State Rep. Ron Reynolds, D-Missouri City, recently recapped his activity in the 85th Legislature, which ended May 29.
Although Gov. Greg Abbott has called for a special session that will begin July 18, a lot went on in the five months the Legislature was in regular session. The following is a summary of Reynolds’ report to his constituents:
This session’s bills each fall on the spectrum of the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. The “Good” bills were drafted with good intent and successfully progressed through the legislative process. The “Bad” bills were good bills that were neglected and failed to pass – thus, missed opportunities for Texas. Lastly, the “Ugly” bills were drafted in bad faith and whether or not they passed, there was still too much time wasted considering them.
The Legislature had the enormous task of trying to figure out how to fund our necessary services such as public education, higher education, and health and human services. The proposed finalized budget, also referred to as SB1, does provide some minimum funding to increase the higher education financial aid program TEXAS Grants by 10 percent. It also provides supplemental funding of approximately $768 million, which allows for a short term funding fix for the retired educators health care program, TRS Care.
There is increased funding for mental health, as well as for Prevention and Early Intervention programs. Importantly, there are also additional dollars to implement the legislative overhaul for the state’s child protective services and foster care programs. This improved funding for additional CPS personnel will increase agency efficiency by ensuring employee caseloads are maintained at a reasonable level.
Medicaid has again been underfunded. The $23.9 billion of state funding for Medicaid for 2018-2019 is about $400 million less than what was budgeted for 2016-2017. Instead of providing additional funding on the front end, the state will risk the prospect of the program going broke and fund it with another supplemental measure. The state will start the next biennium in a projected $1 billion hole in general revenue needed to fully fund Medicaid. If proposed cost containment measures are unsuccessful or outpaced by growth in the program, this deficit could balloon by up to $2 billion by some estimates.
“For the past 140 days, my aim was not only to create and pass impactful laws, but also to monitor and speak forcefully against ugly bills that would be harmful,” said Reynolds. “Although this legislative session was very contentious, we managed to get some good things accomplished for Texas.”
SB 1849 began as a great criminal justice reform bill, but it has been narrowed into a good mental health and jail reform bill.
The Sienna Plantation Levee Improvement District of Fort Bend County, Texas, intends to expand its existing park system, but concerns have been raised that there are too many constraints on the district’s ability to fund this expansion by issuing bonds. H.B. 2938 seeks to remove these constraints.
HB 1806 amends current law to provide an exception for Missouri City to use hotel occupancy taxes. This bill does not create a new tax nor adds to current tax. This bill allows Missouri City to use funds it already has for additional purposes.
I filed HB 1170 bill on behalf of Fort Bend County. This bill allows counties to lease advertising space on personal property owned or leased by the county, which would potentially save the county money. This legislation will allow for advertising on scoreboards or in parks, whereas in the past only certain facilities were permitted to have advertising.
Currently, the annexation rules in certain counties are too restrictive with respect to county assistance districts. H.B. 1716 seeks to provide such districts with greater flexibility regarding their territorial composition.
HB 2559 is an elections bill that relates to the public inspection of annual mail ballot applications allowing for a more efficient mail voting process.
While officer-involved injuries and deaths and certain injuries and deaths of peace officers are required to be reported by law, some law enforcement agencies are failing to do so. H.B. 245 will address this noncompliance by penalizing law enforcement agencies that fail to comply with those reporting requirements following notice from the attorney general’s office.
Classroom instruction is too often disrupted by statewide standardized testing. HB 515 seeks to minimize this disruption by reducing and revising state testing requirements.
“Despite the good bills that were passed, there were a number of good bills that were overlooked. These good bills were turned bad because they’re missed opportunities for Texas,” said Reynolds.
HB 475 would have addressed the issue of a stagnant minimum wage in Texas by raising the state’s minimum wage to $15 per hour.
HB 228 would have addressed the unlawful employment practices regarding discrimination in payment of compensation, thus, allowing equal pay for equal work, no matter the gender of the employee.
HB 1281 would have enhanced opportunities for Historically Underutilized Businesses (HUBs).
HB 476 aimed to give small businesses and HUBs more opportunity for economic growth and experience.
HB 1858 would have provided for a full day of prekindergarten in public schools.
HB 21 provided changes to the public school finance system that are necessary in order to meet the requirement under the Texas Constitution that the legislature establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools. HB 21 originally aimed to pump $1.6 billion additional dollars into public schools. The school finance package increased annual per-student funding, as well as spending for school transportation and educating dyslexic students. However, the Senate reduced the plan to about half its worth and offered some special education students vouchers, which allow for using state funding to attend private schools.
HB 861 would have afforded a pay raise to all classroom teachers, full-time librarians, full-time school counselors or full-time nurses of public schools if the rules were adopted by the commissioner presiding over the school district.
HB 604 created single member districts for the Fort Bend Independent School District (FBISD) instead of the current at-large system.
HB 1107 was a local bill that would allow Fort Bend to be included in the list of those counties that the authority to prohibit roadside vending in the unincorporated portions of the country.
HB 1815 ensured the enforcement of regulations and imposition of fines in county parks will discourage vandalism and other dangerous activities taking place in such parks.
HB 854 sought to require the appointment of a Special Prosecutor to prosecute cases where a police officer kills or seriously injures a citizen. The Special Prosecutor must come from a different county than that which is served by the officer.
HB 1714 sought to ensure the integrity of the Grand Jury process. This bill provides equal access to an attorney and more properly balances the scaled of justice for all parties who are involved.
HB 1955 proposed voter registration of Texans with an unexpired driver’s license or personal identification card issued in the state to be completed over the internet from a secure website.
HB 2452 modified the voter identification requirements to the system Texas had in place prior to 2013. The bill intended for voters to provide proof of their identity using their voter registration card or one of many different forms of photo or non-photo identification.
“The ‘ugly’ bills were drafted, filed, and debated in bad faith,” said Reynolds. “With only 140 days of session, it is despicable that so much valuable time was wasted on such discriminatory and divisive bills. Texas leadership displayed a great displacement of priority on the following bills.”
SB 4, or the Sanctuary Cities Bill or the “Show Me Your Papers” Bill, will require all Texas law enforcement agencies to comply with U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement (ICE) detainers.
SB6, or the Bathroom Bill, would require transgender people to use the bathroom in public schools, government buildings, and public universities that matches their “biological sex.”
SB 2, which passed in an 18-12 vote, could require taxing entities to hold an election if the amount of operating and maintenance funds they plan to collect from property taxes is, in general, 5 percent more than what they took in the previous year.
SB 5 upholds the previous Voter ID law that was passed in 2011 despite disparate impact studies and by the courts that this limited list of allowable forms of ID has had a disproportionate effect on racial minorities. This law requires voters to present some form of official identification before they are permitted to register to vote, receive a voting ballot, or to actually vote.
SB 3 attempted to amend current law relating to the establishment of an education savings account program and a tax credit scholarship and educational expense assistance program – also known as “vouchers” or “school choice.”
HB 3859 started out as a bill to address the concerns of provider of child welfare services who may experience adverse or retaliatory actions from state agencies or other governmental entities for exercising their religious beliefs while providing those services.
SB 8 is an anti-abortion bill that is likely to be challenged in court. The bill is a deliberate effort to chip away a woman’s right to choose through the courts and at the taxpayer’s expense.
HB 1774, better known as the Blue Tarp Bill, will strengthen the influence of insurance companies in property claims disputes.
HB 25, this controversial elections bill aims to eliminate straight party voting on election ballots.