LEGISLATIVE ACCOMPLISHMENTS OF THE 84TH SESSION
The Texas Legislature passed a balanced budget well beneath the constitutional spending cap while keeping new spending below population growth and inflation. House Bill 1 has an increase of 3.6% in all funds and only 5.8% in state only funds. This was below the 6.5% benchmark set by the Texas Conservative Budget Coalition (www.conservativetexasbudget.com). The Teacher Retirement System’s health care fund, which covers over 230,000 individuals, had a $768 million shortfall and was fully funded. $150.7 million over last biennium was added to mental health programs primarily targeting at risk children likely to become wards of the state. An 8% salary increase for the state’s correctional officers was added while the controversial Emerging Technologies Fund was eliminated. The Rainy Day Fund projected to be $11 billion was kept completely intact. There is an additional $6 billion that will remain in the treasury un-appropriated.
Senate Bill 1 increases the homestead exemption by an additional $10,000 beginning with the 2015 tax year, returning $1.24 billion to Texas taxpayers. This legislation would also prohibit a school district, municipality or county from repealing an optional homestead exemption before the 2020 tax year. It will increase the state’s funding contribution so that school districts will not be financially responsible for the increased exemption.
House Bill 32 reduces the rate of the franchise tax by 25 percent and extends the eligibility for EZ computation to businesses with $20 million or less in total revenue. This represents a $2.6 billion tax cut in the upcoming biennium and provides a significant economic stimulus for Texas businesses both small and large.
The tax on professional services was completely eliminated. This is a fee on thirteen occupations impacting over 600,000 Texans. It will produce a savings to those individuals of $300 million.
Education remained a top priority during the 84th Legislative Session, The final state budget pays for an increase of roughly 80,000 students per year in the state’s overall public school enrollment. On top of that investment, it provides an additional $1.5 billion for public education. The statewide formula average per student will increase from $5,040 to $5,140.
House Bill 4 provides additional funding to school districts that opt to implement the high quality, accountable prekindergarten (pre-k) program. The focus is on long term prekindergarten success. House Bill 4 will allot $130 million in new funding over the next two years to school districts who adopt new pre-K standards. This grant program’s goal is to improve pre-k curriculum and personal. This will not expand the existing half-day program or include three-year-old children. The remediation cost for children who do not experience a high quality pre-k program in House District 21 alone exceeds nearly $24 million per biennium. This is an investment well spent.
The Legislature also passed House Bill 2804 which will create a new A-F rating system for public schools so that parents and students can more clearly understand their school’s performance. It also reforms the school accountability system to decrease the emphasis on state-mandated standardized tests and incorporate locally designed measures of student and community engagement while allowing for a quicker and more effective process to reform schools that repeatedly fail to meet academic standards.
The Legislature increased funding by 7.5 percent, providing an additional $1.5 billion from the current two-year funding period for colleges and universities. In addition, $40 million was put into the Governor’s University Research Initiative, a new fund created to attract top researchers to public universities.
House Bill 100 authorized $3.1 billion in capital construction bonds for public institutions of higher education which included projects at all Lamar campuses in Southeast Texas.
Senate Bill 900 will ensure that the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association is prepared to cover the loss of a 1 in 100 year storm. The agency will also have $4.9 billion through a combination of $600 million in premiums and Catastrophe Reserve Trust Fund; $1 billion in Class 1, 2, and 3 public securities; $1 billion in insurance company assessments; and $2.3 billion in reinsurance. Under SB 900, Class 1, 2, and 3 public securities are repaid from TWIA premiums and surcharges on TWIA policyholders. If necessary for issuance, Class 2 and 3 securities may also be repaid from surcharges on coastal policyholders. This bill reconfigures the Board of Directors to have equal representation, giving no clear interest or majority. It keeps a 9-member board but goes from a 5-4 industry/coastal representation to a 3-3-3 industry/coastal/ inland representation composition. It authorizes the TDI Commissioner to privatize the Associations management if the commissioner determines it is in the best interest of the policyholders and the public while directing TDI to place greater emphasis on depopulation.
Due to the crisis on the Texas/Mexico border, the Legislature passed House Bill 11 an $840 million border security package. House Bill 11 authorizes the hiring of 250 new DPS troopers, increases surveillance technology and establishes a transnational intelligence center to analyze crime data. The center will serve as a real-time intelligence hub for state and local law enforcement agencies. House Bill 11 also creates a new offense for human trafficking if a person knowingly transports or harbors someone illegally for profit.
The Legislature also passed House Bill12 establishing a Border Prosecution Unit. This agency will facilitate cooperation among prosecutors, provide investigative assistance, and develop best practices for the investigation of border crimes.
This session, the Legislature passed Senate Joint Resolution 5 which proposed a constitutional amendment to take effect in 2018 that will dedicate a portion of general sales tax revenue to the State Highway Fund. This proposition dedicates up to $2.5 billion annually to the State Highway Fund as well as provides a stable revenue source to address the state’s transportation needs without raising taxes or fees. The use of these funds for toll roads is prohibited.
