Skip to main content

Senator Alvarado and Representative Davis Discuss What's Ahead for 87th Legislative Session

Published Jun 08, 2020 by Julia McGowen

COVID-19 and the recent civil unrest brought by deep-rooted social injustices have underscored economic and societal issues plaguing communities across the world. While Houston is not immune to these issues, the region does have unique leadership in healthcare and diversity that could serve as a model for the nation as we begin to recover from the virus and work toward righting the institutions of our society that feed systemic racism. Meanwhile, the Texas Legislature is preparing to enter the 87th Legislative Session facing many unknowns.  

In a moderated chat with Partnership Director of Public Policy Lindsay Munoz, State Senator Carol Alvarado of Senate District 6 and State Representative Sarah Davis of House District 134 joined the Partnership’s Future of Texas Business Resource Group to share insights on how the legislature is preparing to return to Austin in 2021.  

On Issues of Racial Inequalities  

Within the past few weeks, the nation has turned its focus to racial inequalities and injustice highlighted by the recent killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other African Americans. As millions across the country raise their voice and take action toward meaningful reform, invoking change also requires active participation from legislators at all levels of government. Senator Alvarado and Representative Davis both voiced how the Texas legislature has an important role to play in supporting sustainable action addressing racial discrimination.  

Alvarado: Houston has played an important role in this issue. We have set an example of diversity within our local leadership with County Judge Lina Hidalgo, Mayor Sylvester Turner, Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, and Police Chief Art Acevedo, all of whom have demonstrated positive leadership for major metros. The legislature plays a role in addressing this issue and should work with our district’s police departments to offer more training on community policing, cultural diversity and human relations. Additionally, we should put more incentives in place for officers to get to know their communities, which decreases the likelihood of occurrences like the killing of George Floyd. Now more than ever we need leaders from the top down to offer solutions for our diverse neighbors.  

Davis: The legislature is taking steps to find ways to address these issues, one being the newly formed criminal justice reform caucus, a bipartisan caucus in the Texas House which will examine what the State can do. In addition, we must take the time to personally listen to experiences of the black community and learn how we can be supportive on the issue. While I agree with protests, we need to remember that we are still in the middle of a pandemic and must gather responsibly.  

On Supporting Small Businesses Amid Disaster 

COVID-19 has put significant pressure on small businesses, causing hardship through shutdowns and phased reopening. While historic federal aid was passed to support small businesses through the crisis, these structures and financial aid have proved to be slow moving and present numerous barriers to access for small enterprises. Alvarado and Davis highlighted what small businesses in their districts have shared with them and how the legislature can act to help bridge short-term needs with long-term recovery.  

Alvarado: Small businesses is what our economy thrives on and Houston is lucky to have a diverse pool of small businesses. Community banks have really stepped up to support our small businesses. We have seen that our smaller community banks have great relationships with the small businesses, and these established relationships help move processes of loans along faster. In the upcoming session, the legislature will have a responsibility to look at how we can prepare initiatives that support small businesses through future disaster. Keeping people employed is an important step in recovery so we must also look at programs that keep people on payrolls and attached to their job.  

Davis: The Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) has been working nonstop, operating eight call centers seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. TWC has implemented innovating initiatives like the shared work program, which allows employers to reduce hours while still allowing the employee to receive unemployment benefits. The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) is a prime example of how when you pass legislation, there are often unintended consequences. It is a step in the right direction that revisions are being implemented to the PPP to correct some of the issues. Many small businesses that have reached out to me in my district were in the restaurant industry, and they highlighted how PPP funds are not enough to support employees and rent payments because salaries for servers are mostly funded through tips. This highlights how disaster funding must be carefully considered across all industry applications.  

On the 2021 State Budget 

In preparation of the upcoming legislative session, Alvarado and Davis discussed how the 2021 budget, offered by Senate Finance Chair Jane Nelson as Senate Bill 1, will compare to the 2011 budget, which followed the last statewide recession.  

Alvarado: Texas is grappling with many issues that are different than other states because of our global ties and dependence on the price of oil. While the pandemic is causing so many taxes to drop, we are also faced with overcoming issues in oil & gas that existed prior to the onset of COVID-19 and will have to be addressed as we prepare the budget and consider additional revenue streams. We also made a significant commitment to public education in House Bill 3 without a reliable mechanism to fund its initiatives, and we must look now at how we sustain it. 

Davis: COVID-19 has called for the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM) and the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) to utilize significant funds to fight the pandemic that were not appropriated in the current budget, much of which will have to be drawn down from the economic stabilization fund (ESF), or more commonly called the “rainy day fund”. We expect the Comptroller Hegar to revise the revenue estimate in July, and we expect a billion dollar decrease to come from funds that had been appropriated but did not come in, putting a lot of pressure on the ESF. The comptroller’s May tax revenues show the lowest year to year drop since 2010, with all tax streams plummeting. We know further that there is going to be a slow recovery of taxes. Considering that oil & gas production tax is what funds the ESF and with the entire industry that employs so many, when this industry in turmoil, we know our budget will be in turmoil.  

