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84th Legislature End of Session Wrap Up
Alternative Lending — statewide regulation: While the bills differ, and Texas Impact was neutral on some, these bills included HB 1020 by Rep. Giddings; HB 2166 by Rep. Flynn; HB 2808 by Rep. James White; HB 3047 by Rep. Craddick; HB 3811 and HB 3812 by Rep. Senfronia Thompson; HB 3824 by Rep. Capriglione; SB 91 and SB 92 by Sen. Ellis; SB 121 by Sen. West; and SB 1323 by Sen. Menendez. All failed to pass.
Alternative Lending — modest bills: Bills modifying some aspect of the industry making the situation better for the borrower all failed to pass. HB 371 by Rep. McClendon clarified military borrower provisions. HB 411 by Rep. Chris Turner prohibited telemarking calls by credit access businesses. HB 2803 by Rep. Pena pertained to notice requirements for lenders to the consumer. HB 3058 by Rep. Giddings clarified that borrowers could not be threatened, or actually prosecuted, for defaulting on a loan. HB 3223 by Rep. Romero required a credit access business to verify the vehicle identification number used to obtain a motor vehicle title loan. HB 4057 by Rep. Bernal required contracts to be in English and Spanish. HB 4073 by Rep. Eddie Rodriguez required reporting on borrowers who used state benefits such as welfare or child support payments to take out a loan.
Alternative Lending — “clean up” bills: “Clean up bills” generally clarify existing law, as opposed to making new policy. With the exception of SB 1075 by Sen. Eltife, which clarified the Consumer Credit Commissioner’s authority to obtain criminal history information, all failed. SB 1650 by Sen. Eltife consolidated statutory definitions, clarified open records law, and clarified the loan defaults were not criminal. SB 1282 by Sen. Eltife, sponsored by Rep. Parker, consisted of technical corrections desired by the Office of Consumer Credit Commissioner for all the consumer credit transactions under that agency’s regulatory authority which includes, but is not limited to, the controversial topics of payday and auto title lending, and also lawsuit lending. Initially, it was calendared for action on the House floor. However, some advocates for payday lending reform sought to amend the bill to include substantive reform measures on the floor. Fearful that the industry would kill the bill through procedural defect known as a “point of order” if the bill were amended, the bill was sent back to committee, and placed on the local and consent calendar to avoid the amendment process. For reasons that are not entirely clear, other than that they pertain to “lawsuit lending,” Rep. Marquez killed the bill on the local and consent calendar as she explains in this letter.
Barriers for traditional financial services: HB 1626, HB 1628, and HB 1629 all by Rep. Johnson, and sponsored by Senators West, Rodiguez and West, respectively, all passed. HB 1626 designates “banking development districts” in certain financially distressed areas to encourage locating branches back in those areas. HB 1628 authorizes credit unions to conduct “savings promotion raffles.” Like a toaster giveaway, those that make a deposit into their savings account are entered into a cash prize giveaway for that month to incentivize people to save. HB 1629 creates regulation to allow crowd-funding for small business development in low-income neighborhoods.
Livable Wages: failed to pass
Food Deserts: HB 1485 by Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (companion SB 1590 by Zaffirini) failed to pass. HB 1485 would have established an investment fund program for grocery stores to locate back in low-income neighborhoods. After a dramatic “vote verification” where the initial vote of 69-67 was so close, a “verification” was requested, a manual count to verify presence on the House floor reversed the outcome and the bill failed by a vote of 64-67.
Food Stamps: HB 1267 by Rep. Senfronia Thompson, which would end the permanent disqualification for drug felons for food stamps, passed the House 92 – 49, but died in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. SB 606, by Sen. Garcia, was an identical companion to HB 1267. It also never received a hearing in Senate Health and Human Services.
Medicaid Expansion: The largest policy decision the state would make so far this century, was dead on arrival this session. There was little conversation over the policy merits which include enough new state tax revenue from the economic development to offset the cost to the state, and the alleviation of billions of local tax dollars currently paying for charity care when the indigent get sick and go to the ER.
