Last Week in the Legislature
By Kenneth Besserman
Director of Government Affairs and Special Counsel
April 23, 2021 | Issue No. 14
Back to Normal?
The conventional wisdom among legislators, staffers, lobbyists and interest groups prior to and during the first few months of the session was that a few big issues would dominate the session, the legislature would look to pass a few big and important bills, and then the legislature would adjourn to be back in the summer and fall for a special session or two on redistricting and other issues. Well, in the past week or two, things have taken a dramatic turn and the legislature is mostly back to its normal operations and to debating very controversial social and hot button issues.
Back to that in a minute after a quick recap on TXCPA legislative priorities.
The CPA fingerprinting extension bill, SB 297 by Senator Perry, has passed the Senate and is in the House Licensing and Administrative Procedures Committee. The bill is likely to get out of committee and to the House floor very soon. The bill has been very well received and will help our members and the Texas State Board of Public Accountancy meet the Sunset fingerprinting requirement mandated in 2019.
HB 1195, the bill to exclude PPP forgiven loans from the franchise tax, has passed the House and the Senate unanimously. There was one minor change in the bill on the Senate floor this week so the bill will have to go back to the House so that the House can concur in those changes. This bill also has wide business and industry support, so passage seems almost certain.
The pandemic liability act, SB 6, is still in the House Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence Committee where more changes are expected, but which should not change the ultimate passage of the bill. As mentioned, the governor has made this issue a priority item, which indicates that he will likely sign the bill when it hits his desk. Look for the bill to come out of committee in the next week or two and then to the House floor for full debate.
The first few months of the session were dominated by the state budget, COVID-19 legislation, a bill addressing the governor’s emergency declaration powers, and ERCOT/power grid reform. All of those issues are being heard in committees, being debated on the House and Senate floors, and compromises continue on all those issues.
What has caught a lot of insiders and the general public by surprise is the speed at which other controversial and partisan issues have bubbled up to the forefront. After the major winter storm in February, many thought that ERCOT/power grid reform would take up whatever oxygen was left in the legislature during the pandemic session. While there is some limited progress on power grid reform – not nearly enough and what is needed to properly regulate and address structural reform – the budget and other issues are no longer in the spotlight. Now front and center are the social, partisan and very controversial issues of election integrity reform, permitless gun carry, transgender students and high school sports, and the Star-Spangled Banner.
Permitless/constitutional gun carry passed the House last week on a very close House vote. The bill has stalled in the Senate this week and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick said that the votes were not there to bring the bill to the floor at this time. Governor Greg Abbott has not made a public announcement or statement on the bill, so its passage is uncertain at this time. What we do know is that if it does not pass this session, it will likely be raised in a special session where its passage is more likely because of the different procedural rules in the Senate to allow passage by a simple majority.
The Senate has passed a bill to require transgender students to only play high school sports with teams of their birth gender. This has generated a lot of opposition by large corporations and chambers of commerce much like the bathroom bill did in 2017. We do not yet know if passage is likely in the House, but there will be a debate about it on the House floor in the coming weeks.
While election integrity reform legislation has passed the Senate, there are bills in the House that are considered to be much less controversial and partisan that the Senate legislation. The House seems to want to take a more measured approach to election reform. Which version has the upper hand in conference committee negotiations is still up in the air.
These issues were once thought to be on the backburner during this pandemic session, but now they are all that everyone is talking about. For good or bad, the Texas Legislature is now front-page news around the country and on all the news networks. Watch for an in-depth analysis of these major issues in the coming weeks as these bills get closer to passing.
The next couple of weeks are expected to be very busy and controversial.