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HOU in ATX: Legislative Update – Week 5

Published Feb 14, 2023 by Taylor Landin

Texas State House of Representatives

This week, Speaker Dade Phelan announcing House committee assignments, Senate Finance committee holds hearings on both Public and Higher Ed, the Partnership goes deeper on flood funding, and the Governor prepares for his State of the State address next week. 

1 big thing: Houston in the House
Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) unveiled committee assignments with Houston-area members chairing or vice-chairing several critical committees. Of the thirty-six full committees, the following seventeen will have Houston-area representatives in leadership positions. 

  • Agriculture & Livestock - Chair Briscoe Cain (R-Deer Park)
  • Appropriations - Chair Greg Bonnen (R-Friendswood); joining Bonnen on this powerful committee from the Houston region include Cecil Bell (R-Magnolia), Jarvis Johnson (D-Houston), Gene Wu (D-Houston), Mano DeAyala (R-Houston), Gary Gates (R-Rosenberg), Jacey Jetton (R-Katy), Ed Thompson (R-Pearland), Steve Toth (R-Spring), and Armando Walle (D-Houston)
  • Business & Industry - Vice Chair Cody Vasut (R-Angleton)
  • Higher Education - Vice Chair Dennis Paul (R-Houston)
  • Homeland Security & Public Safety - Vice Chair Jarvis Johnson (D-Houston)
  • House Administration - Chair Will Metcalf (R-Conroe)
  • Insurance - Chair Tom Oliverson (R-Cypress); Vice Chair Ann Johnson (D-Houston)
  • Juvenile Justice & Family Issues - Chair Harold Dutton (D-Houston)
  • Licensing & Administrative Procedures - Vice Chair Armando Walle (D-Houston)
  • Natural Resources - Vice Chair Ed Thompson (R-Pearland)
  • Public Education - Vice Chair Alma Allen (D-Houston)
  • Resolutions Calendar - Vice Chair Gary Gates (R-Rosenberg)
  • State Affairs - Vice Chair Ana Hernandez (D-Houston)
  • Urban Affairs - Vice Chair Gary Gates (R-Rosenberg)
  • Ways & Means - Vice Chair Shawn Thierry (D-Houston)
  • Select Committee on Health Care Reform - Chair Sam Harless (R-Spring)
  • Select Committee on Youth and Safety - Chair Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston); Vice Chair Lacey Hull (R-Houston)

Other notable Houston-area appointments:

  • Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston) was selected Dean of the Texas House along with Tom Craddick (R-Midland)

Click here to view full committee listings. 

Committee assignments and our Priorities
Why it matters: Committee chair positions influence what bills make it to the floor. Below we will outline how the Speaker’s committee assignments will impact the Partnership’s top priorities for the legislative session.

Economic Development Incentives 

  • Proponents of a new economic development incentive program remain hopeful legislation establishing a new program will be filed in the coming weeks. Such legislation would likely be considered by the powerful House Ways & Means Committee and the Senate Committee on Natural Resources & Economic Development. Members of the Houston delegation serve on both committees.
  • What’s next: The Partnership will continue work and engage with key stakeholders on this issue, recognizing the critical role economic development incentives play in bringing opportunity to our region.

Energy Transition

  • Rep. Craig Goldman (R-Fort Worth) will again chair the Energy Resources Committee, handling priority issues like carbon capture use and storage (CCUS). Under Chairman Goldman's leadership last session, the committee helped pass legislation clearing a path for state primacy to permit carbon geologic sequestration wells. 
  • We look forward to building upon that success to ensure Texas can become a global leader in CCUS.

Flood Mitigation 

  • With both Rep. Greg Bonnen (R-Friendswood) and Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) chairing House Appropriations and Senate Finance, respectively, having deep knowledge of the region’s flood mitigation needs, the Partnership looks forward to working with the legislators on passing key legislation. 
  • To note: Sen. Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe),who helped create the Flood Infrastructure Fund during the 86th legislative session, also sits on Senate Finance.

