The Texas Capitol was fairly quiet in the second week of the legislative session. The House and the Senate both adjourned until Jan. 26, and the building was largely shut down due to safety precautions related to the presidential inauguration and recent events at the U.S. Capitol. Despite the closure, we still saw significant milestones in the legislative process: the list of appointments to Senate committees and the introduction of each chamber’s preliminary version of the two-year state budget for the next biennium.
Senate Committee Appointments
On Jan. 15, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick released his list of committee appointments for the Senate’s 31 members. With each session’s round of appointments, Capitol watchers pay close attention to the naming of committee chairs, who dictate what legislation is brought up for consideration within their committees. The lieutenant governor’s list included few changes in the committee chairs from last session.
The committees that typically see the bulk of disability-related legislation, such as the Senate Health and Human Services Committee and the Senate Education Committee, all retained their leadership. The benefit to such maintenance is that advocates may not have to do as much work educating a chair on issues to be considered in the committee, as that individual is likely to be familiar with them already.
The key changes in the Senate included:
- Sen. Joan Huffman, previously chair of the State Affairs Committee, was appointed to chair of the Special Committee on Redistricting and the newly created Jurisprudence Committee;
- Sen. Bryan Hughes, previously chair of the Senate Administration Committee, took over on the State Affairs Committee; and
- Sen. Charles Schwertner, who did not serve as a chair last session, stepped into the leadership of the Senate Administration Committee.
In the Texas House, Speaker Dade Phelan is expected to announce committee appointments in February.
Initial Budgets Released
On Jan. 21, Phelan and Senate Finance Chair Jane Nelson each released the initial proposals for the next two-year state budget that will be considered in their respective chambers. Each version would spend roughly the same amount of general revenue — $119.7 billion over the two years, which is notably more than $7 billion over the amount of revenue the Texas Comptroller has estimated would be available to spend in the coming biennium. In order to make up that gap, lawmakers will need to make significant cuts to what they’ve already proposed, use accounting tricks such as deferred payments to put off some spending until the next budget cycle, or utilize a portion of the state’s Economic Stabilization Fund (more commonly referred to as the “rainy day” fund).
Even though the proposed levels of revenue spending are higher than what was allocated last session, once inflation and population growth are considered there is a decrease in expenditures. Moreover, the proposals anticipate a significant drop in federal funds, particularly in the areas of education and health and human services.
Again, these represent just initial proposals, and there is a great deal of work that will be done prior to the approval of a final state budget. We will track the developments and provide updates throughout the session.
Disability Policy Academy
On Jan. 14, we hosted a Disability Policy Academy titled “Public Input During the 87th Texas Legislature.” The event was moderated by TCDD Public Policy Director Scott Daigle, and featured a panel of experts including Jacob Cottingham, chief of staff for State Rep. Donna Howard; Bryan Law, director of the Senate Health & Human Services Committee; Mel Hocker, past president of Texas Advocates; and Michelle Romero, director of legislative affairs for the Texas Medical Association.
The panel discussed the anticipated procedures and safeguards that are being put into place at the Capitol amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and what methods will be available to advocates hoping to provide public comment on legislative issues. The panel also provided tips on how to be an effective advocate when communicating with lawmakers.
Additionally, the event featured a presentation on resources, including TCDD Resources, that are available to track legislation and policy topics during the session. You can find a recording of the event on our YouTube page.
Among the resources named in the Disability Policy Academy was our newest feature: the TCDD Bill of the Week where we do a deep dive on a piece of legislation that would impact the disability community. For our first entry this session, we highlighted House Bill 168 by Rep. Mary González, which would better ensure inclusive child care for children with disabilities.
Save the date for our next Disability Policy Academy: “DD Experience in the COVID-19 Pandemic: Developing Responsive Public Policy.” The event will take place at 2 p.m. on Feb. 16. More details and registration information will follow.
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