By Morgan Christian, Director of Public Policy and Communications
The 88th Texas Legislature has reached the beginning of its home stretch, with several procedural deadlines fast approaching that will determine whether bills live another day or meet their ends.
The House and Senate have each passed their respective proposals for the 2024-25 state budget – the only item lawmakers are constitutionally required to pass – and appointed “conference committee” negotiators to iron out the differences in the two versions of the bill.
With “sine die” looming on May 29, this process will ramp up as the selected lawmakers begin reconciling varying priorities and funding amounts. The Senate has called for $308 billion in spending over the next two years, while the House has called for $302.6 billion, and there are fundamental differences between the two chambers’ approaches to funding that must be addressed – particularly around property tax relief and the fate of “education savings accounts,” or school vouchers.
While these discussions unfold, it is a critical time for the DRC and the business community to advocate for key spending priorities that would affect the Dallas Region. Two issues require concerted support: funding for a behavioral health hospital and funding for a regional law enforcement training center.
Behavioral Health Hospital Funding
In the area of health care, the DRC is advocating for full funding for the UT Southwestern-operated behavioral health hospital that will serve the Dallas Region.
Last legislative session, the DRC led a coalition of more than 30 organizations from across the region in asking lawmakers for initial funding for this hospital, a need that was identified by the state in 2014. However, due to inflation and rising construction costs, $101.9 million in additional funding is needed to complete the construction of the facility, and $68.5 million is needed for ramp-up operations such as clinician recruitment and workforce development.
While the House has included the requested funding amounts in its budget bill, the Senate has included $38 million for construction costs only.
Fully funding this new facility is vital to reducing wait times for North Texans seeking urgent mental health care. Presently, the Terrell State Hospital serves the needs of 25 counties, and there are only about five state inpatient hospital beds per 100,000 residents in the Dallas Region – less than half of the national average. With the demand for services surging as the result of rapid population growth, a declining supply of service providers, and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, patients often wait days or even weeks for treatment.
The DRC is actively advocating for the full $101.9 million and $68.5 million to be included in the final budget bill and sent a letter to conference committee members on this issue signed by 18 member companies and local organizations.
Regional Law Enforcement Training Center Funding
The DRC is also advocating for $50 million for the construction of a state-of-the-art regional law enforcement training center housed on the University of North Texas at Dallas campus. Such an investment would make regional law enforcement agencies stronger and more effective and, importantly, help Texas continue to position itself as a national leader in policing research and training.
UNT Dallas is one of the fastest-growing colleges in the country and offers a space to educate officers in a holistic, collaborative context. A new training center would serve as an operating base for the renowned local Caruth Police Institute, Texas ABLE Center of Excellence, and Texas Law Enforcement Peer Network – initiatives that address leadership development, policy, and reducing the impact of stressors and trauma that often lead to poor performance and health outcomes for officers.
The center would also serve as the home of a new academy for the Dallas Police Department (DPD), which has become a model in data-driven policing that prioritizes community engagement, despite the department’s staffing and training needs being hindered by an outdated, temporary facility built in 1990. DPD’s academy also trains the police forces of numerous Dallas suburbs.
The DRC sent a letter signed by 24 member companies and local organizations to conference committee members urging them to include $50 million for a new training center in the final budget bill.
The five Senate conference committee members are Finance Committee Chair Joan Huffman (R-Houston), Sen. Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe), Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham), Sen. Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville), and Sen. Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown).
The five House conference committee members are Appropriations Committee Chair Greg Bonnen (R-Friendswood), Committee Vice Chair Mary González (D-Clint), Rep. Jacey Jetton (R-Richmond), Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston), and Rep. Armando Walle (D-Houston).
The DRC encourages members of the Dallas Region’s business community to call these lawmakers to ask them to support these two priorities that are key to maintaining a high quality of life for all Texans. Contact the DRC Public Policy team to learn more and join the DRC’s efforts in Austin.