions on voting. To form a quorum, at least two-thirds of elected members must be present. Without a quorum, lawmakers cannot conduct business.
Although the Democrats returned after nearly 40 days away and the voting legislation passed, this session the Republican majority took action to deter future quorum breaks. Under new rules, members who are absent without leave could be fined $500 per day, censured, or even expelled.
With rules adopted, legislators now wait for committee assignments so they can begin considering bills. Senate assignments will likely take place within the next few days, while the House will probably take a few weeks.
State Revenue Projections
Some of the biggest news of the week came before the Legislature convened. On Jan. 9, the Texas Comptroller released the Biennial Revenue Estimate, which provides lawmakers with the anticipated amount they’ll have on hand to craft the state’s two-year budget.
The Comptroller’s announcement was something of a blockbuster, as he is projecting $188.2 billion will be available for general-purpose spending. This amount marks a 26% increase over the previous session and is more money than Texas lawmakers have ever had available to spend. In fact, it’s more than they can spend constitutionally without taking additional actions.
State leaders such as the governor and lieutenant governor have already indicated they’d like to see a significant portion of this windfall go to property tax relief. But advocates hope lawmakers will also use the opportunity to address issues that have been historically underfunded, including items important to the disability community such as reducing Medicaid waiver interest lists and increasing wages for community attendants.
The Comptroller’s projections do not relate to federal dollars, which tend to make up more than one-third of the overall state budget. Many of those federal dollars are matching funds, so when more state dollars are spent it can increase the federal dollars made available to Texas.
The first draft of the appropriations bill will be filed within the next few weeks, and it will give us an idea of what lawmakers want to include in the state budget. How to spend those dollars is sure to be one of the main debates of the session.
Bill Filing Continues
One week into the session, nearly 1,900 bills have been filed for lawmakers to consider. Here are some recently filed proposals related to disability issues:
- House Bill (HB) 1288 by Rep. Ray Lopez, relating to health benefit plan coverage for early childhood intervention services.
- Senate Bill (SB) 445 by Sen. José Menéndez, relating to the establishment of a grant program to provide additional resources for public school students with disabilities.
- SB 448 by Sen. José Menéndez, relating to a special education liaison program and the provision of special education services at public school districts.
- SB 464 by Sen. Tan Parker, relating to designating Oct. 17 as Entrepreneurs with Disabilities Day.
TCDD Bill of the Week
Every Friday throughout the session, we’ll profile a noteworthy bill going through the legislative process. The bill may relate directly to TCDD’s Public Policy Priorities or another disability-related issue. These weekly profiles will include details on what the bill would do, where it is in the process, what organizations support or oppose it, and a quote from the bill author on why it was filed. Additionally, we’ll provide a one-pager on the legislation that you can share with your lawmakers or your network. Our latest Bill of the Week was HB 140, relating to the provision of co-navigation services to individuals who are deaf-blind.