Last Week in the Legislature
By Kenneth Besserman
Director of Government Affairs and Special Counsel
April 2, 2021 | Issue No. 11
Almost Feels Like a Real Legislative Session
The 12th week of the 87th regular session has been a whirlwind on many fronts. With numerous committee hearings and extended debate in the House and Senate on many controversial and political issues, there is a sense that there is some semblance of normalcy returning to the Texas legislative process. While many health and safety protocols relating to the COVID-19 pandemic remain in place, legislation is starting to move out of committee and pass out of the House and Senate. This is also the time when lots of legislation dies for lack of agreement, inability to get a committee hearing and politics.
TXCPA Legislative Priorities
Significant progress continues to be made on the TXCPA legislative priorities and bills important to the accounting profession. HB 1195 (Rep. Geren), which will exclude loans forgiven under the Paycheck Protection Program from franchise tax revenue calculations, passed unanimously out of the House and is on its way to the Senate. The legislation has not encountered any problems or issues on its sojourn in the House, so passage looks highly likely in the Senate and the governor’s signature.
Senate Bill 297 (Sen. Perry) also had a good week. SB 297 will extend the deadline by one year, to Sept. 1, 2022, for CPA licensees to submit their fingerprints with their license renewals. As of April 1, the legislation is on the Senate Intent Calendar and is likely to pass on April 1 or shortly thereafter. A CPA only has to submit their fingerprints one time, but during this past year it has been difficult for licensees to access fingerprinting locations during the pandemic. This legislation will make it easier for CPAs and the Texas State Board of Public Accountancy to meet the Sunset requirement that all licensees submit their fingerprints.
The TXCPA Government Relations team continues to monitor and track well over 100 bills this session that might have an impact on the accounting profession. We are engaging with members of the legislature, committees and our outside lobbyist team to make sure that these bills address our issues and concerns. Unlike previous sessions, the amount of tax legislation has significantly declined (no professional services sales tax legislation is moving) and there is no legislation pending that attacks, diminishes or threatens the accounting profession or CPA license.
TXCPA is also watching and engaging very closely on SB 6 (Sen. Hancock), which is addressing civil liability reform relating to pandemic and disaster declaration litigation. Discussions about language continue between all interested parties and a vote in the Senate Business & Commerce Committee should occur soon.
Other Session Priorities
The priorities of the governor, lieutenant governor and speaker of the House also made significant progress this week. The week saw controversial bills pass in the Senate before Easter. In the Senate, Senate Bill 7 (Sen. Hughes) – major election reform legislation – a highly partisan bill, passed the Senate after more than seven hours of debate. The legislation would limit extended early voting hours, prohibit drive-through voting and make it illegal for local election officials to proactively send applications to vote my mail to voters even if they qualify for mail-in voting.
Highly charged and partisan debate about election integrity, election fraud, in-person and early voter access, and voter suppression continued throughout the evening and early morning. SB 7 mirrors much of the election integrity legislation that has been introduced and passed in many state legislatures in recent months after the November presidential election. What we know for sure is that if this legislation becomes law in Texas, there will be years and years of litigation on the horizon.
Power grid reform was also on this week’s agenda in the House and Senate. In the Senate, SB 3 passed, which creates an emergency alert system, formalizes a council to allow different parts of the energy industry to talk with one another and requires ERCOT board members to live in Texas. In addition, SB 3 mandates that power plants better prepare for extreme weather, although much of that planning will be left to the PUC and weatherization is not mandatory.
The House passed a series of bills that address some of the same issues as the omnibus SB 3. In the House, weatherization requirements were more targeted, but it still does not expressly mandate weatherization. Other bills also addressed ERCOT governance reform, banning wholesale index electricity products and the creation of an emergency alert system. The two chambers will continue their discussions on electricity repricing and weatherization as the bill moves forward.
The Senate also passed a series of abortion bills that, like the election integrity reform legislation, may spend years and years in the courts. Bills outlawing abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected and a bill allowing any person to sue an abortion provider if the person believes the provider has violated state laws are sure to be challenged in the courts.
Other priority legislation in the Senate included a bill that prohibits social media companies from blocking, banning, demonetizing or discriminating against a user based on the user’s viewpoint or their location in Texas. The prospect of this legislation in the House is uncertain, but lawsuits will abound over this legislation as well, as it may be difficult to enforce or administer in a highly connected and interrelated online environment. Time will tell on these highly controversial bills.
Put on your seatbelts for a strange close to the 87th session.
Only 58 days to go!