Last Week in the Legislature

By Kenneth Besserman
Director of Government Affairs and Special Counsel

March 19, 2021 | Issue No. 9

Off to the Races

Week 10 of the Texas Legislature began in earnest on March 10 with a full slate of House and Senate hearings all week. 

The TXCPA legislative agenda started to make significant progress this week.

SB 297 (Perry) – CPA fingerprinting extension deadline – was heard in Senate Natural Resources & Economic Development on Thursday, March 18. TXCPA worked hard on educating members of the legislature on this bill during our Advocacy Day and through our Key Persons program. (Learn more about the TXCPA Key Person program.) The bill was met favorably everywhere we turned.

We have also worked closely with the Texas State Board of Public Accountancy and the Sunset Commission to make sure that CPAs are not penalized for late filing of fingerprints during the pandemic. This bill was left pending in committee but faced no opposition or troubles. The bill should move quickly through the Senate.

Another important bill started its journey this week. On Monday, March 15, HB 1195 (Geren) that excludes PPP forgiven loans from the gross revenue calculations under the Texas franchise tax was heard in House Ways & Means. The legislation is one of TXCPA’s 2021 legislative priorities. You can listen to the hearing here starting at 1:40. The bill passed favorably out of committee on Thursday, March 18 and will now go to the House Calendars Committee, then to the full House in the coming weeks.

TXCPA continues to watch the progress of SB 6 and HB 3659, which are bills that will shield businesses, hospitals, schools, first responders and others from liability related to the pandemic provided those entities follow government laws, rules and policies regarding health and safety issues. The legislation will also require plaintiffs to submit scientific evidence that the defendant’s actions or inactions caused injury before the case can proceed. This legislation is still being negotiated between businesses, the trial lawyers bar and others. We will continue to engage on this legislation to make sure that our voices and concerns are raised. More to come on this in the coming weeks.

The other big news in the Capitol during Week 10 was the continued debate about how to resolve the power grid problems Texas encountered in February. Mid-week, the last remaining commissioner on the Public Utility Commission resigned after a lot of pressure from state leadership and legislators. That leaves the PUC without any commissioners and allows Governor Greg Abbott to fill the three-member commission soon.

Earlier in the week, the Texas Senate hastily passed SB 2142, which authorizes the Public Utility Commission to take all necessary action to correct a $4 billion+ billing error that ERCOT passed along to power generators during the storm. Lt. Governor Dan Patrick has pushed for this legislation after a committee hearing last week that challenged the PUC’s authority to act. Abbott has declared that he did not have the authority to ask or demand a billing correction, so the Senate took the step to give that authority to the PUC.

However, Speaker Dade Phelan has recently put a hold on passing SB 2142 in the House claiming that there was no billing error and more investigation is needed to determine what happened to the power grid and the pricing increase. So much for state leadership working together on the power grid failures. We will see if this battle over the power grid seeps into some of the other major issues of the session. The “playing nice together” moment of the session may be past us. Time will tell.

The first week of the session after the bill filing deadline is traditionally when most committees begin hearing bills on a regular basis. This session, pandemic or not, is no exception.

March 12 was the bill filing deadline for the 87th regular session. House and Senate offices were busy drafting and filing last minute bills, many of which will probably not get a committee hearing because of the late filing of the legislation. The Legislative Reference Library has put together some great statistics and charts detailing bill filings for the 87th session. There was much debate before session and in the early days that bill filing might significantly drop this session because of the pandemic.

Turns out that bill filing is only down slightly (from 7,281 in 2019 to 6,919 in 2021). But what is noticeable is that committee referrals, bills scheduled for hearing and bills reported out of committee have dropped dramatically from 2019. These numbers show, at least as of mid-March, that the House and Senate leadership is slowing down the process by which bills are heard and passed out of committee. Fewer hearings and a slower committee process during the pandemic has necessitated fewer bills being heard. We will watch this closely to see whether the trend holds for the remainder of the session.

The end of the bill filing session traditionally sees a lot of bills that are either non-starters or controversial. We have seen a number of bills on election security, abortion, guns in public schools, legislation limiting city/county authority in a number of areas, eminent domain, and a number of other issues. Stay tuned to this space for more information about late filed bills and a look at some of the more humorous bills to be filed.

Only 72 days to go.