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Legislative Session Update: Week 3

Published Jan 25, 2019 by Taylor Landin

During the 86th Legislative Session, the Partnership will provide a weekly update on our top executive priorities and other newsworthy items from Austin.

Following the release of Senate committees last week, Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen announced committee appointments on Wednesday. Members of the Houston delegation will chair two key House committees – Appropriations and Public Education – and play leading roles in other influential committees. The appointments also provide some indication of how Speaker Bonnen intends to lead the House. Close observers of the Legislature will recall that immediately after earning the support needed to secure the Speakership, he committed to lead the House in a bipartisan manner.

Speaker Bonnen exhibited that spirit by selecting Democrats to lead three major committees: Higher Education, Public Health and Transportation. The Speaker’s appointments will also dictate how the Partnership continues work on our two executive priorities - school finance reform and flood resilience. This week’s report provides insight into the impact of House committee assignments on these priorities and includes a rundown of Houston-area members who will be taking on key leadership roles.

PARTNERSHIP EXECUTIVE PRIORITIES

SCHOOL FINANCE
The Speaker’s appointment of Representative Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), a widely respected education leader, as Chairman of the House Public Education Committee reiterates his commitment to prioritize public school finance reform. The Speaker also chose to expand the number of members on the committee to 13, an increase from 11 last session. Other prominent Houston region members of the committee include Representative Alma Allen (D-Houston) and Representative Harold Dutton (D-Houston).

Of course, any meaningful school finance reform will require significant investment by the Legislature. That makes the House Appropriations Committee particularly important. We were pleased to see Representative John Zerwas (R-Richmond) re-appointed as Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. Chairman Zerwas is a committed champion for public education and will be well-positioned to drive decisions on how much the Legislature will invest in education. 

The Partnership remains committed to the principles that the school finance system should effectively and adequately address the state's changing student demographics and long-term workforce needs. As part of our efforts to establish the business community's voice on school finance reform, this week the Partnership's Education Advisory Committee approved principles for school finance reform, which will be recommended to the Board. The principles include appropriating sustainable funding for effective programs with an emphasis on high-need student populations, increasing proficiency of students in key academic areas, and increasing pay for the best teachers and encouraging them to teach in the lowest performing schools. Additionally, the Committee included principles aimed at equitably reducing the burden of recapture and increasing the state’s share of public education funding. These principles will drive our advocacy efforts in Austin.

FLOOD RESILIENCE
There are at least three committees that will be important to successfully accomplishing the Partnership’s objectives related to post-Hurricane Harvey recovery and future mitigation. Those committees are House Appropriations, House Natural Resources and House State Affairs. As mentioned above, Chairman Zerwas will continue his leadership of the House Appropriations Committee. Chairman Zerwas plans to introduce a supplemental budget entirely dedicated to post-Harvey recovery. We are working closely with his office on this dedicated supplemental. The bill could include $750 million to fund anticipated local matching requirements for the 55 counties impacted by the storm. These local matching funds would allow for an additional $6 billion in federal funds to flow to these counties. 

It is still to be determined which House committee will consider the flood resilience legislation that we consider to be important. One of the key committees will likely be the House State Affairs Committee, which will be chaired by Representative Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) and vice-chaired by Representative Ana Hernandez (D-Houston). The other key House committee on this issue will be the House Natural Resources Committee, which will be vice-chaired by Representative Will Metcalf (R-Conroe). In addition to recovery and resilience, there are a number of other post-Harvey policy issues, including reforming the procedures for pre-releasing water from dams in anticipation of heavy rain events and sand mining operations along inland waterways, both of which will likely be considered by the House Natural Resources Committee. 

WEEK IN REVIEW: House Committees - Houston Delegation Leadership

•    House Appropriations Committee
As anticipated, Representative John Zerwas (R-Richmond) retained his chairmanship of the House Appropriations Committee. As a member of the Houston delegation, Chairman Zerwas' leadership will be critical as the House works to pass the biennial budget and supplemental appropriation bill.

•    House Public Education Committee
Representative Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) was re-appointed chair of the House Public Education Committee. Chairman Huberty's position on the committee and commitment to quality public education will be critical as the Partnership works with House leaders to pass meaningful school finance reform.

•    House County Affairs Committee
Representative Garnet Coleman (D-Houston) was re-appointed as chair, and Representative Dwayne Bohac (R-Houston) will vice-chair the House County Affairs Committee. This committee will hear a variety of issues, including policies related to counties' operations and finances.

•    House Natural Resources Committee
Representative Will Metcalf (R-Conroe) is the vice-chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, which will likely play a key role in issues related to Hurricane Harvey and flood resilience. The committee also has two other representatives from the Houston region.

•    House State Affairs Committee 
Representative Ana Hernandez (D-Houston) was appointed vice-chair of the House State Affairs Committee. This is her first standing committee leadership position since being elected to the House in 2005. The committee will hear statewide issues that are not under the purview of another committee.

•    House Public Health Committee
Representative Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston) will chair the House Public Health Committee. This committee will consider legislation related to improving health care outcomes and costs of care.

•    House Environmental Regulations Committee
Representative Ed Thompson (R-Pearland) was appointed as vice-chair of the House Environmental Regulations Committee. His leadership will be important in funding the Texas Emissions Reduction Plan.

•    House Pensions, Investments & Financial Services Committee
Representative Jim Murphy (R-Houston) was appointed chair of the House Pensions, Investments & Financial Services Committee. Representative Hubert Vo (D-Houston) will serve as vice-chair of this committee.

•    House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee 
The House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee will be vice-chaired by Representative Dennis Paul (R-Houston). This is Representative Paul's first leadership role on a standing House committee. The Committee will consider legislation related to homeland security, including the state's disaster preparedness and response.

•    House Juvenile Justice & Family Issues Committee
Representative Harold Dutton (D-Houston) will continue to chair the House Juvenile Justice & Family Issues Committee. The committee will cover issues concerning familial civil law and juvenile delinquency.

•    House Corrections Committee
Representative Alma Allen (D-Houston) will continue to vice-chair the House Corrections Committee. The committee will consider legislation related to the state's prison system and diversion programs. 

•    House Insurance Committee
Representative Tom Oliverson (R-Cypress) was appointed as vice-chair of the House Insurance Committee. This is his first standing committee leadership position since joining the House in 2017. 

•    House Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Committee
The House Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Committee, which hears issues concerning civil law and procedures, will continue to be vice-chaired by Representative Jessica Farrar (D-Houston).

Stay up-to-date with our Policy Team throughout the 86th Legislative Session by opting-in to this weekly update or follow the team on Twitter @GHP_Policy

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