On the Budget Shortfall and Impacts of Rising Healthcare Costs  

Alvarado and Davis addressed the fact that Texas must carefully consider how the region’s current economic status has exposed vulnerability in revenue streams, highlighting the crucial need for the state to create new revenue streams that service our long-term budgetary needs. 

Alvarado: Last session, the Texas Senate started looking at new revenue streams. Some things on the table were increasing the cigarette tax and looking at different exemption categories, among others. Because we are so dependent on one segment of the economy, we need to write a new narrative, a new script moving forward, and we need to diversify our portfolio. The Texas economy cannot afford to be in a prolonged downturn. All of the gulf coast is impacted by this, but it is particularly highlighted in Harris County by the fact that unemployment numbers here outnumber all other counties in the state by nearly 2:1. We also have to dedicate money for our workforce, but we must focus on emerging industries that come out post-COVID and how we must prepare our workforce for those opportunities. There are five million uninsured in this state, when you layer on people that lost healthcare coverage because of the pandemic, and on top of that the health disparities and many other pandemic agitators, now is not the time to look at healthcare with partisan lenses - this impacts everyone.  

Davis: Nothing is off the table. I will say I have found it interesting that legislators are focused on federal dollars coming from CARES Act, which come with strict guidelines and cannot be used to fill holes in the budget. There is hesitation about using CARES Act funds because they can be called back, so we need to be smart about where these federal funds provided by the CARES Act are used. As we look to the 2021 budget, we see a perfect storm brewing in healthcare, and if we want to talk about where to draw down federal dollars, this is a place to start. Medicare is an issue that has become so politicized, but it needs expansion. From a business perspective, this is an issue that the legislature must solve. With the 1115 waiver expiring in 2021, we are facing long term implications by not addressing issues within funding for our health care systems, which impacts our ability to attract businesses and a skilled workforce. Now is the time to have a substantive, specific discussion about the expansion of Medicaid. 

Bookmark the Partnership’s COVID-19 Business Resource page for the latest updates and guidance.  

Related News


Governor Abbott and Judge Hidalgo Issue New COVID-19 Orders

This morning, Governor Greg Abbott announced a change to certain elements of the Reopen Texas plan.  Per Governor Abbott’s order, effective at noon today, all bars and similar establishments must close. These businesses may remain open for delivery and take-out. Beginning Monday, June 29, restaurants may remain open for dine-in service, but at a capacity not to exceed 50 percent of total listed indoor occupancy. Previously, restaurants were allowed to operate at 75 percent of capacity. Outdoor gatherings of 100 or more people must be approved by local governments, with certain exceptions, and rafting and tubing businesses must close. The governor’s executive order can be found here.   In Harris County today, Judge Hidalgo announced a change in the COVID-19 threat level system, which advises county residents on the local level of transmission. Judge Hidalgo raised the threat level from Level 2, “significant and uncontrolled level of COVID-19”, to Level 1, meaning that “residents should minimize contacts with others wherever possible and avoid leaving home except for the most essential needs.” Judge Hidalgo also issued a Stay Home advisory, which encourages residents to remain at home whenever possible. These measures signal that the Houston region is at an inflection point, and we must join together to stop the spread. We believe that residents across the region should stay home as much as possible. This should include office workers who are back in the workplace but could effectively work from home. We encourage employers to strongly consider returning to a work-from-home model where it is practical. We also ask companies to remind their employees that their actions when out in public – away from the workplace – will likely determine whether the virus enters the workplace. Maintaining social distancing, wearing masks in public spaces and washing hands are all key to stopping the spread of the coronavirus at this critical moment. Managing Positive COVID-19 Cases A reminder that if someone in the workplace does test positive, we have developed a protocols document that helps address the actions businesses should take to mitigate the risk to others. Get the latest information on Governor Abbott's order, industry best practices for reopening, and the Partnership's work safe principles here. Visit the Partnership's COVID-19 Resource page for updates, guidance for employers and more information.
Read More

