Last Week in the Legislature
The Calm Before the Storm
By Kenneth Besserman
Director of Government Affairs and Special Counsel
February 24, 2023 | Issue 5
AUSTIN - With one-third of the legislative session almost complete, the Texas Legislature is set to quicken its pace, begin to hear bills in committee, and to begin floor debate. Traditionally, the first 40 to 60 days of the session is the time for intense bill filing, state budget hearings in Senate Finance and House Appropriations Committees, posturing by elected officials on the big issues of the session, and the time when committees are appointed.
This session is no different. The Senate has begun to refer bills to the appropriate committee – this is the first step in the process of bills being heard in committee, voted on and ultimately making their way to the Senate floor for passage (or failure) before they make their way to the House. Similarly, the process will be mirrored on the House side now that committees have been appointed. In the next couple of weeks, most Senate and House committees will begin hearing bills. Advocates, trade groups, lobbyists and the general public will inundate the Capitol to make their voices heard on bills of interest. March and April will truly be the busy part of session.
Since the Governor’s state of the state speech on February 16 and his comments since then, there has been a significant uptick in the discussion about education savings accounts – also known as school choice or school vouchers. As previously mentioned, the debate on this issue does not break down on purely partisan lines. There are rural vs. urban issues that play a significant role in this debate.
In addition to ESAs, the Governor has begun talking about a revamped economic incentive program to attract businesses to Texas. In 2021, the Chapter 313 program expired. Chapter 313 allowed local taxing jurisdictions to abate property taxes for a period of time in exchange for businesses moving to those jurisdictions and providing employment opportunities. The program expired and there has been debate about the program’s effectiveness. At this time, it does not appear that there is a legislative consensus as to what a new economic incentive program should be. TXCPA will continue to watch this issue and work with other business and trade groups on developing a beneficial incentive plan for the state.
A Troubling Sign
On the general business climate of the state, this session has been quite interesting. While the state budget has over a $40 billion surplus and the economic forecast looks bright, there has been a significant increase in legislation that affects the business community.
As of this week, there has been at least 51 bills filed that create new causes of action against businesses and employers, at least 53 bills that create new civil or administrative penalties against businesses and employers, at least 31 bills that impact attorney’s fees and litigation costs, and at least four bills that create new criminal penalties against businesses and employers. This is a troubling sign for businesses of all kinds in Texas.
These bills come from members of both parties and from both ends and center of the political spectrum, which is concerning for the business community, trade associations and professional societies. It is becoming more and more difficult to navigate the political arena and legislative process when there are attacks on the business community from all directions. TXCPA maintains a great relationship with legislators from both parties, with our colleague trade and business organizations, so TXCPA is well-placed to have a voice and make an impact on these bills to protect our members and our businesses. Stay tuned to this space for a lot more information on these bills in the coming weeks.
The Workforce Session
TXCPA’s legislative agenda is slowly making progress. Senate Bill 159 – 120 hours to test – has been referred to the Senate Business & Commerce Committee. TXCPA has been meeting with committee staff and senators on the committee and has received a good reception to the legislation.
This session is quickly becoming a workforce session. Many professions, occupations and industries are looking for ways to give flexibility to the workforce to enter those professions and occupations. There is a shortage of employees in many sectors of the economy. TXCPA will be in good company advocating for increased flexibility and opportunities to enter the CPA profession and other occupations.
Senate Bill 951 (Perry) and House Bill 2504 (Button) – allowing more accounting students to have access to Texas State Board of Public Accountancy scholarship funds – have been introduced in both chambers. These bills have also received a welcome reception and we look forward to getting them heard in committee in the coming weeks.
As we get closer to committee hearings and floor debates, you will be hearing from TXCPA and government relations staff on how you can make your voices heard. We will be asking you to engage, both by phone and email, to show your support for our bills and let legislative offices know how important these bills are to our CPA pipeline and advocacy efforts.