Medicaid & Mental Health for Juveniles: When a child is placed in a juvenile justice detention facility, Texas terminates that child’s Medicaid rather than suspend it. This results in a delay for the child upon release in getting reinstated in the program. This lag often leads to recidivism for those suffering mental health issues. HB 839 by Naishtat, sponsored by Senator Rodriguez, which changes the termination to a suspension did pass.
Medicaid & Mental Health for Adults: HB 2523 by Rep. Collier (identical HB 144 by Rep. Minjarez; SB 1777 by Sen. Menendez) failed to pass. Similar to HB 839 above, these important mental health bills would have ensured that adults released from county jails were suspended rather than terminated from Medicaid so that there was no gap in mental health treatment received while in jail.
County Coverage Pilot Program: After the Affordable Care Act, Texas’ program covering high risk patients that could not find coverage became obsolete. However, the funds still exist at the Texas Department of Insurance, and may only be expended on certain things. HB 3195 by Bernal would have created a pilot program for Bexar county with that money to cover the parents of children covered by CHIP. The pilot would have required a study to measure the health outcomes of those parents in order to determine if the provision of health insurance to parents improves the health outcomes of their children covered by CHIP. The dollars could have also been used to draw down additional federal funds in the 1115 waiver. HB 3195 failed to pass.
Mental Heath Assessment: HB 1083 by Marquez, sponsored by Sen. Whitmire, passed. HB 1083 requires the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to do a professional medical and mental health assessment of an inmate before placing the individual in administrative segregation.
Border Security: The Senate’s border security plan with regard to HB 1 (see Budget below) prevailed with $800 million being allocated over the House’s initial $500 million. In HB 11, the big border security bill that HB 1 funded, the Senate also stripped out most of the House’s oversight of how the money was being spent. Any definition of “border security” or metrics demonstrating success of the security efforts were also excluded. However, smuggling provisions remain from the original House version which ensure the reworked criminal offense only affected coyotes, and didn’t inadvertently apply to things like church vans.
Sanctuary Cities: SB 185 by Sen. Perry, which prohibited local law enforcement from creating policies instructing officers to not inquire about immigration status, failed.
In-state tuition: SB 1819 by Campbell, which repealed the allowance of in-state tuition rates at public universities to students without legal status who have lived in the state 3 years and graduated from a Texas high school, failed.
Drivers Permits: HB 4063 by Cook, which would have created a driver’s permit for undocumented individuals so that they are eligible for forms of insurance other than expensive “nonstandard” insurance policies, failed.
Vouchers: The diversion of funds from public education to private institutions without the same accountability standards or requirements to accept all students is a top priority of the Lieutenant Governor. Several bills were filed, but SB 4 was the priority bill the Senate moved while one rural senator was hospitalized after a motorcycle accident. The Senate passed SB 4 on a vote of 18-12. The House Ways & Means Committee did not give the bill a hearing.
Community Schools: An alternative to privatization to help low-income schools is the idea of creating “community schools” that “un-silo” the social service needs of low-income individuals from the traditionally purely education role of schools. With one of the model community schools in his district, Rep. Eddie Rodriguez filed HB 1891 and HB 1892. HB 1891 would have put in statute a definition of a community school and HB 1892 would have created a grant program to assist their development. The grant program in HB 1892 failed on the House floor by a vote of 60-82. HB 1891 passed the House by a vote of 80-55 on 2nd Reading, and 69-52 on 3rd Reading the next day. While SB 1483, the Senate companion bill to HB 1891, was voted out of the Senate Education Committee and placed on the Intent Calendar, the Lt. Gov. never recognized Senator Garcia to have it debated on the Senate floor.
School Finance: Unlike the Senate, the House did not wait on a ruling from the Texas Supreme Court before beginning a discussion the issue of school finance. Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock filed, passed out of committee, and laid out his legislation on the House floor. Bumping up against the House deadline for House bills, Chairman Aycock ultimately pulled down HB 1759. With Speaker Straus thanking the Chairman for his efforts, Chairman Aycock said, “we can kill all day with this bill…I don’t think it’s fair to leave this bill pending and kill everything when we know the Senate almost certainly will not consider the measure if it passes.”
