Last Week in the Legislature

The Pace Picks Up

By Kenneth Besserman
Director of Government Affairs and Special Counsel

February 17, 2023 | Issue 4

AUSTIN -   Week six of the 88th session saw the House and Senate begin to pick up pace. The Texas Legislature is truly back in full swing after three years of the pandemic. There have been significant numbers of bills filed in both chambers as of February 16, 2023 – 2,461 bills filed in the House and 991 bills filed in the Senate. By comparison, for the same time period in the pandemic session of 2021, there were 1,929 bills filed in the House and 681 bills filed in the Senate.

TXCPA’s legislative agenda took some important steps this week. In the Senate, SB 159 – 120 hours to test legislation – was referred to the Senate Business & Commerce Committee. This is great news for TXCPA and CPA candidates since we have a lot of good friends on that committee. We should know very soon when a hearing will be set on that bill. Stay tuned for more information on how you can engage on this legislation.

In addition, SB 951 – fifth year scholarship bill – was filed by Senator Charles Perry. This bill will allow other accounting students, those in their third and fourth years of accounting education, to access scholarship funds that are administered by the Texas State Board of Public Accountancy. This is also great news as Texas needs all the financial resources it can muster to provide educational opportunities and resources to those who enter accounting education. We look forward to getting you more information about this legislation and how you can help in the advocacy efforts. 

Some committees began to have hearings on substantive matters and organizational meetings. In the House, the House Appropriations Committee began hearings on the state budget – first hearing from Comptroller Glenn Hegar as he spoke about the large budget surplus, the needs of the state, the Rainy Day Fund, and the Texas economy. Comptroller Hegar pointed out the great news on economic growth, sales tax revenues skyrocketing to unprecedented levels, and the large and soon to be ending federal pandemic relief funds coming to Texas. 

Hegar’s comments were tempered a bit to put the committee members on notice that the state has a lot of infrastructure and structural needs that need to be addressed – highways, water, broadband internet, rising property taxes – in addition to the needs of a growing population. With federal pandemic relief funds coming to an end soon, the large budget surplus Texas is currently witnessing is not something to be counted on in future state budgets. 

In the Senate, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick unveiled his 30 top priorities of the session. It is a very interesting list that has created a lot of conversation and consternation in and around the Capitol. Let us know what you think of the Lt. Governor’s priorities. 

The Senate Finance Committee continued its hearings on the budget hearing from the Department of Transportation, higher education, Health and Human Services, Teacher Retirement System of Texas, Employee Retirement System of Texas, and many other agencies. This is the time of session when state agencies make their case before Senate Finance and House Appropriations as to what state funding they will need, and what their priorities are, for the next state budget. Budget hearings are also an opportunity for committee members to talk about concerns they have with agencies, the services they provide to Texans and any other matter that falls under an agency’s purview. The hearings can make for great entertainment if you want to hear particular or minute concerns of a member of the legislature. 

The Senate Business & Commerce Committee continued its hearing on the Texas power grid, potential solutions to increased power demand, better generating capacity and the ever-present fear of power failures. The Public Utility Commission and ERCOT continue to be in the hot seat as to potential solutions. We will be hearing a lot more about power grid reform this session. 

Governor Greg Abbott gave his State of the State speech on February 16. The Governor laid out a number of items that he declared emergency items. An item that is declared an emergency by the Governor allows the legislature to debate the item during the first 60 days of the session, whereas other legislation cannot be debated until after the 60th day.

The Governor’s declared emergency items include many items that he has spoken about in recent months: cutting property taxes; ending COVID-19 restrictions “forever;” expanding school choice; making schools safer; ending “revolving door” bail policies; securing the border; and cracking down on fentanyl. These items are sure to create a lot of discussion, different proposals and a lot of contentious debate. There are strong positions on many of these items from both parties, so compromise will be necessary if anything significant will pass.

One item, expanding school choice – another version of school vouchers – is setting up to be the biggest legislative issue outside of the budget surplus and property tax reform. In past sessions, the debate over school vouchers has not broken down in a partisan battle, but rather a battle that pits urban vs. rural legislators and school districts; property tax rich vs. property tax poor districts; and advocates for and against public education. Education choice debate is going to set up some interesting partnerships and fights in the coming months.

The next couple of weeks will surely be very busy. There will be more committee hearings, the approaching bill filing deadline, and the House and Senate are getting closer to being able to debate legislation on the floor. In addition, with the Governor’s inclusion of emergency items to the legislative agenda, we are about to get into high gear. 

Only 100 days to go. 




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