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.
Although Gov. Greg Abbott called lawmakers back to Austin for three special sessions over the summer and into the fall, quorum breaks prevented the legislative process from proceeding until midway through the second special session. And during the third special session, lawmakers passed a bill addressing the distribution of Texas’ $16.3 billion in American Rescue Plan Act funding, a significant issue as our state continues to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
As during the regular legislative session, 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 to continue its strong recovery from the pandemic into 2022 and beyond.
The COVID relief appropriations bill passed by lawmakers contains $500 million for broadband infrastructure, including $75 million for the state’s broadband pole replacement program – an important provision that builds on the work the DRC did during the regular session advocating for statewide broadband development.
EDUCATION AND WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT
The DRC was also glad to see positive outcomes for our region in the area of higher education during the third special session. Lawmakers passed a bill authorizing $3.3 billion in revenue bonds for construction and renovation projects at public universities and health facilities across Texas, including more than $500 million for North Texas universities. From the University of North Texas System to the University of Texas at Arlington and the University of Texas at Dallas, our local universities will soon benefit from this bill by funding new science and technology buildings that will help thousands more students connect to in-demand careers in our region.
Other policy wins included $350 million in funding for university construction and $15 million for the Texas Reskilling and Upskilling through Education (TRUE) program.
HEALTH CARE AND COVID-19 RECOVERY
The DRC led a coalition of more than 30 organizations from across the region in asking lawmakers for additional funding for the DFW state behavioral health hospital authorized during the regular legislative session. The COVID-19 relief appropriations bill included nearly $238 million for the construction of the hospital, which will be operated by UT Southwestern Medical Center. This project is something the Dallas Region sorely needs – the state identified the need for a facility like this in 2014 – and we’re proud to have helped bring it across the finish line.
Finally, on the topic of vaccine mandates, the DRC swiftly responded when Gov. Greg Abbott asked the Legislature to pass a bill banning private businesses from requiring COVID-19 vaccines for employees. We made clear our position that such a bill would expose companies to unnecessary liability, and that companies should be able to make their own choices about how to protect the health and safety of their employees.
As in part one of this series, the efforts outlined above do not cover all the issues lawmakers addressed during their time in Austin – nor all the DRC’s engagement work. On the issue of redistricting, especially, new developments will continue to play out as the state’s new maps are reviewed in court challenges.
However, the DRC’s policy successes in both the regular and special sessions have helped put the Dallas Region in a strong position at this critical time in Texas and across the country.
The DRC will continue to advocate for the Dallas Region in months ahead to pursue our mission of making the Dallas Region the best place in the United States for all people to live, work, and do business.