The work of the 87th Texas Legislature appears to be finally finished – after one regular legislative session, three special sessions, and quite a few twists and turns along the way. This two-part series covering both the regular and special legislative sessions will recap where the DRC engaged over the past almost 10 months, and what it means for the Dallas Region.
This year’s regular 87th Legislative Session, which ran from Jan. 12—May 31, was truly historic in nature, between a global pandemic, a record-breaking winter storm, and the regular business of policymaking for more than 29 million people. The goal of the DRC’s advocacy efforts was to ensure that our region had the tools it needed to address COVID-19-related challenges – and as the Texas Capitol slowly opened up to visitors, our team made multiple visits to Austin, serving as the tip of the spear representing our members when many other organizations were still relying on virtual touchpoints.
A key priority for economic development, public education, and public health, the DRC worked hard during the regular session to advocate for the Legislature’s leading statewide broadband development bill by Rep. Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin). The DRC advocated for the inclusion of several provisions that made it into the final version of the bill, including urban, public education, and public health representation on the Broadband Development Office Board of Advisors; consideration of broadband adoption rates and affordability in the state’s broadband development plan; and prioritization of broadband expansion efforts for public schools and higher education institutions.
Not all proposed legislation landed where we wanted it to, however – for example, with Chapter 313 program, bills that would have renewed the program stalled in the legislative process. In the coming months, the DRC will work to advance efforts that retool this program to ensure our state maintains its competitive edge in attracting new businesses. Without Chapter 313, Texas would rank among the states with the highest business property tax rates in the country.
EDUCATION AND WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT
The DRC achieved key legislative wins on bills we supported related to workforce development. A bill by Sen. Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe) will establish a grant program to help public junior colleges develop and maintain workforce training programs aligned with regional economic demands, and a bill by Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston) will require the Texas Workforce Commission to develop a strategic plan for the state’s childcare workforce. Additionally, bills by Rep. J.M. Lozano (R-Kingsville) and Rep. Jim Murphy (R-Houston) will both foster better collaboration between the Texas Education Agency, Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, and Texas Workforce Commission to promote work-based learning and develop goals for the state’s workforce.
The DRC’s advocacy also helped protect the multibillion-dollar gains made in public education funding during the 2019 legislative session, particularly through the new state budget for 2022-2023. The budget maintains the legislature’s commitment to Texas’ public school systems, including an additional $3 billion for enrollment growth and $1 billion to further reduce local property taxes.
Finally, the DRC also successfully advocated for investment in Texas’ public higher education institutions in the state budget. The budget includes an additional $486 million for higher education funding formulas – providing resources for enrollment growth at North Texas’ institutions – and another $110 million for TEXAS Grants, the state’s most accessible needs-based financial aid offering. Relatedly, the DRC supported a bill by Sen. Drew Springer (R-Muenster) and Rep. Lynn Stucky (R-Denton) that will enable the establishment of the Texas Woman’s University System with campuses in Dallas, Denton, and Houston.
HEALTH CARE AND COVID-19 RECOVERY
The DRC worked hard during the regular session to secure state funding for a critically needed behavioral health hospital in the Dallas Region, which would be operated by our community partner UT Southwestern Medical Center. Lawmakers included $44.8 million in the state budget for the planning and land acquisition costs of a new hospital, which will help serve the growing number of patients seeking treatment as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. This was an important stepping stone to future advocacy during the third special session, outlined in part two of this series.
The DRC took a leading role in ensuring the business community’s voice was represented in efforts at the Capitol to reimagine policing and criminal justice in Texas. The engagement of our board members – as well as the members of a new policing and criminal justice sub-council of our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Council – led to an amendment to a bill on the future of the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement that would have added a business representative to a blue-ribbon panel reviewing the commission’s work. Although this bill did not survive the legislative session, the DRC’s efforts stimulated the support of five of the state’s other largest chambers of commerce and laid the groundwork for future advocacy efforts.
The efforts outlined above do not cover all the issues lawmakers addressed during their time in Austin – nor all the DRC’s engagement work. To better understand how our elected officials represented our region’s interests in Austin, read through our Legislative Index.
Along with the bills outlined in the index, the successes we achieved during the regular session, from advancing economic development projects, to investing in our state’s future workforce, to supporting COVID-19 recovery, will contribute to our region’s future resilience, whatever challenges may lie ahead.
In part two of this series, we’ll cover the highlights of our advocacy during the Legislature’s three special sessions.