Legislators passed House Bill 20 which will provide necessary oversight, transparency, and accountability to ensure the Texas Department od Transportation maximizes the effectiveness of the resources taxpayers have provided. House Bill 20 also requires TxDOT to develop a performance-based planning and programming process that will allow the legislature to assess how the Department is achieving required goals.
House Bill 910 will allow concealed handgun license holders to openly carry handguns. Individuals are still required to obtain a concealed handgun permit to carry openly.
Senate Bill 11 authorizes a concealed handgun license holder to carry a concealed handgun while on a college campus. Senate Bill 11 also allows for universities to establish rules concerning the storage of handguns in dorms or other residential facilities owned or operated by the university.
To be eligible for a handgun license in the state of Texas, citizens must submit to state and federal background checks, pass an educational course, demonstrate shooting proficiency and be 21 years of age or older.
While Texas has some of the most beautiful landscapes and interesting wildlife in the country, our state parks and historic sites have languished in recent years due to under-funding. The Legislature passed House Bill 158 dedicating all of the sporting goods sales tax to the Texas Parks and Wildlife and Texas Historical Commission to improve the infrastructure of our state parks.
REPRESENTATIVE PHELAN’S LEGISLATIVE ACCOMPLISHMENTS
Appropriation Support for Southeast Texas Higher Education
Through HB 1 and HB 100 all four higher education campuses will have new capital improvement projects as well as innovative education programs. These buildings and curriculums will be vital workforce development tools for Southeast Texas. They will support and produce the highly skilled labor force this area profoundly needs.
The following items were authorized:
Lamar University – Biology & Science Building, Port Management Program, Center for Water & Air Quality
Lamar Institute of Technology - Technical Arts Building & Associate of Arts Degree Implementation Program
Lamar State College – Orange – Multi Purpose Center, Allied Health Program, Maritime Technology Program, Hurricane Ike Reimbursement Funding
Lamar State College – Port Arthur - Vocational Instructional Building, Vocational and Technical and HVAC Program, “Hold Harmless” Funding (offset nursing program loss)
Rider #72 in HB1 – Office of Complaints, Investigations & Enforcement
This budget rider contained in the state budget will create the Office of Complaints, Investigations and Enforcement at the Texas Education Agency to investigate suspected malfeasance and misconduct in public education. In the future should an individual have a concern regarding improprieties in a school or district this office will have the ability and expertise to investigate the claims in real time while removing local politics from the equation.
House Bill 3106 – Joint Author – Extended time for a Board of Managers
Allows the Commissioner of the Texas Education Agency the permissive ability to extend the board of managers for up to two additional years after the initial appointment of the new board. This will give school districts like the Beaumont Independent School District, which have been placed under state supervision, adequate time to perform their duties.
HB 1979 - Largemouth Bass Fishing
Fishing tournaments have a significant impact on Southeast Texas by providing revenue and positive exposure to our area. However, due to the brackish nature of the Sabine River and Neches River systems it is a challenge for largemouth bass to reach the 14-inch legal size. This prevents tournament participants from being able to weigh in a full bag limit thus causing many organizers to look elsewhere to host an event. Southeast Texas has the largest high school team fishing trail in the nation. This bill was an attempt to allow those children the opportunity to fish in tournaments locally. Although HB 1979 did not become law it did prompt a vigorous and thorough study by the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department. They have already begun researching the waters of Southeast Texas to better understand our ecosystem. Should the data ultimately prove the lack of 14-inch bass in Southeast Texas, we could see a reduction of the slot limit for largemouth bass to 12 inches locally for everybody, not just high school and college tournaments participants. A final decision by TPWD is expected by spring 2016.
HB 4213 - Jefferson County Judge & Criminal Docket Responsibilities
Amended into SB 1139 – If the County Judge of Jefferson County is a licensed attorney, he or she may preside over a county court at law docket in addition to other already prescribed duties. This will allow the county to utilize an existing judge to alleviate a backlog of cases. It will save the citizens of Jefferson County time and tax dollars.
HB 2589 - Aggravated Sexual Assault of a Disabled Person
Amends the Penal Code to lower from 14 years of age to 13 years of which a person is considered a disabled individual for purposes of the offense of aggravated sexual assault. Currently, the aggravated sexual assault section of the penal code defines a minor as younger than fourteen and a disabled individual as older than fourteen. When the victim is disabled and fourteen years old the state could not prosecute under this enhanced penalty. HB 2589 will prevent other victims from falling into this age gap in the future.
HB 884 - Abolishment of Orange County Child Support Office
Transfers deposits from the Child Support Fund to the new Divorce and Contempt Fees Fund. It abolishes the Orange County Child Support Office and transfers all obligations, rights, records, equipment, and personnel of the Orange County Child Support Office to the Orange County Juvenile Board.