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

​TAC on the Lege — Weekly Video Series​

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​TAC on the Lege —  A conversation about what’s important to counties this week in the Texas Legislature. It’s hostage-taking season as the Legislature prepares to grind to a shuddering halt in just 10 days time. Top on everyone’s agenda this week, it was the best of bills, it was the worst of bills—the battle between a good transparency bill and a bad revenue cap bill and which SB 2 turns out to be. Meanwhile, in the Senate … The real property tax payer protection bill, HJR 73, has been referred to an interesting committee and the omnibus courthouse and judicial security bill is off to the governor’s desk. SB 1913, a "debtor’s prison" relief bill for those who cannot pay their fines and fees, has made it over to the House, through committee and could be heard on the floor. The Driver Responsibility Program reform bill is still headed down the right road despite obstacles and one of Gov. Abbott’s  emergency items, ethics reform, is on the move again.

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

The Week Behind Us and the Week Ahead of Us – This week featured more SB 2, on the floor, off the floor, back in committee, out of committee, back to Calendars. An ethics emergency item related to termination of retirement benefits is headed to the governor’s desk, a courthouse and judicial security bill is headed to the same place and a Senate “debtors”prison” bill may be headed to the House floor. A Senate bill about when prisoners should be released from county jails is out of a House committee, and maybe the fourth time is the charm for an anti-texting and driving bill.

“Car Wash” – The House was poised to take up SB 2 on Thursday, clean of all rollback and petition language, but apparently not clean of points of order. The bill’s sponsor withdrew the bill temporarily and on Friday made a motion to recommit the bill to Ways & Means. The committee met, quickly moved the same bill out of committee (clean of procedural sins and also still free of rollback and petition language that counties and cities objected to) and sent the bill back to the Calendars committee. The bill is a good transparency and voter information bill, but county officials should contact their House members and strongly encourage they oppose any efforts to amend roll back and petition language back onto the bill. 

“Don't Know What You Got (Til It's Gone)” – Gov. Greg Abbott declared ethics reform as an emergency item earlier this session and the Legislature has considered a series of bills on the issue, including SB 500 by Sen. Van Taylor (R-Plano). On May 15, the House passed this legislation, which prohibits elected officials from receiving public retirement benefits if they are convicted of a qualifying felony committed while in office and arising directly from the duties of that elected office. The bill allows an official whose conviction is overturned to continue to receive annuity payments under certain conditions. The legislation has already passed the Senate.

“Dangerous Times” – SB 42 by Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) was passed by the House on a vote of 140 – 3. It improves the security of courts in this state through a variety of means, including establishing local court security committees, requiring specialized training for court security officers and facilitating the removal of the personal information of judicial officials from certain public documents. The bill also provides funding for security training for law enforcement and court personnel. The bill now heads to the governor’s office to await his signature.

“Expensive Being Poor” – A bill aimed at addressing issues relating to “debtors’ prisons” was recently voted out by the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence. SB 1913 by Sen. Zaffirini (D-Laredo), which has already passed the Senate, implements recommendations adopted by the Texas Judicial Council relating to the assessment and collection of criminal court costs for defendants who are unable to pay. The bill would require a court to determine that a defendant has sufficient resources or income to pay all or part of the assessed fine and costs before imposing the fine and costs.

Additionally, it expands the discretion of judges to waive fines and costs, requires a court to hold a hearing before the issuance of a capias pro fine, increases the amount of credit provided to defendants who serve jail time or perform community service in order to satisfy the assessed fine and costs, expands the types of organizations where a defendant can perform community service in lieu of payment and allows a court to waive the Scofflaw and OmniBase fees under certain circumstances, among other provisions. The bill now heads to the House Calendars Committee.

“Who Says You Can't Go Home” – If SB 582 by Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston) passes, jails will not be allowed to release inmates between the hours of 5 p.m. and 6 a.m. Several bills have been filed in previous legislative sessions, but were met with resistance citing the independent authority of a sheriff to operate the jail and rights of those authorized to be released but unable to be released due to the time constraints. Those issues may be resolved as SB 582 authorizes up to 18 hours credit for time served in an effort to release inmates during daylight hours to increase the safety of those being released – specifically, women and those with mental illness and other special needs who are more susceptible to fall victim to other crimes if released after dark or in the middle of the night. Additionally, the bill makes provisions for releasing an inmate after 5 p.m. and before 6 a.m. The bill was voted favorably from House Public Health on May 18.

“Highway Don’t Care” – The Senate passed HB 62 by Rep. Tom Craddick (R-Midland), which makes it an offense for an individual to use a cell phone to read, write or send a text message while operating a motor vehicle unless the vehicle is stopped, with certain exceptions; the use of a hands-free device is allowed. Under the bill, a first-time violation is punishable by a fine of at least $25 and not more than $99. The Senate version of the bill also preempts all local ordinances relating to texting while driving.

This is Craddick’s fourth attempt at passing such legislation. Previous bills have had some traction, but have never been signed into law. Forty-six states currently ban texting while driving. The bill, which is sponsored by Sen. Zaffirini, has already passed the House. Rep. Craddick has indicated that he will concur with the Senate’s changes, which means the bill will soon head to the governor’s desk.

“Conjunction Junction” – The Senate Committee on Intergovernmental Relations met on May 15 and May 17 to hear a long agenda of local bills. Among these were HB 1716 by Rep. Ron Reynolds (D-Missouri City) and HB 3504 by Rep. Rick Miller (R-Sugar Land).

HB 1716 allows for county assistance districts (CADs) to be non-contiguous. In addition, a CAD annexing land may annex a territory that is not currently adjacent or contiguous to the district. Fort Bend Commissioner Andy Meyer testified that this bill allows the county to access sales tax for local projects.

HB 3504 expands the purposes for which a CAD may use available monies. Commissioner Meyer also testified on this bill explaining HB 3504 allows a CAD, with permission of the city, to use sales tax revenue to fund county facilities within the city's limits.

Both bills were voted favorably from committee.

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 Legislature Online — ​use it to create customized alerts for specific committee meetings or to track specific bills. ​​​​​​​​​​  ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​ ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​  ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​