Legislative Line – April 21, 2017
Things at the Texas Capitol are beginning to boil with only five full weeks left in the legislative session.
The Senate was in session Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of this week and the House was in session on Monday through Thursday this week. A Regular Calendar and bills on a Local and Consent Calendar were scheduled for Friday, but the rules were suspended to allow those calendars to be moved to Thursday so that the House could take Friday off. This is the last Friday the House will not be in session.
House Calendars committee set three daily calendars for next week including the placement of SB 4, the bill on sanctuary cities, on the Calendar for Wednesday. Before the chamber adjourned, Calendars Chairman Todd Hunter advised members he would be seeking a calendar rule on Monday setting a 1 p.m. Tuesday deadline for pre-filing amendments to the bill. Calendar rules are required for emergency items.
Senate and House conferees were appointed for the conference committee on SB 1, the general appropriations bill. Senate conferees are Sens. Jane Nelson, Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, Joan Huffman, Lois Kolkhorst and Charles Schwertner. House conferees are Reps. John Zerwas, Oscar Longoria, Trent Ashby, Sarah Davis and Larry Gonzales.
The same five senators were budget conferees last session, in 2015. All but Zerwas and Longoria are holdovers from last session’s House budget conference committee. Zerwas and Longoria are taking the spots of John Otto and Sylvester Turner, who are no longer in the House.
The House and Senate budgets have both allocated close to $218 billion for the state. But crucial differences remain on how much each proposal funds important resources, like public education, border security and health care. The two chambers also don’t agree on whether to use the Rainy Day Fund. The House wants to dip into the state’s savings account to use $2.5 billion while the Senate refuses to touch it. Instead, the Senate is relying on an accounting trick involving transportation funds.
There is no consensus on border security, either. The House allocated enough funds to maintain the current level of deployment of state troopers, while the Senate budget includes enough funds to boost those levels even further. But both the House and Senate have chosen to defund one of Abbot’s priority issues, pre-kindergarten programs. Budget proposals slash $118 million from the current budget, even though Abbott had requested that the Legislature double that funding.
House State Affairs
The House State Affairs committee was also busy this week. On Wednesday, it heard testimony on HB 2899, the House’s version of the “bathroom bill.” The hearing lasted until 4:39 a.m., and more than 60 people testified against a House bill that would ban cities and school districts from enacting or enforcing local policies that regulate bathroom use. HB 2899 is considered by some to be a more business-friendly alternative to the Senate’s approach to regulating access to bathrooms in schools and public buildings. LGBT advocates have criticized the legislation, calling the bill worse than what the Senate has passed. It was left pending in committee.
Texas Agriculture Policy
On Wednesday, the House Agriculture & Livestock committee took up HB 3707 by Tracy King relating to an inspection program to deter cattle theft; authorizing an administrative penalty; authorizing an assessment. A committee substitute was offered that included the exclusion of slaughter facilities. The bill was left pending.
On Thursday, the House Transportation committee met upon adjournment to consider HB 2862 by Rep. Ken King, would allow trucks transporting fluid milk to run up to 90,000 pounds, with a third axle. A prescribed route would be associated with the heavy permit allowing state regulators and milk haulers to access the safest route to the milk processing facilities along with a permit fee to assist in off-setting road impact. Companion to SB 1383. It was left pending.