During the 86th Legislative Session, the Partnership will provide a weekly update on our top executive priorities and other newsworthy items from Austin.
Public education captivated Austin this week as the House filed a comprehensive plan for school finance reform. There were also significant developments related to flood resilience. The Senate announced its $3 billion flood recovery and mitigation package and the House Natural Resources Committee heard bills that would create a statewide flood infrastructure fund. While both of the Partnership’s top executive priorities advanced this week, other key business issues, including eminent domain, require ongoing engagement.
PARTNERSHIP EXECUTIVE PRIORITIES
SCHOOL FINANCE REFORM
On Tuesday, House Speaker Dennis Bonnen and House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) announced the House’s public school finance reform plan. The legislation, House Bill 3, authored by Chairman Huberty, has received bipartisan support and includes 100 co-authors, two-thirds of the House. The bill provides a significant increase in the state’s share of education funding. HB 3 invests $9 billion in new state funding. The bill allocates $6.3 billion towards public schools above annual growth and $2.7 billion to offset a property tax compression.
HB 3 aligns with the Partnership’s priorities for school finance reform and effectively funds key program areas that we believe will have the most impact on school districts in our region. In its current form, the plan eliminates outdated elements of the school finance formula that do not match the current needs of a growing and increasingly diverse state. These savings are reinvested in the basic allotment to benefit the most students. The bill also establishes a set of new funding weights and allotments to provide sustainable funding for our highest need students. Finally, HB 3 reduces the local burden of recapture.
The House Public Education Committee will hold a hearing on the bill and hear public testimony next week. In the Senate, Education Committee Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) is expected to release their version of the school finance bill in the coming days.
On Tuesday, the House Natural Resources Committee heard House Bill 478, authored by Representative Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont). HB 478 creates a statewide flood infrastructure fund, which provides financing options for local communities to construct flood mitigation projects to protect their residents. The bill calls for cross-jurisdictional flood planning and an expedited process to get the funds on the ground as quickly as possible. Taylor Landin, the Partnership’s SVP of Public Policy, testified before the committee about the importance of a statewide approach to flood mitigation and the need to cut red tape to allow projects to proceed expeditiously. The bill was left pending.
On Thursday, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick publicly announced the Senate’s Hurricane Harvey recovery and mitigation package that we have been previewing for two weeks. Lt. Governor Patrick sent a clear signal about the importance of this issue by assigning low bill numbers to the three corresponding pieces of legislation. Senator Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham) authored Senate Bill 6, which creates a comprehensive approach to disaster preparedness and response. Senator Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe) authored Senate Bill 7, which creates the Texas Infrastructure Resiliency Fund to fund future flood mitigation projects and address existing local recovery needs. As discussed over the past two weeks, Senator Creighton’s leadership on this issue has been critical to deliver funding for local communities across Texas. Finally, Senator Charles Perry (R-Lubbock), Chairman of the Senate Water and Rural Affairs Committee, authored Senate Bill 8, which establishes the state’s first statewide flood plan. All three bills will be heard in committee as a package next Monday. The bills would accompany a rider package that includes $3 billion for flood recovery, planning, preparedness and mitigation and will most likely constitute the largest amount coming from the Rainy Day Fund for any issue this session.
WEEK IN REVIEW
The Senate State Affairs Committee heard Senate Bill 421, authored by Senator Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham), that would make significant changes to the eminent domain process in Texas. These changes would have a chilling effect on pipeline and infrastructure development by incentivizing landowners to litigate and creating onerous public hearing requirements. The committee left the bill pending, and Senator Kolkhorst encouraged negotiations between industry and landowners to continue with increased urgency before a hearing next week. The Partnership is fully engaged with our members and statewide coalitions to prevent passage of damaging legislation that would hinder Texas’ growth.