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One Month Remains in Session, Legislature Acts on Coastal Barrier and Economic Development

Published Apr 30, 2021 by Jessica Ruland

Future of Texas

Week In Review
With only 31 days until the end of the 87th Legislative Session, the Legislature acted on several bills impacting the Houston region this week. House Committees heard legislation concerning the coastal barrier and an important economic development incentive program. The House advanced legislation to invest in Texas' health sciences targeting brain-related research. State leaders also announced details on releasing federal COVID relief funding for public education. 

Coastal Barrier Legislation Heard in House Committee
Representative Dennis Paul (R-Houston) laid out Senate Bill 1160 authored by Senator Larry Taylor (R-Galveston) in the House Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday. The Partnership formally supported this legislation. The bill allows for the creation of a local sponsoring entity - the Gulf Coast Protection District - for the coastal barrier project. This legislation is necessary for the project to receive federal funding. The district would have the authority to issue bonds, impose fees and taxes not to exceed legislative limits, and exercise eminent domain to facilitate the construction of the project that would protect the Houston area and Texas economy from the effects of hurricanes and storm surges. Members of the Committee asked questions of Representative Paul related to the taxing structure, caps and scope of the bill. The bill was left pending in committee, but we expect further action in the coming weeks.

Chapter 313 Reauthorization and Extension
This week, the House Ways & Means Committee favorably reported two bills related to the reauthorization and extension of Chapter 313. 

Representative Murphy’s (R-Houston) House Bill 1556 reauthorizes and reforms the Chapter 313 program. The bill also streamlines the application process and adds greater financial predictability to the program. Negotiations were finally reached among school districts that include certain policy provisions that replaces supplemental and revenue protection payments with a new and simpler stabilization payment to school districts. The Partnership continues to support the bill alongside other Keep Texas First coalition members like the Texas Oil and Gas Association, the Texas Association of Manufacturing, the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association and other chambers of commerce and economic development organizations.

Also, earlier in the week, Representative Morgan Meyer (R-Dallas) presented the committee substitute to House Bill 4242 in the House Ways and Means Committee. This bill will simply extend the expiration date of the Texas Economic Development Act under tax code Chapter 313 by two years from December 31, 2022 to December 31, 2024. Chapter 313 is a critical economic development program as it provides temporary tax abatements to businesses which would otherwise locate in other states. The program has generated billions of dollars in capital investments and tens of thousands of jobs. The reauthorization of the Chapter 313 program is a key priority for the Partnership this session. 

House Advances Brain Institute of Texas
On Wednesday, the House passed House Bill 15 by Representative Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston), on a final vote of 107-36. This legislation would establish the Brain Institute of Texas to fund research in brain-related sciences in Texas. With the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas as a model, the bill would connect public and private institutions of higher education in Texas and other partners to create a state-funded research collaborative to put Texas at the forefront of brain research. The bill would also establish the Brain Institute of Texas Research Fund as a dedicated account in the state's General Revenue. The research would be funded by grants from the institute through revenue from general obligation bonds, and other sources. The Partnership has worked closely with the bill author to support this important legislation.

Federal Funding for Texas Public Schools
During a Wednesday press conference, Governor Greg Abbott and Commissioner of Education Mike Morath announced the release of $11.2 billion in federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER III) funding to Texas public schools. This one-time federal relief funding is in addition to the $9.5 billion increase in state funding for public education that is included currently in the proposed state budget.

School district leaders have until the Fall of 2024 to fully expend the relief funds, and the U.S. Department of Education requires that each district that receives funding must utilize a minimum of 20 percent of the funds to address student learning loss through evidence-based interventions.

We estimate that the 20 largest school districts in the Houston region stand to receive approximately $2.4 billion of Texas' ESSER III funding. School districts with significantly higher percentages of economically disadvantaged students are likely to receive more relief funding per student. Houston ISD is expected to receive the most funding in our region, with an allotment of approximately $804 million. 

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