The Texas-Mexico border consists of 1,254 of the 1,900-mile-long U.S.-Mexico border. In picking up the slack from the Federal government in protecting its borders, the Texas Legislature demonstrated its commitment to border security by passing House Bills 10 and 11. House Bill 10 addresses human trafficking by putting in place new steps in fighting and eliminating the abhorrent practice. House Bill 11 places hundreds of state troopers along the Texas-Mexico border to assist in fighting and prosecuting border-related crimes. Additionally, the budget provides more than $800 million to increase border security.
Further pro-life successes were achieved this session with the passage of critical pro-life bills, further defunding Planned Parenthood and expanding funding for alternatives to abortion. House Bill 3994 reforms the judicial bypass process for minors seeking abortions, allowing protection of parents’ rights and more oversight of the bypass process. House Bill 3374 requires a medical provider to furnish information following a Down Syndrome diagnosis to new or expectant parents. House Bill 3074 protects patients in the natural process of death by requiring life sustaining medications and support.
Senate Bill 2065, the “Pastor Protection Act,” protects pastors from lawsuits or criminal prosecution if they refuse to perform marriages because they feel it violates their sincerely held religious beliefs.
After several attempts in prior sessions, open carry is finally law. The open carry bill, House Bill 910, goes into effect January 1, 2016. Another Second Amendment victory was achieved with the passage of Senate Bill 11, which will expand the rights of Concealed Handgun Licensees to open carry in certain areas on college campuses. This law goes into effect incrementally; universities on August 1, 2016 and community or junior colleges on August 1, 2017. Currently, institutions of higher learning are evaluating the campus areas in which it will be permissible to carry.
With the private sector providing a budget surplus, the Legislature worked hard to deliver well-deserved tax relief. The nearly $4 billion in tax relief the Legislature accomplished includes a 25% reduction in the business margins tax (franchise tax) and a $10,000 increase in the homestead exemption.
Budget & Economy
Texas continues to be on strong fiscal ground. The Legislature passed a budget that holds increases in spending lower than 2% per year. House Bill 1, the budget, grows less than population and inflation and stays beneath the constitutional spending cap, while leaving more than $11 billion in the state’s Economic Stabilization Fund known as the Rainy Day Fund. While oil and gas production has experienced a decrease, job growth, sales tax collections and building permits signal that Texas continues to outshine the national economy.
Our roads and highways are strained due to our state’s population and economic growth. The oil and gas boom that Texas experienced also took a toll on our roadways. The current budget ends the diversion of State Highway Fund money to other purposes, thereby increasing transportation funding by $1.3 billion over two years. This November, 83% of voters approved Proposition 7 which provides transportation needs with up to an additional $2.5 billion or more in funding every two years without raising taxes, fees or tolls.
It is estimated by 2020 that two out of three jobs will require postsecondary education or training. With Texas A&M University and Blinn College in our back yard, higher education-related decisions made in Austin greatly affect our community. House Bill 100, authorizing Tuition Revenue Bonds (TRBs) passed. TRBs enable higher education institutions to finance construction and infrastructure improvements that will accommodate enrollment growth and capital demands without relying on tuition increases and saddling students with more debt. Veteran education benefits were protected by making no changes to the Hazlewood Act and further studies on vocational training and higher education accountability, accessibility, and affordability will take place over the next year in preparation for the next Legislative Session.
House Bill 19 strengthens the network of preventive services and mental health resources available for active members, veterans and their families. The bill creates a plan to identify and support veterans’ needs across the state. House Bill 1762 requires the Texas Veterans Commission to create a health care advocacy program to assist with access to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs facilities. House Bill 437 eliminates ambiguity in previous law to protect anyone rejoining a state agency after military deployment or service by allowing them to receive health care benefits immediately.
To increase parent and community involvement, our public schools will be rated using a new A-F rating system that replaces the broad, less meaningful rating system. House Bill 2804 creates the system that will also decrease the emphasis on state-mandated standardized tests. House Bill 4 provides for state incentive funding for pre-kindergarten programs that achieve outlined quality standards.
The Legislature demonstrated its commitment to our retired teachers and their dependents by fully funding the Teacher Retirement System of Texas at $768 million. The 233,000 retirees currently in the system will not experience a premium increase or cuts to their benefits.