The Legislature was in session for only two days this past week, breaking early to allow members to attend the presidential inauguration and observe Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Both the House and Senate will reconvene on Wednesday, Jan. 23.
A Tale of Two Budgets – Perhaps the most significant news was the release of the draft base budgets by both chambers for the upcoming 2014-2015 biennium. The Senate’s budget, which totals $186.8 billion, proposes a 1.6 percent decrease in current spending, while the House’s budget, which totals $187.7 billion, proposes a 1.2 percent drop in current spending. Neither of the budgets withdraws any funds from the Rainy Day Fund. These base budgets, however, are only the first steps in the budget process and will change as the session progresses. Additional information is available here.
The Rules are in Place, Let the Games Begin – On Monday, Jan. 14, the House adopted rules that will govern its administration this session. There were a few changes to committees. The Pensions, Investments and Financial Services committee in now split into two committees, and a new Committee on Special Purpose Districts was named. There was also a change that will make it more difficult procedurally to remove bills from consideration on the House floor due to clerical errors. More information on the House rule changes is available here.
Water, Money and the Future of the State – On the heels of filing two bills crafted to begin the process of funding the State Water Plan (HB 4 and HB 11), House Natural Resources Chair Allen Ritter spoke to an Austin crowd this past Thursday morning about the bills and about the status of water policy, planning and funding in the state. This week’s Texas Tribune event, called TribLive and held at The Austin Club, featured Ritter and Tribune Editor Evan Smith. Ritter spoke about the true need to fund the water plan and the wake-up call people of the state received during 2011, the worst year thus far of the current drought. He described the State Water Implementation Fund created by HB 4 as an infrastructure bank, serving as a revolving loan fund, with the injection of $2 billion from the Rainy Day Fund. This one-time injection of seed capital needs to occur to get us on our way toward meeting our water needs for the coming decades. Without funding, the state will face a significant down-turn due to the damage to communities and the economy sure to come from an inadequate water supply. Additional information about the legislation is available here.
Bills Filed – Many county related bills have been filed since the filing period began. You will find a list of those bills organized by county office here. Some of the more significant bills filed thus far include:
HB 4 by Ritter — creating the State Water Implementation Fund, an important initial step in paying for the State Water Plan and ensuring the state has enough water to meet our population’s needs in the coming decades.
HB 11 by Ritter
— transferring $2 billion from the state’s Rainy Day Fund into the State Water Implementation Fund to be created by HB 4.
HB 116 by Larson — requiring the Sunset Advisory Commission to perform reviews of regional mobile authorities as if they were state agencies, with the authorities paying for the costs of such reviews.
HB 169 by Alonzo — allowing eligible voters to register to vote on Election Day after meeting certain requirements.
HB 211 by Fletcher – raising the warrant fee from $50 to $75.
HB 216 by Alvarado – requiring the secretary of state to implement an electronic voter registration program allowing qualified voters to register to vote via an official website of the state, as well as via the websites of counties participating in the program.
HB 260 by Callegari – requiring an ignition interlock device on the vehicles of defendants placed on probation for certain intoxication offenses involving the operation of a motor vehicle.
HB 476 Kolkhorst/ SB 180 by Van de Putte – allowing certain property owners to repurchase their property that has been acquired through eminent domain if the initial use of the property is not the public use for which the property was acquired.
HB 529 by Turner – outlining new procedures that must be followed to transfer a juvenile from a certified juvenile detention facility to a county jail.
SB 96 by Nichols – prohibiting governmental and private entities from taking private property through eminent domain if the taking is for a recreational purpose.
SB 98 by Patrick – authorizing deferred adjudication for certain intoxication offenses involving the operation of a motor vehicle.
SB 144 by Williams – lowering the current revenue cap from 8 percent to 5 percent, with certain exceptions for disasters or the protection of the health, safety or property of persons residing in the taxing unit.