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Legislative Session Update: Week 5

Published Feb 08, 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. 

The Greater Houston Partnership had a productive week in Austin with many Board Members participating in Partnership events and meetings with key legislators. On Tuesday evening, Partnership Board Members honored members of the Houston delegation at a reception for the Texas House and Senate. 

This was especially timely as Governor Greg Abbott had delivered his State of the State address earlier that morning. In his speech, he announced a focused list of six emergency items, including both of the Partnership’s top executive priorities. The Governor’s designation of school finance reform and disaster response as emergency items allows the Legislature to immediately begin consideration of legislation on these issues. 

PARTNERSHIP EXECUTIVE PRIORITIES
FLOOD RESILIENCE

Governor Abbott’s designation of disaster response and resilience as an emergency item was a positive development for the Houston business community. While this issue had already garnered considerable attention in Austin, his declaration signals the importance of this issue and adds even more urgency. 

The House Natural Resources Committee will hear invited testimony next week on flooding issues. This will be an informational hearing that should help set the stage for determining the state’s role in flood mitigation. In the Senate, Senator Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe), filed Senate Bill 695, which calls for investing $3 billion in an infrastructure resiliency fund. The Partnership is encouraged by and supports the effort to make a significant investment in flood mitigation. 

SCHOOL FINANCE
Unsurprisingly, Governor Abbott officially declared public school finance reform and teacher pay as emergency items. After the Governor made this announcement, the Partnership hosted Senate Education Committee Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) for a discussion on public school finance reform. He expressed his optimism that significant reform would pass this legislative session and was confident that he and his counterpart, House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), had identified similar priorities to include in their respective pieces of legislation.

In response to the Governor’s emergency declarations, the Texas House and Senate immediately began work on the issue. 

The House Public Education Committee met twice to review the final recommendations from the Texas Commission on Public School Finance, with members of the Commission providing testimony. There were several spirited discussions among committee members concerning the best methods of targeting funding for economically disadvantaged students and English Language Learners as well as increasing pay for the best teachers. 

The Senate Education Committee met for the first time this session on Thursday. Committee members heard from the Commissioner of Education, Mike Morath, who provided a brief overview of the state of public education in Texas. The Senate Education Committee will meet again next week to begin discussing the Texas Commission on Public School Finance’s recommendations. 

WEEK IN REVIEW
In addition to the Partnership’s top executive priorities, Governor Abbott named school safety, mental health programs, and property tax reform as emergency items.

  • School Safety
    In response to the school shooting at Santa Fe High School in May 2018, the Governor has tasked legislators this session with improving school safety. State leadership still needs to determine if legislation related to school safety will be considered by the Education Committees in each chamber or through the State Affairs Committees. Houston-area members will play key roles in either scenario.
     
  • Mental Health
    Governor Abbott urged legislators to collaborate on improving mental health statewide by establishing the Texas Mental Health Care Consortium. The prominence of mental health as an issue in public policy discourse has risen over the last few years as a result of mass shootings and rising costs of criminal justice. Governor Abbott and key legislators have responded, and the state is poised to make significant investments. 

    Senate Finance Committee Chairwoman Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) will continue to play a key role on this issue, and newly appointed Senate Health & Human Services Committee Chairwoman Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham) will also have a leadership role. In the House, two veteran Houston representatives will assume leadership roles: House Public Health Committee Chairwoman Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston) and Representative Garnet Coleman (D-Houston). 
     

  • Property Tax Reform
    Given the alignment of statewide leadership on property tax reform, the emergency item declaration is another consistent signal of the direction of this Legislature. The chair of the newly-created Senate Committee on Property Tax, Senator Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), will be the key leader on this issue in the Senate, and Representative Dustin Burrows (R-Lubbock) will carry the legislation in the House. 
     

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

Executive Partners