New Partnership Members in April & May

The Greater Houston Partnership welcomed 26 new member companies in the months of April and May. The Partnership works to connect companies with resources, information and networking opportunities to help increase business while also providing a platform to influence the direction of the region. New members joining in the month of April include: Wonolo: Wonolo, which stands for “Work Now Locally,” is an on-demand staffing technology platform that is changing the way businesses find talent for their immediate labor needs. At the same time, they are saving companies money by connecting them with talented people within minutes. Wonolo provides a broad range of jobs from warehouse, delivery, and merchandising, to event staffing and admin roles and is currently available in NorCal, SoCal, NY/NJ/PA, Chicago, Dallas, Nashville, Atlanta, PHX and now Houston. Website   The Blair Law Firm, PC: Nelda Luce Blair has been President/Owner of The Blair Law Firm, P. C. since 1987. Services provided to a select clientele include business and legal consulting, facilitating and professional presentations to organizations, local counsel representation, expert witness availability, local/state/national political campaign assistance, educational awareness. Website New members joining in the month of May include: B2B CFO: A trusted advisor to business owners, B2B CFO advises on strategic financial planning, operations, accounting, efficiency, banking, insurance, cash flow, exit strategies, etc. The company was found in 1987 in Arizona and now has offices all across the US. Website   Work & Mother: Work & Mother is a network of fully equipped lactation facilities and associated support resources to enable mothers to pump breast milk during the workday. Work & Mother is a new building amenity that makes it easy for employers to satisfy FLSA Section 7 obligations and improve recruiting and retention of top female talent. Website   Greater Northside Management District: The Greater Northside Management District promotes, develops, encourages, and maintains employment, commerce, transportation, housing, tourism, recreation, arts, entertainment, economic development, safety, and the public welfare in the north side of the City of Houston. Website   SwimJim Texas LLC: SwimJim teaches swimming and drowning prevention skills to children from two months to early teens. The company is based in New York, this is their first Houston location. Website   Foremost Fresh Direct: Foremost Fresh Direct (FFD) is the cold storage and logistics service-provider for sister company Pro Citrus Network (PCN). Founded in 2004, PCN is a grower/shipper/importer of year-round, fresh citrus and other fresh commodities. Website   Emilio Armstrong: Emilio Armstrong is Trade Representative for Chile in Texas at ProChile USA    Fulshear-Katy Area Chamber of Commerce: The Fulshear-Katy Area Chamber of Commerce is dedicated to serving the Business Community in the Fulshear-Katy Area as well as the Tri-County Region. This includes Fort Bend, Waller and Harris Counties. Website   Gregor Wynne Arney, PLLC: Gregor Wynne Arney, PLLC specializes in commercial, securities, and energy litigation; FINRA arbitration, media law, general counsel services and employment law. Website   Harris/Deaton Advisors: Offering broad financial services, including high net worth advisory and capital markets. Website   Australian Trade and Investment Commission: The Australian Trade and Investment Commission (Austrade) is the Australian Government’s international trade promotion and investment attraction agency. As the U.S. representative office of Australia for Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Arkansas, Austrade foster diplomacy, trade and investment. Website   Career and Recovery Resources, Inc.: Career and Recovery Resources, Inc. breaks barriers for people experiencing substance abuse, underemployment, and housing instability, with focused services for youth, veterans, people with disabilities, and those referred from the criminal justice system. Website   Oyster Creek Consulting: Business Development consulting specializing in increasing connections for effective social impact with expertise in financial literacy, disaster recovery, and affordable housing.  Website   Task Services Marketing Solutions: Task Services is a veteran-owned agency integrating brand and marketing for businesses, providing digital agency remote assistance to small businesses on a monthly or as-needed basis. Website   River Aggregates: River Aggregates is an aggregate producer supplying the Houston, Beaumont and East Texas markets with sand and gravel facilities located in Conroe and Rye Texas. Website   NextGen Information Services, Inc: NextGen provides Technology Solutions in Computing Infrastructure (Servers, Desktops and Network), Business Software and Data Analytics. NextGen meets customer requirements in this area through project services and staffing services. Website   GlobalSpeak Translations: GlobalSpeak Translations specializes in technical translations, localization and interpreter services within the global energy sector.  Their services assist clients to effectively expand their services and global footprint. Website   Vigavi Realty, LLC: Vigavi Realty is a privately held industrial real estate investment and development firm based in Houston, Texas. The range of services include Land Development, Construction, Investment, Build to Suit & Design Build solutions. Website   Perry Redman    Goosehead Insurance - Stinson Cartright Agency: Goosehead Insurance Agency is an independent personal lines insurance broker serving the continental United States. Website   Intervale Capital: Specialized private equity investors that partner with world class entrepreneurs, managers and business owners in the infrastructure, energy and industrial end markets. Website    M Chenault Management Consulting: Assisting entrepreneurs, small business owners and non-profit organizations in capacity building and addressing business development needs through business formation, coaching, preparing business and investment proposal responses, business plans and grant proposals. Website   Big Oak Tree Media: Houston-based Public Relations, Marketing and Consulting Firm with a passion for Creative Storytelling and Multicultural Communications. Website    Concept and Perspective, LLC: Supporting clients to grow and to successfully navigate change, complexity and risk. Specializing in Strategic and Business Planning, M&A, Transformational Growth and New Market Entry. Website     Joslin Construction: For over 45 years, Joslin Construction has been providing civil construction for the largest projects in the Texas Gulf Coast region. The company performs site construction for many different developments, including schools, retail centers, and residential communities. Joslin Construction has one of the largest workforces in the industry. Website Click here to see the Partnership's Membership Directory. To learn more about membership with the Greater Houston Partnership click here, or contact
Read More

Related Events

COVID-19 Business Forums

Economy Series: Mid-Year Review

Partnership Senior Vice President of Research, Patrick Jankowski, will deliver his monthly analysis on Houston's economy by taking a look back at the first six months of 2020. After registering, you will…

Learn More
Learn More
Executive Partners