Last Week in the Legislature
Slowly Gaining Speed
By Kenneth Besserman
Director of Government Affairs and Special Counsel
February 10, 2023 | Issue 3
AUSTIN - The fifth week of the 88th Session of the Texas Legislature was eerily reminiscent of the early days of the 2021 session when Winter Storm Uri blanketed the state in ice and saw statewide power grid mandated shutdowns and outages that lasted for days. This year, while the state did not witness the ferocious weather of 2021, there were significant local power outages in Austin and Central Texas, which caused both the House and the Senate to meet only briefly and take multiple days off the past two weeks while Capitol staff and legislators slowly made their way back to Austin to resume session.
The Senate Finance Committee continued to hold budget hearings focusing on public education and higher education. There was significant discussion on the state of school finance funding formulas and whether changes need to be made to give school districts a more accurate basis for receiving state funding. Adjusting the school funding formulas may also provide a means by which the state can provide some significant property tax relief. Property tax relief is a major initiative of state legislative leaders and Governor Greg Abbott. There will be a lot of negotiations and discussions about school finance and property tax relief as the House Appropriations Committee begins its hearing in the coming days.
On the legislative front, there were some significant developments. First, both Governor Abbott and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick continue to make border security a priority. Both the Senate and House filed budgets include significant amounts of funding to address border security from continuing to build a wall to funds for security and personnel.
Another interesting legislative development has been the increased attention to both casino gambling and online sports betting. Rep. Charlie Geren and Senator Carol Alvarado both filed constitutional amendments and legislation that would legalize casino gambling in Texas limited to a few destination resorts. With a powerful House author filing the bill, there is much added attention and significance on gambling this session as opposed to the previous session. In addition, legislation has been filed to allow online sports betting in Texas. The online sports betting advocates have gathered the support of most of the professional sports teams in Texas along with many other online sports betting companies. It seems that this session might be a “gambling session” in addition to $40 billion surplus session.
In the Texas House, Speaker Dade Phelan unveiled his committee appointments and chairs. An important note, which was one of the central issues in the House Rules debate during the first day of the session, Speaker Phelan maintained the tradition of appointing committee chairs from the opposing party and named eight Democrat chairs – down from 11 Democrat chairs in 2021. In addition, Speaker Phelan named Rep. Charlie Geren as Speaker Pro Tempore, who will act as Speaker in the absence of Speaker Phelan.
Notable committee chairs in 2023 include Rep. Dustin Burrows (R) as chair of the powerful Calendars Committee; Rep. John Kuempel (R) as chair of the Higher Education Committee; Rep. Ken King (R) as chair of Licensing & Administrative Procedures – this is the committee that all accounting and CPA issues are referred; Rep Brad Buckley (R) as chair of Public Education – the public school voucher fight will be set in this committee; Rep. Todd Hunter (R) as chair of the very powerful State Affairs Committee; and Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D) as chair of the Select Committee on Youth Health and Safety.
The great news for TXCPA is that we have excellent relationships with all of these chairs and look forward to our upcoming committee hearing and being a valuable resource to the chairs and committees. You can see the full list of committee assignments here.
Now that the committees have been named, next week the House and Senate will begin referring bills to committees. While the House and Senate cannot debate bills on the floor until the 60th day of session, other than emergency items, committees can start hearing and voting on bills. The end of February and March should be a very busy committee season. In addition, the March 10 bill filing deadline is fast approaching. The good news is that TXCPA has had its legislative agenda filed and we are ready for hearings to commence.
On February 16, Governor Abbott will give his State of the State address laying out his priorities for 2023 and beyond. It will be interesting to see what items he puts in his emergency declaration – a document that places emergency items on the top of the agenda and signals to the legislature that these are very important issues.
With limited House and Senate action this past two weeks, get ready for a much quicker pace in the weeks to come.