Last Week in the Legislature
By Kenneth Besserman
Director of Government Affairs and Special Counsel
May 21, 2021 | Issue No. 17
The penultimate week of every legislative session is when legislation, big and small, important and unimportant, and significant and controversial, hits the end of the road or makes its way to the governor’s desk for signature. Legislators are attempting to amend their bill language to other bills or seeking to kill legislation. Conference committees are in full negotiation mode over the budget, election integrity reform and ERCOT/power grid reform.
Three of TXCPA’s 2021 legislative priorities have either been signed by the governor or are continuing through the legislative process with signs still positive for final passage in the coming days. As mentioned last week, HB 1195, the bill that excludes loans forgiven under the Paycheck Protection Program from the Texas franchise tax, was signed by the governor and became immediately effective. TXCPA has been at the forefront of this legislation and working closely with Rep. Geren and Sen. Hancock to make sure that the legislation passed. Thank you to all our key persons, advocates and members in letting the legislature know the importance of this legislation.
SB 297, the CPA fingerprinting deadline extension legislation, has now passed both houses of the legislature and is on its way to the governor’s desk for his signature. The bill will extend the CPA fingerprinting deadline to August 31, 2022 to enable all CPAs and the Texas State Board of Public Accountancy to meet the Sunset fingerprinting requirement. Thank you to Sen. Perry and Rep. Button for passing this legislation. TXCPA worked closely with legislators, TSBPA, Sunset Commission and others to make this bill a reality. All indications are that Governor Abbott will sign the bill.
SB 6, the Pandemic Liability Act, has passed the Senate and is scheduled for debate on the House floor on Friday, May 21. Because the legislation was declared an emergency item by Governor Abbott early on in the session, SB 6 will be at the top of the calendar, meaning that the House will definitely debate the bill on Friday and the legislative clock will not run out on the bill. The bill has been thoroughly negotiated during the whole session, so it is highly likely the bill will pass the House, although there may be some additional amendments added.
The bill gives liability protection to businesses, churches, schools and other entities that, in good faith, followed government-issued pandemic guidance and did not intentionally or maliciously put employees and customers in harm’s way. The bill will also allow individuals to sue entities if they can establish a connection between their pandemic-related illness or injury and the actions of the business. Businesses, trade associations, professional societies and others have made this legislation a priority this session and all signs point to the bill passing. Stay tuned for an update on this bill very soon.
Conference committees are also meeting this week and next week. On Wednesday, May 19, the budget conference committee met to vote out a negotiated state budget, clearing the way for the House and Senate to have their final votes on the budget. One of the biggest items that was taken out by the conference committees was the requirement that the governor and the legislature have joint sign off or joint authority over the spending of federal stimulus funds. The budget removes that requirement and lets the governor maintain authority over the spending of those funds. TXCPA will have a more in-depth review of the state budget in a future program. Look for that program after the session sine dies.
Conversations continue about permitless/constitutional gun carry, transgender issues and ERCOT/power grid reform. The House State Affairs Committee passed out a new bill that addresses ERCOT and includes a requirement for weatherization of certain parts of the power grid and includes significant penalties for failure to weatherize. Time will tell if the weatherization requirement remains in the legislation. Many of the big, controversial social issues, and issues such as abortion, transgender, police reform/funding and redistricting, are still in play or will be addressed in a special session(s) later this year.