83rd Legislative Session Wrap Up

On Monday, May 27, 2013, the Regular Session of the 83rd Legislature came to an end.  Before each session, our board (representatives of 25 faith-based organizations, 17 of which are religious denominations) sets a legislative agenda that guides our work.  Lawmakers then file roughly 6,000 bills, and we engage in accordance with those legislative priorities. 

Some proposals pass and others fail.  Some bills are easy and others are difficult.  Some bills are big and others are small.  Each has a life and story of its own.  The following hopes to be a digestible summary of our work.  We’ll be trying to add links to content for those interested in digging deeper on the issues listed below.  As always, if you want more information on any of the specific issue areas below just give us a call. 

Payday Lending

Omnibus Reform:  The Legislature failed to pass SB 1247 which would have established a reasonable regulatory framework for short-term loan products.

Other Bills:  Smaller incremental bills were tabled in the hope of passing omnibus reform.  (HB 420; HB 737; HB 786; HB 1715; HB 1886; HB 3019; HB 3033; HB 3264; HB 3461)

Sunset Review:  In the final days of session, the Senate pushed the scheduled review of the Finance Commission back from 2015 to 2019.  (HB 1675)

Promoting Competition:  One bright spot is the passage of SB 1251 which provided needed regulatory updates to assist the Chapter 342 lenders operating under regulation and carrying lower fees compete against the Chapter 393 lenders. 

 

Food

School Breakfast: The only meal some children eat all day will be at school.  SB 376 ensures that 700,000 school children will get two square meals a day.

Summer Food:  HB 749 instructs the Department of Agriculture and the Texas Hunger Initiative at Baylor University to create a five year strategic plan to increase participation in the Summer Food Program. 

Foster Kid Nutrition bill: HB 2111 mandates a currently optional transitional living services program to help young adults aging out of foster care adjust to independent living and adds nutritional education to the program.  

Drug Testing:  Several bills were filed to force recipients of public benefits to submit to drug testing.  Most of the bills failed.  The only bill to pass was SB 21 which applies to unemployment compensation.  Other bills included:  HB 161; HB 249; HB 423; HB 1244; HB 1582; HB 1583; HB 3171; SB 11; SB 21

Wastewater Fees:  Legislation exempting community gardens from wastewater fees failed.  (HB 254)

Community Garden Property Tax Exemption:  Legislation to extend the agricultural exemption to community gardens failed.  (HB 1306)

 

Health Care

The Legislature did not take action to extend Medicaid health insurance to low-income adults as provided for in the Affordable Care Act, nor did lawmakers extend coverage to this population through any alternative "Texas Solution." Legislators approved a provision in the state budget that was intended to provide legislative direction to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission should the agency enter into conversation with the federal government about Medicaid expansion, but the implications of the budget provision are unclear.

Public Education

Funding:  Restores $3.4 billion in the Foundation School Program (FSP) including student enrollment growth.  Adds $330 million for new state teacher retirement system rules. 

Vouchers/Tax Credits/Charter Schools:  All proposals diverting money from the public schools failed to pass.  The Legislature did reach a compromise and pass SB 2 on charter schools. 

Testing:  The Legislature passed HB 5 which reduces end of course exams, changes the foundational curriculum, and changes the rating system for school districts. 

 

Faith-based Issues

Nonprofit Council:  For three sessions, the Legislature and nonprofit community have worked to coordinate faith and community-based organizations with state agencies to enhance delivery of services to the neediest Texans while streamlining state government.  SB 993 makes permanent a nonprofit council to coordinate those efforts. 

Prison volunteers:  Prison administrators must study and report on faith and community-based organizations providing programing on subjects such as literacy, job skills, parent-training, drug rehab or other programs to prisoners.  (HB 2811 amended onto SB 345)

Sharia: No bills related to "foreign," "cultural," or "Sharia" law passed.  (HB 288; HB 750; HJR 43; SB 285; SB 695; SB 1639)

Annual Reporting:  Attempts to force churches to submit annual reports to county appraisal boards failed.  (HB 440)

Guns in Church:  Attempts to tinker with the current ability of churches to self-regulate concealed handgun carriers on their premises all failed. 

Criminal Justice

Administrative Segregation:  The Legislature passed SB 1003, which appoints a third party to review administrative segregation policies in the adult and juvenile prison systems and issue a report.

TDCJ Sunset:  The Legislature added two mental health experts to Correctional Managed Health Care Committee, which develops prison healthcare plans.

Private Prisons:  The Legislature enacted the legislation to close two state jails through SB 1 and SB 213

Mental Health:  the Legislature increased mental health funding $300 million to increase the state's total mental health budget by about 13%.

Innocence Commission:  Legislation to create a commission to study the causes of wrongful convictions could not overcome the concern that it could be used to second guess or attack public officials and failed to pass. (HB 166)

Human Trafficking:  A package of several bills passed this session (HB 8, HB 1272, and HB 2268)

 

Energy

Net metering:  Proposals to fairly compensate owners of distributed renewable generation for the surplus electricity they put onto the electric grid failed. (SB 1239)

System Benefit Fund:  Originally created to assist low-income ratepayers, since 2003, the Legislature has diverted those funds to balance the budget.  This session, a deal was struck to stop collecting the fees from all ratepayers, and distribute the remaining balance to the low-income ratepayers for whom it was originally intended. 

Renewable Energy:  The Legislature did not pass any bills to end the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), and wind power is still eligible for Chapter 313 tax breaks. 

 

Water

Water Plan:  The Legislature put $2 billion toward the state water plan with 20% of it going toward conservation projects.  (HB 4; HB 11; HB 1025; SJR 1)

Water Rate Reform:  The Legislature passed SB 567 which reforms how private investor-owned utilities increase rates on ratepayers providing more transparency, accountability and fairness to the process. 

County intervention:  Giving counties legal standing to intervene on behalf of their constituents in water rate cases, as cities currently do in electric and gas, failed. (HB 1456)

Bad water rate bills:  Two bills allow for more frequent rate increases and automatic 5% annual rate increases failed. 

 

Immigration

Unlike last session, there was very little appetite for legislation at the state level. 

 

Budget

Four big things:  Restored most of the public education cuts from last session, invested in new water funding, increased higher education scholarship dollars, and expanded mental health services.  (HB 1025, SB 1, SJR 1, HB 500)

Transportation:  Did not fund our long-term transportation needs, but only short-term problems with roads torn up by trucks in the Eagle Ford Shale. 

Transparency:  Ending budget diversions of dedicated accounts was a major priority of this session.  An example of this practice was the System Benefit Fund intended to assist low-income electric ratepayers, but instead used to balance the budget.  The Legislature passed by HB 6 and HB 7 creating a plan to phase out this practice.   

SJR 1:  Sends to voters the decision of whether to create the SWIFT account for water funding. 

HB 1025:  Supplemental bill with monies for the current biennium, “shale roads” money, and also the appropriation for water plan. 

HB 500:  Franchise tax cut bill that the LBB estimates results in a revenue loss of $714 million over the biennium.