Budget & Revenue
Budget: The final budget in HB 1 totals $209 billion in all funds which includes federal money. The portion of the budget that comes from Texas’ general revenue left $6.4 billion unspent. In other words, Texas taxes raised $6.4 billion more than legislators chose to spend. The legislature also left over $11 billion in the rainy day fund.
On education, the budget reflects the Senate’s $1.5 billion, as opposed to the House’s initial $2.2 billion, and puts just enough money into public education to fund enrollment growth. As advocates point out, neither would have put Texas near the true cost of education which the Texas Supreme Court will eventually sort out over the biennium. As in past legislative sessions anticipating a school finance ruling, legislators left money in the bank in anticipation of the court decision.
Other budget items include, HB 7 which continued the reform to end diversions of dedicated revenue. SJR 5 includes more money for transportation. The budget did not include an increase in community attendant pay to $10/hour.
Changes made by the Senate to HB 11, the border security bill, made the budget loose some support from Democrats, but ultimately passed 115 – 33.
Tax cuts: After months of negotiation, the House and Senate agreed upon $3.8 billion in total tax cuts. The deal was for a 25% reduction in the franchise tax and a $10,000 increase in the homestead exemption. The sales tax reduction earlier proposed by the House is not included in the deal. Only homeowners will see any relief which amounts to about $126 a year on average. Essentially, the Senate got the property tax relief it wanted, and the House got the franchise tax plan it wanted.
Human Trafficking: The Legislature built up their work from previous sessions and passed HB 10 by Rep. Senfronia Thompson. Other smaller human trafficking legislation that passed includes HB 188, HB 968, HB 2286, HB 2290, HB 2511, and SB 1708.
Body Cameras: SB 158 by Sen. West, sponsored by Rep. Johnson, passed. SB 158 creates a grant program for local governments to help pay for body cameras as well as provide training on their use, evidentiary standards for courts, and policies for interacting with the public including clarifying the application of open records laws.
Officer-caused Injury Reporting: HB 1036 by Rep. Johnson, sponsored by Sen. Whitmire, passed. The bill requires reporting to the state of injuries or deaths caused by police officers, and injuries and death sustained by police officers.
Grand Jury Reform: HB 2150 by Rep. Alvarado, sponsored by Sen. Whitmire, modernizing the selection of grand jurors, passed. Previously, Texas was an outlier that allowed counties to choose between a randomized selection system or a so-called “pick-a-pal” system whereby the judge would select 3-5 “key men” who would in turn pick 3-5 others to make up the grand jury.
Death Penalty: HB 1032 by Rep. Dutton and HB 1527 by Rep. Farrar, abolishing the use of capital punishment, failed. SB 1071 by Sen. Hinojosa, sponsored by Rep. Senfronia Thompson, to require the state to provide notice to the condemned’s attorney upon the scheduling of an execution, passed. However, SB 1697 by Sen. Huffman, sponsored by Rep. Smithee, making secret certain information regarding procedures and substances used in a lethal injection, passed.
“Ban the Box:” HB 548 by Rep. Johnson, which would eliminate consideration of criminal history information on the initial application for state employment, failed to pass. It passed the House 67-62, but never made it out of the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Economic Development.
Reentry Information: SB 578 by Sen. Hinojosa, sponsored by Rep. Allen, passed. This bill provides those being released from prison with information regarding reentry and reintegration resources.
Diplomas, not GED’s: SB 1024 by Sen. Seliger, sponsored by Rep. James White, passed. This bill allowed the Windham School District in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to issue high school diplomas to its graduates.
Pregnancy Reporting: HB 1140 by Rep. Israel, sponsored by Sen. Whitmire, passed. HB 1140 requires reporting by county jails about the confinement of individuals who are pregnant.
In-person Visitation: HB 549 by Rep. Johnson, sponsored by Sen. Whitmire, passed. HB 549 ensures that counties cannot prohibit in-person visitation. As technology allows for more video visitation, providers of these services were writing provisions into contracts with county government to end in-person visitation for families of the incarcerated.
