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Legislative alert: budget writing, ethics reform, Pre-K bills

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March 07, 2017
85th Legislature kicks off with budget writing, ethics reform, P-TECH model and pre-K bills, Richardson/Telecom Corridor Legislative Day
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With only one more week to file bills, the Texas Senate and House of Representatives have filed more than 5,000 bills since last November for this legislative session. 

Ethics reform bill breezes through Senate
Senate Bill 14, the comprehensive ethics reform package by Senator Van Taylor (R-Plano), passed unanimously in the Texas Senate as the first bill the Senate approved this session. Sen. Taylor said, "Historic ethics reform is usually the result of major scandal. Thankfully, that is not the reason we passed SB 14 today. The ethics reform package...is unique in that it was born out of leadership."
  • Ejects politicians who have been convicted of a felony from all statewide offices, and further prohibits them from receiving taxpayer-funded pensions in prison;
  • Requires elected officials and candidates to disclose government contracts, bond counsel and legal referral fees;
  • Reduces the meals-reporting threshold for lobbyists from 60% of per diem ($190) to 30% ($80), requires lobbyists to report spending on immediate family members of legislative or executive branch members, and ends the practice of "ticket splitting," in which multiple lobbyists collaborate to cover an expenditure above the reporting threshold;
  • Prohibits elected officials from registering as lobbyists, establishes a "cooling off" period of one full legislative session (at least 2 years) before members of the Legislature may become lobbyists with a concurrent two-year freeze of their campaign accounts before lobbying.
SB 14 will now be assigned a House Committee to be heard. If the House committee approves, the Texas House of Representatives will be able to vote on the bill.
Establishing P-TECH programs in Texas
Senator Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) has filed Senate Bill 22 to establish P-TECH programs in Texas in place of the current tech-prep program. The Pathways in Technology Early College High School, or P-TECH model was developed as a workforce initiative to guide high school students directly into fields that need more qualified applicants, such as science, technology, engineering and technology (STEM) industries. An outline of P-TECH includes completion of a high school diploma followed by an Associate degree, postsecondary certificate or industry certification, combined with work-based training that prepares students for their chosen industry. The program can span up to six years so that students are fully equipped for the academic, technical and workplace skills necessary to succeed as an asset to those companies. Currently, Seagoville High School of Dallas ISD has the only pilot class of P-TECH students who began August of last year. SB 22 was heard by the Senate Education committee last week. Rep. Eddie Lucio II (D-Brownsville) filed an identical bill HB 1237, as did Rep. Helen Giddings (D-Dallas) with HB 1842, which was sent to the House Public Education Committee chaired by the house bill's co-author Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Houston).
Property tax reform bill debate heats up next week in Senate Finance Committee
Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick has made property tax reform as one of his top priorities, naming Senate Bill 2 the Texas Property Texas Reform and Relief Act of 2017. Currently, taxpayers can petition local governments to "rollback" property tax rates in cities and counties if property tax revenue grows by more than 8% in a given year in those same jurisdictions. Among other effects, SB2 would:
  • Lower the rollback tax rate from the current 8% to 4%, and require automatic elections on general election dates for cities and counties to adopt tax rates above 4%;
  • Require all appraisal districts to use appraisal manuals issued by the Texas Comptroller;
  • Set May 15 as the filing deadline for all property tax protests, establish elected appraisal review board (ARB) panels in large counties to hear more complex protests, and require only a majority (no longer unanimous) vote of ARB panels for binding decisions; and
  • Prohibit local governments from challenging the value of an entire class of properties.
 Critics argue that lower property tax rollback rates would have major negative impacts on local city and county budgets and services, given Texas population growth. They also argue that school property taxes form the bulk of local property tax rates and that the State has failed to properly finance its share of public education, thus leading to large local property tax bills.  They also believe that local tax rates are a matter of local control, and that the bill interferes with this right and tradition. SB 2 was referred to the Senate Finance Committee, where it will be heard next week.
Full-day pre-K for four-year-olds and at-risk toddlers
Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) and Rep. Mary Gonzalez (D-Clint) have filed identical bills to provide free full-day prekindergarten classes for all children at least four years old and expand care to at-risk three-year-old children. Senate Bill 35 has been referred to the Senate Education Committee, and House Bill 196 has been referred to the House Public Education Committee.
Both Senate and House state budget bills in development
Both the House and Senate have released initial budget proposals for the 2018-2019 biennium, House Bill 1 and Senate Bill 1. The House proposal provides for $221.4 billion overall and $108.9 in general revenue (GR) funds, while the Senate recommends $213.4 billion overall and $103.6 billion in GR funds. General revenue (GR) does not include federal funding and dedicated funding required by Texas law. The Senate's recommendation for GR funding falls just below the Comptroller's conservative estimate for the next biennium, while the House's budget exceeds it. Differences in education funding stand out among other variations in their proposals. The House Appropriations Committee recommended $1.5 billion more than the Senate, with additional funding dependent on passing school finance legislation that would increase the state's share of the Foundation School Program. Both the Senate Finance Committee and House Appropriations Committee will begin making decisions on the elements of HB 1 and SB 1 in the upcoming weeks.

North Dallas community travels to Austin to learn about and advocate on key legislation, DC is next
 Pictured are Bryan Marsh from Digital Realty, Deborah Sawyer from ZRG Partners, Chris Croupe from Sabre, Bob Arnett from Carter Scholer Stafford Arnett & Mockler, and Tech Titans President Bill Sproull. 

Tech Titans partnered with the Richardson Chamber this week to visit the Capitol, meet legislators and hear from policy experts. On Tuesday, delegates met at the Capitol for briefings by experts such as Dale Craymer, President of the Texas Taxpayers & Research Associate, followed by the Delegation Dinner at Carmelo's with featured speaker Harvey Kronberg of the Quorum Report. On Wednesday, Senator Van Taylor and Representatives Angie Button, Linda Koop and Jeff Leach hosted the Breakfast Reception at the Capitol, followed by briefings on public and higher education, the Texas 60x30 plan, economic development, ethics reform, etc. Our team then met with chairs of committees and other elected officials until the Delegation Lunch featuring Holly Reed of Central Texas Partners on their proposed high speed rail line between Dallas & Houston.
Tech Titans' next advocacy trip will be to Washington DC, April 2-5, 2017 for our Federal Policy Conference and Tour

Kedzie Arrington, Legislative Administrator
kedzie@techtitans.org, (972) 792-2857