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House Passes Budget, Legislature Moves Broadband and Energy Issues

Published Apr 23, 2021 by Steven Will

Future of Texas

Week In Review
This week, the House amended and passed Senate Bill 1, the state biennial budget. It now heads back to the Senate and conference committee to iron out differences between the two versions. The Partnership voiced support for a workforce development bill in the Senate, and the Legislature advanced important broadband and energy measures.

House Passes Budget
The Texas House spent nearly 12 hours on the House floor on Thursday debating the $246 billion budget for the upcoming biennium. Late Thursday night, the House unanimously passed their version of the state budget totaling close to $247 billion. Almost 245 separate amendments were pre-filed, with health care and the Biden administration's rescinding of the state's 1115 Waiver extension taking center stage in the debate. The proposed budget now returns to the Senate with several notable measures.

Representative Garnet Coleman (D-Houston) offered an amendment that would expand state and federal health care coverage for many uninsured Texans. This measure failed by a vote of 80-68 and likely ends any hope of addressing the uninsured this session.

While the federal government is still establishing the rules and guidelines designating how federal dollars appropriated to the state for coronavirus relief should be spent, the chamber unanimously voted for a budget rider to attempt to force a special legislative session to appropriate billions in funds that may come in after the Legislature adjourns from its regular session in May.

The House also voted overwhelmingly (115-29) to bar the use of state dollars on school voucher programs, which would prohibit state spending on private school education. This is consistent with votes in recent sessions.

Due to the COVID pandemic and Winter Storm Uri, the budget debate occurred later in session than is typical. In 2017, the House debated Senate Bill 1 on April 7, roughly two weeks earlier in the session. This puts additional time pressure on the Governor and Legislature to negotiate differences between the House and Senate budgets before the Constitutional end of the legislative session on May 31.

Education Funding Receives a Boost
Closely related to the budget, the House passed House Bill 1525, sponsored by Representative Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood). This piece of legislation is a $330 million clean-up bill that accounts for unintentional oversights and necessary additions related to the school finance reform bill that was passed last session. The House considered 20 amendments to the bill and several highlights of the adopted amendments include:

  • Providing more flexibility to schools that serve economically disadvantaged students to use compensatory money for instructional coaches who would help with learning loss;
  • Creating a tiering system that corrects the weighted funding for CTE courses in small to mid-size schools;
  • Clarifying that associate degrees obtained in high school must be from postsecondary educational institutions approved by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board;
  • Ensuring that the Texas Education Agency is able to establish a uniform process for school districts to solicit and consider partnerships with community-based childcare providers;
  • Protecting salary increases of school district employees outlined in HB 3 from being rolled back;
  • Outlining new numbers to calculate the fast-growth school district allotment; and
  • Extending tax compression rates to those who are 65 and older as well as those who are disabled. 

Senate Transportation Hears Broadband Legislation
This past Wednesday, the Senate Committee on Transportation considered House Bill 5 by Representative Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin), the statewide broadband legislation. Senator Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville), the sponsor of the House bill and author of the companion broadband legislation, Senate Bill 5, presented the bill to the Transportation Committee members. Currently, 108 Texas House members have signed on in support of the legislation along with two members of the Texas Senate. There is consensus on the details of the legislation with the exception of the location of the statewide broadband office. The Senate version of the broadband legislation places the office in the University of Texas System while the House version of the bill designates the Comptroller’s Office as the location for the office. We expect the bill to be passed out of the Senate Transportation Committee in the next two weeks.

Partnership Testifies in Favor of Tri-Agency Workforce Improvements
On Wednesday, Peter Beard, Senior Vice President of Regional Workforce Development at the Partnership, testified before the Senate Higher Education Committee in favor of Senate Bill 1622 by Senator Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston). This bill is the identical companion to House Bill 3767, which Beard testified on behalf of the Partnership in favor of last week. Both bills make permanent the temporary, collaborative work of the Texas Education Agency, the Texas Workforce Commission, and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board over the last few years. The Partnership offered amendments that were accepted by the author and incorporated into the bill. Under this initiative, the three entities are required to:

  • Identify statewide workforce goals, including goals for the attainment of living wage jobs. This will hold the state accountable and keep all agencies pulling in the same direction.
  • Designate career pathways for occupations aligned with current workforce needs and for forecasted high-growth careers and skills.
  • Evaluate career education and training programs across Texas based on the workforce outcomes of program participants to ensure transparency and accountability in how the state spends its workforce dollars. 

Read more about these plans for a permanent Tri-Agency Workforce Initiative.

House Advances Class VI Well Legislation
On Tuesday, the House passed HB 1284 by Representative Chris Paddie (R-Marshall), marking an important step in establishing Texas Railroad Commission primacy for permitting Class VI injection wells. As noted in prior reports, Class VI wells can be utilized for long-term underground sequestration of carbon dioxide. House Bill 1284 and its Senate companion, SB 450 by Senator Kelly Hancock (R-North Richland Hills), will give the Railroad Commission primacy over the regulatory processes for such wells and simplify the regulatory steps with the EPA. House Bill 1284 now goes to the Senate Committee on Energy Resources, chaired by Senator Hancock. The Partnership strongly supports both bills and views carbon capture and storage as the most promising route towards the energy transition to a low carbon future.

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