Higher & Public Education 

  • Leadership changed hands in both the Higher and Public Education committees, as the Speaker selected new chairs for each. Rep. John Kuempel (R-Seguin) was assigned Chair of Higher Education and Rep. Brad Buckley (R-Salado) was selected to lead the Public Education committee. 
  • What it means: It remains to be seen which direction the new leadership will take their committees, but it is encouraging that the Houston region is well-represented on both. 

The bottom line: Despite Houston area members seated on every committee, our efforts to pass meaningful legislation for the Houston region requires a diverse group of stakeholders including legislators across the state — from both parties, coalitions, trade associations, and industry partners. 

Senate Finance Tackles Education 
What’s new: This week, the Senate Finance committee held its first hearings on public and higher education. State agencies and educational institutions laid out their priorities and legislative requests to lawmakers.

Why it matters: This was the first look into the education-related policies and topics that will be most important to legislators this session and offered insight into the requests of educational institutions. Highlights include:

Public Education:

  • The committee explored ways to address school districts’ declining funding, which has resulted from declining student populations. One solution is to base funding on enrollment rather than attendance.
  • The Texas Education Agency committed to make significant investments in math-related instructional materials.
  • Teacher recruitment and retention strategies were discussed, including expanding the Teacher Incentive Allotment and increasing base pay.

Higher Education:

  • The committee discussed workforce development and the ways that Texas’ colleges and universities are supporting our talent pipelines in high-demand fields such as nursing and teaching. 
  • Houston-area universities requested additional research funding, which would help attract federal dollars, high-quality faculty, and top students.
  • Several legislators raised the issue of high tuition costs and their prohibitive effect on student enrollment and success. The committee explored methods of increasing financial aid to make college more accessible to more students. 

Going forward, the outlook is optimistic as both chambers have proposed meaningful investments in education. These investments will strengthen the region’s and state’s economies, workforce pipeline, and long-term competitiveness.

Future Flood Funds Flowing?
What’s New: Next Monday, February 13, the Senate Finance Committee will hold a hearing on general appropriations bill for article VI, which includes the Flood Infrastructure Fund (FIF).

Why it matters: Houston is susceptible to severe weather events with recent storms resulting in billions in economic damage. While the Flood Infrastructure Fund is expected to be exhausted early this year, the legislature has an opportunity to replenish it and continue the necessary momentum in protecting life, property, and economic vitality. According to the Texas Water Development Board’s online tool, the Partnership’s footprint has received more than $159 million in flood mitigation dollars from this fund to date.

  • Brazoria County - $150,000 for one project
  • Chambers County - $4,656,000 for one project
  • Fort Bend County - $96,891,760 for seven projects
  • Harris County - $42,076,847 for six projects
  • Montgomery County - $9,055,000 for four projects
  • San Jacinto County - $48,100 for one project
  • Waller County - $502,500 for two projects
  • Wharton County - $5,753,032 for two projects.

By the numbers: The Texas Water Development Board, in their 2019 State Flood Assessment, estimated a more than $31.5 billion need in flood mitigation for the entire state of Texas. This year, the San Jacinto Region alone estimates $31.3 billion in flood mitigation needs. 

The bottom line: The Houston business community sees this fund as a crucial piece of the puzzle when attracting high-quality jobs to our region as many prospective employers consider factors like flooding a risk to investment.

What's next: Senate Finance will discuss Article IV (Natural Resources) on Monday where we can hear testimony involving flood mitigation.

What to Watch Next Week
Next Thursday, Governor Abbott will deliver his State of the State address and announce his emergency items for the 88th Legislative Session. 

  • Go deeper: The Governor, as required by the Texas constitution, must submit emergency matters to the Legislature. Emergency items are typically announced at the beginning of session. However, the Governor has the ability to submit emergency items throughout session for appropriations related to specific purposes. 

Why it matters: Legislators can immediately take up bills on emergency issues.

During the 88th Legislative Session, the Greater Houston Partnership will provide a weekly update on newsworthy items from Austin. You can view more policy news and archives of our weekly updates here

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