Preventing Wrongful Convictions: After nearly a decade of effort, Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon passed an innocence commission. HB 48 creates a commission to study cases where “actual innocence” has been proven to look for patterns to determine if future wrongful convictions can be prevented by changes in policy.
Clean Energy: Attempts to repeal the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) this session failed. HB 1926 died after Senator Fraser put bad amendments were put onto the bill, and SB 776 passed only after bad amendments were stripped off.
Free Exercise & Establishment of Religion: SB 2065 by Estes, sponsored by Rep. Sanford, the so-called “pastor protection” bill, passed. Attorneys representing the Methodist, Episcopal and Lutheran Churches, however, have concerns that the way the bill is drafted allows for employees (clergy and others) to sue their employer (the denomination). If the soon to be law were interpreted in such a way, it would limit the free exercise rights of churches to govern their own internal affairs according to their religious doctrine. While the concerns of the GLBT community were addressed by striking one phrase from a sentence, the Legislature ignored the concerns of the Mainline Protestant bishops’ voting 96-47 to table the amendment offered by Rep. Donna Howard that would have alleviated their concerns. Several other bills that either affected the free exercise of religion, or directly affected the operation of faith communities, all failed to pass.
Guns & Worship: Under current Texas law, houses of worship can decide for themselves whether or not they want to allow concealed handgun license (CHL) holders to carry concealed in their buildings. HB 308 by Rep. Springer and SB 311 by Sen. Campbell that would have eliminated houses of worship explicit exemption in the Penal Code, and HB 805 by Rep. Keough that would have taken away the ability to prohibit guns, all failed. However, HB 910 allowing for open carry and reducing the penalty for carrying on prohibited premises from class A to class C, passed. SB 11 allowing for concealed carry on college campuses, also passed, but in a water down form. Private schools may opt out entirely, and regents of public universities may create gun-free zones.
Anti-Muslim Legislation: Several bills based on the model anti-sharia law legislation called “American Law for American Courts” moved this session, but failed to pass. HB 562 by Rep. Leach and HB 670 by Rep. Flynn were both voted out of committee 7-2 and 5-3-1 respectively. Both were placed on the House Calendar, but died behind other controversial legislation placed ahead of it. The Senate then moved their companion, SB 531 by Sen. Campbell. The Senate voted 19-12 to send it over to the House. With the Chairman of House Judiciary, Rep. John Smithee, in Amarillo, the bill appeared dead as it arrived in the House Committee on the deadline for bills to be reported from committee. However, Vice Chair Farrar allowed the House Judiciary to meet to vote the bill out of committee on a vote of 5-1-3. The bill ultimately died in House Calendars.
Nonprofit Council: In SB 200, the Health and Human Service Commission Sunset bill, the Sunset Commission had initially recommended the abolition of the Texas Nonprofit Council and Interagency Coordinating Group, the two statutory work groups that implement Texas’ faith and community-based initiative. In an amendment by Senator Zaffirini offered on the Senate floor, those work groups were kept in statute and continue to exist.
Charitable Choice: HB 2718 by Rep. Parker, and sponsored by Sen. Ellis, passed. This bill allows for faith and community-based organizations to offer additional assistance to individuals who opt into the program.
Humanitarian Relief Coordination: HB 2769 by Rep. Howard, which would have created a task force to coordinate humanitarian relief efforts of the nonprofit community to assist in with refugees such as in the recent unaccompanied minor crisis, failed.
12. Good Government
Ethics Reform: SB 19 by Sen. Van Taylor, sponsored by Rep. Cook, failed to pass over the issue of “dark money.” The House added a provision requiring disclosure of anonymous campaign contributions funneled through 501(c)(4) corporations to the bill. This put the House at odds with the Senate, and now Governor Abbott. The use of dark money has grown every campaign cycle since the Citizens’ United U.S. Supreme Court decision that created the loophole. The Supreme Court has also consistently upheld disclosure laws involving the origin of campaign contributions. Other ethics bills that did pass include HB 3736, HB 3511, HB 3517, and HB 23 all by Rep. Sarah Davis, and HB 3683 by Rep. Geren.