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Week in Review: A Digest of What Happened This Week at the Capitol

TAC on the Lege — Weekly Video Series

We've launched a new video podcast as another tool to help you navigate the twists and turns of this legislative session.  

TAC on the Lege — A conversation about what’s important to counties this week in the Texas Legislature, which includes a look at the "State of the State" and "State of the Judiciary" addresses, including the governor’s emergency items: ethics reform, sanctuary cities and child protective services; a recap on mental health and indigent defense funding hearings; and more on the Senate’s looming revenue cap bill, SB 2.

Week in Review: A Digest of What Happened This Week at the Capitol​

Senate committees held hearings on several high-profile bills this week, and both chambers met in joint session to hear Gov. Abbott deliver his “State of the State and Chief Justice Nathan Hecht present the “State of the Judiciary.” During his speech, Gov. Abbott declared four issues as emergency items, which means the legislature can take them up immediately. 

The Senate Finance Committee also continued with its budget hearings and heard from various agencies and stakeholders on mental health funding. The Finance Committee is scheduled to consider criminal indigent defense funding next week.

What State is the State in? — On Tuesday, Gov. Abbott delivered his biennial address to a joint session of the House and Senate, laying out his priorities and these emergency items (which may be taken up immediately by the legislature rather than waiting until the 60th day): Child Protective Services reform, banning sanctuary cities, ethics reform and convening a Convention of the States. He addressed other topics and among them were these items: border security, full funding for his Enterprise Fund and property tax reform.

And Here Comes the Judge — The day after the “State of the State,” the Texas Supreme Court’s Chief Justice Hecht gave his “State of the Judiciary” to another joint session of the House and Senate. He spoke of security for judges, judicial compensation, bail bond reform and e-filing among other court issues.

Now the Session Really Begins — A few committees met this week to consider legislation on Gov. Abbott’s list of emergency items.

Ethics Reform
The Senate State Affairs Committee, chaired by Joan Huffman (R-Houston), met twice this week. On Wednesday, Feb. 1, the committee heard a package of ethics reform bills authored by Sen. Van Taylor (R-Plano). The omnibus bill, SB 14, includes several ethics-related provisions. Specifically, it prohibits elected officials from receiving public retirement benefits if they are convicted of a “qualifying felony” that includes abuse of official capacity. However, the bill allows for an official whose conviction is overturned to recoup contributions and interest accrued. The bill also includes revised reporting thresholds for lobbyists, restrictions on candidates who are lobbyists and disclosures of potential conflicts for legislators and certain other officials. The bill was voted favorably from the committee. 

Sanctuary Cities
On Feb. 2, the State Affairs Committee also received invited and public testimony related to SB 4, the bill prohibiting “sanctuary” policies by local governments. The bill seeks to ensure local government cooperation with federal agencies that request notification when certain criminal aliens are to be released from correctional facilities. The committee substitute to the bill contains language that would make counties liable for damages if certain persons otherwise subject to a detainer are released and subsequently commit a felony. Additionally, a county could lose grant funds if the county is found in violation of the bill’s provisions. Early into the hearing, there were over 450 witnesses registered to testify on the issue. The bill was voted favorably from committee.

Child Protective Services Reform
Also heard this week was the Child Protective Services (CPS) and foster care reform bill introduced by Sen. Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown). The legislation, SB 11, is aimed at addressing the state’s currently troubled child welfare system. As filed, the bill focuses primarily on reforming the state’s current administration of services and includes provisions for foster care redesign and the outsourcing of certain child welfare services to contractors. TAC staff will continue to monitor and report on this legislation as it moves through the process for potential county impact. The bill was left pending.

Mental Health Funding — The Senate Finance Committee, chaired by Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound), accepted public testimony on Jan. 31 in relation to funding for programs in the Health and Human Services portion of the state budget. The Victoria County, Jackson County and Limestone County Sheriffs’ offices provided input regarding the benefits of law enforcement partnering with children’s programs for crime prevention and the need to continue investing in regional crisis mental health programs. The committee was encouraged to read the report submitted to the legislature by the Joint Committee on Access and Forensic Services because it contains critical information for improving mental health services in Texas, addressing significant gaps around the state and the pressures in the urban areas.

Government Efficiencies — The Legislative Budget Board recently released its biennial Texas State Government Effectiveness and Efficiency Report. The 510-page report includes a lengthy review of various policy issues and a host of recommendations for the legislature to consider this session. Some of the issues addressed in the report include improvements in Medicaid, the effects of raising the age of criminal responsibility and the reporting of county road and bridge funds.

Myth Busters: Revenue Caps — The Dallas Morning News (DMN) recently published an article titled “Misleading stats fuel Republicans’ effort to cap local property taxes.” This article is a striking confirmation of Myth #3 in the Texas Association of Counties publication Revenue Caps: Myth vs. Reality. In short, Myth #3 and the DMN article both assert that the central argument being used to support lowering the revenue cap, that property taxes are outpacing median income, can best be described as full of alternative facts.

Here’s an excerpt from the article: “‘Whether it’s intentional or not, looking at property tax collections as a share of median income is misleading at best,’ said Gardner, who specializes in state tax policy. Here’s why it doesn’t work: As population and construction of new homes grow, so does the total amount of property taxes collected. That amount also grows as home values increase, even if the tax rate, the cents on the dollar that localities levy, remains unchanged. Meanwhile, median household income, the paychecks of one family at the center of the state’s income spectrum, may not grow very much.”

The Week Ahead: Indigent Defense Funding — The Senate Finance Committee is scheduled to consider the legislative appropriations request submitted by the Texas Indigent Defense Commission on Thursday, Feb. 9, at 9 a.m. Please note this posting changed from Tuesday, Feb 7. The Commission is asking for full state funding for criminal indigent defense costs in its Legislative Appropriations Request for the FY 2018-2019 biennium. County officials with concerns about the rising costs of the indigent defense mandate should contact members of the Senate Finance Committee in support of additional state funds. Additional information about the hearing and mandate is available in this County Issues article.

Helpful Tracking Links for Legislation

  • County Bills by Office as tracked by the Texas Association of Counties.
  • Senate and House committee postings are available on Texas Legislature Online.
  • MyTLO section of Texas Legisla​ture Online — use it to create customized alerts for specific committee meetings or to track specific bills. ​