Last Week in the Legislature
By Kenneth Besserman
Director of Government Affairs and Special Counsel
April 30, 2021 | Issue No. 15
Every legislative session is different, and they all pose their own challenges, unique issues and controversial items. This session is no different except for the fact that the number of controversial matters seems to be heightened and the speed at which some of these issues is moving is much quicker. The lack of lobby and advocacy group access to members of the legislature and the committee process has made it extremely difficult this session for groups to have any meaningful impact on the legislative process.
First to the good news. TXCPA and the accounting profession are having a very good session in 2021. SB 297, the CPA fingerprinting deadline extension bill, is moving swiftly through the legislative process. The bill has passed the Senate and is now almost ready to be taken up by the House. The bill was certified for the House Local & Consent calendar meaning that its passage is almost assured and should be out of the House and on the way to the governor in the coming week.
HB 1195, the PPP loan forgiveness legislation, has now passed both chambers and is on its way to the governor. It is unusual for a bill to make it to the governor’s desk with still 30 days left in the session. HB 1195 could be one of the first bills signed by the governor this session.
SB 6, the Pandemic Liability Act, has passed the Senate and just this week, the bill passed out of the House Civil Justice & Judiciary Committee on a unanimous vote. There have been some changes to the legislation, so if the bill passed the House, it will go back to the Senate to concur in the changes. All groups have been working closely to try and pass legislation that all sides can work with. Signs are still very good that the bill will get to the governor’s desk.
Now for the strange, and some may say controversial, issues that are starting to move in the Texas Legislature. The budget seems to be in relatively good shape. Both houses have named conference committee members to hash out the differences. In addition, the governor, speaker of the House and lieutenant governor released about $12 billion in federal funds that are slated to help public schools and higher education institutions address COVID-19 issues. There is still about $7 billion in education funding that has not been allocated to the schools as state leadership is continuing to talk to the federal government about the usage of those funds.
Texas and other states received their high-level redistricting information. Texas will be the big winner among the states with two new congressional seats allocated to Texas. There was a general consensus that Texas would receive three to four congressional seats in this new redistricting cycle, but all of the Census and redistricting experts believe that there was a national undercount during the 2020 Census. It is still unclear to many whether the two, as opposed to three, congressional seats benefit the Republican or Democratic party. While Republicans dominate state leadership and the two chambers, maps will be drawn to favor the Republican party, but where those lines will be drawn, will not be known until a fall special session.
The controversial constitutional/permitless gun carry bill passed the House a few weeks ago and is now being heard in a specially created committee in the Senate. The lieutenant governor initially announced that the votes did not exist in the Senate to bring the bill to the floor for debate, but he pledged to continue talking and negotiating with law enforcement and permitless carry advocates. As of now, there seems to be the votes to get the bill out of committee over the strenuous objections of the law enforcement community. Time will tell if the Senate will bring this bill up for debate.
In the Senate, there was extended, and oftentimes heated, debate about transgender issues relating to gender affirming surgery and medical procedures. While the Senate did pass legislation making gender affirming surgery for minors child abuse, there is some indication that the House may slow down that legislation or try and change it from the Senate version.
In the House, there is still quite a bit of discussion and negotiation over a number of election integrity/reform bills. The Senate has passed SB 7, which significantly curtails the ability of local governments to handle elections in their jurisdictions and creates a number of election-related offenses for local elected officials and the public that violate election laws. The House has some similar legislation, but it does not seem to be as onerous or controversial as the Senate legislation.
As the transgender, election and permitless gun carry bills make their way to the House and Senate floors, watch for the legislative process to slow down considerably, and watch for lots and lots of bills to die as legislative deadlines get closer and the ability to compromise and negotiate dwindles. It happens every session, but the pandemic, power grid and social issues that have been front and center are starting to have their effect on all facets of the session.
The good news is that we are in the final month of the session.