The most important bill, and the only bill that must be passed according to the Texas Constitution each session, is the budget bill, House Bill 1. House Bill 1 appropriates $118.9 billion in General Revenue and $250.7 billion in total All Funds. While meeting many of our state’s needs, the budget remains well under the state’s four spending limits–the debt limit, welfare spending limit, pay-as-you-go limit, and the spending limit.
Education and Teacher Retirement System
One of our biggest accomplishments of the 86th Legislative session was passing sweeping school finance reform by investing $4.5 billion in education reforms, $2 billion in dynamic pay raises for educators, and reducing recapture by 47%. Recognizing the incredibly difficult and important job our teachers perform, we funded a $2,000 average 13th check for retired teachers and invested in their pension to make it actuarially sound.
In keeping with the principles of the House, we were able to pass the Texas Born-Alive Infant Protection Act which offers protections to babies who survive abortion by mandating that they receive the same care that a newborn would receive after birth. Senate Bill 22 was also signed into law, protecting taxpayers by defunding Planned Parenthood at the local level, ensuring no taxpayer dollars are used to fund abortion providers. Additionally, over $60 million dollars have been dedicated for crisis pregnancy centers and the State’s highly successful Alternatives to Abortion program.
Several important measures were passed this session in regards to higher education. All disciplinary actions resulting in the dismissal of a student from a public institution of higher education must be indicated on their academic transcript. Violations include sexual assault, arson, and threats of terrorism. To ease the burden of student loan debt, online admission applications are now required to include a link to certain comparative gainful employment data. Additionally, students will be required to fill out a degree plan so they can receive more information on the courses they need to take in order to complete their degree in a timely fashion.
We maintained the 2018 -2019 levels of funding for border security efforts as well as an additional $7.5 million appropriation to DPS for Operation Draw Bridge cameras, four additional analysts for the Transnational Intelligence Center, and $1.7 million in grants for border prosecution, border zone fire departments, and economic development.
A total of $86 million was given to TxDOT for building, construction, and deferred maintenance in addition to the $6.1 billion allocated to TxDOT for non-tolled highway construction projects throughout the state.
We passed legislation protecting law-abiding gun owners from being penalized for accidentally carrying in an establishment where guns are prohibited, restored the rights of tenants to own and keep firearms, prohibited “no firearms” clauses in leases, and allowed permit-less carry for those evacuating from and returning to a disaster area. Furthermore, we were able to pass legislation to ease firearm and ammunition storage requirements for foster parents, crack down on inconsistent, patchwork firearms ordinances at the local level, restored the rights of places of worship to decide whether licensed carry is permitted, and prohibited HOAs from restricting firearms.
With skyrocketing property taxes across the state threatening homeowners and renters, the Legislature stood up for taxpayers this session. The Texas Property Tax Reform and Transparency Act of 2019 gives taxpayers the tools to make informed decisions about their property taxes by improving communication between taxing districts and taxpayers, informing taxpayers of who has proposed a rate increase, by how much, and where to protest, increasing financial disclosures from taxing units, and empowering voters to stop higher property tax rates through an election. Texans will also see an added benefit of the passage of school finance reform when they get their property tax bill. With the passage of House Bill 3, school districts will no longer have to lean as heavily on property taxes to close the gap.
House Bill 831 clarifies how an individual may satisfy the continuous residency requirements for holding public office if they can confirm their intent to return to a residence after a temporary absence. With the passage of House Bill 1888, election polling places are now required to remain open at set locations throughout the early voting period which will prevent election officials from using temporary branch polling places to target certain populations on certain days or at specific times to the exclusion of others.
House Bill 5 directs the Texas Department of Emergency Management to create a catastrophic debris management plan to improve debris removal for political subdivisions and also creates the Wet Debris Study Group and the Work Group on Local Restrictions That Impede Disaster Recovery Efforts to study the best practices and common hindrances to the removal of debris following a disaster. Passing this legislation allows local communities to respond quicker to disasters and prepares the state for future debris crises. Through the passage of House Bill 6, a Disaster Recovery Task Force has been created within the Texas Department of Emergency Management to assist individuals with specialized assistance and communities with recovery and resiliency planning to speed up recovery. Following Hurricane Harvey, we learned recovery has been identified as the weakest phase of the emergency management cycle in Texas, and House Bill 6 looks to strengthen recovery functions and better utilize the resources available to this state.