There is no doubt; the 2018 elections had a profound impact on the tone and focus of the 86th Legislative Session. One hundred and forty days – and nearly 11,000 house and senate bills, and resolutions later – we can officially say that the Texas legislative session is done. What did we accomplish?
Deemed by many as one of the more productive sessions in recent times, the majority of the session was relatively drama-free with the exception of a few late-night hearings about Chick-fil-A, 5 vetoes on the last day of session specifically aimed at Senate democrats, and the end of the Texas State Board of Plumbing Examiners. And throughout all 140 days, your DRC public policy team was there advocating on issues important to our members through testimony, cards, and letters in support as well as a successful Austin Fly-In.
Entering this legislative session, the DRC was focused on several key issues important to our members such as:
- creating a well-funded and sustainable public school funding system;
- preserving our economic development tools;
- continuing investment and tools to maintain our state’s infrastructure needs;
- promoting policies that support a healthy workforce; and
- increasing research funding for our institutions of higher education.
The number one priority for legislators and the DRC this session was tackling how to update our school funding system. After failing to pass a school finance bill in 2017, the legislature was able to pass House Bill 3, also known as the Texas Plan. Overall, the bill provides $4.5 billion in new funding to public school districts to improve student achievement, an additional $2 billion in teacher compensation, and more than $5 billion for tax relief, bringing the total appropriation to $11.6 billion.
Another DRC win this session was the reauthorization of Chapter 312 of the Texas Tax Code. Extended for another 10 years, Chapter 312 allows for cities and counties to provide temporary property tax exemptions to attract major new economic development projects to their community. This tool is critical for communities to attract new business investment.
Other successes this session included: higher formula funding for our institutions of higher education; $35 million in funding for the Texas Research Incentive Program (TRIP), which will continue to help our institutions of higher education; approximately $150 million in funds for the Texas Enterprise Fund (TEF); and investments in mental health, particularly in our schools.
We also win when bills don’t get passed, and there certainly were a few of those this legislative session.
In one of the busiest sessions for Texas Central, harmful bills and budget riders attempting to kill the High Speed Train were derailed, bringing us one step closer to having the first high speed train in the U.S.
Commonly known as the “Chick-fil-A” bill, the bill as originally filed would have created a religious exemption for almost every law in Texas. While the bill ultimately passed, it was significantly modified. The final version of the bill reaffirms current laws that prohibit any governmental entity from taking any adverse action against any person based wholly or partly on the person’s membership in, affiliation with, or contribution, donation, or other support provided to a religious organization.
Overall, there is a lot to be proud of for DRC members. Because of you and your collective efforts, our state will see the first major changes to our school funding system in decades. That alone is reason to celebrate. But our work is not done, and our DRC policy team will continue to be your advocate on all the critical issues for our region.
In the meantime, here are a couple of things to keep in mind. The governor has until June 16 to sign bills into law, veto those to which he doesn’t agree, or allow some to become law without his signature. This includes the potential elimination of specific line-items in the budget. June 16 is also important because political fundraising for the 2020 election can officially begin the very next day. With June 30 as the first reporting deadline for candidates, many legislators will be working fast and furious this month to convince donors they did enough this legislative session to garner financial support to fight off potential opposition in 2020.
The 86th legislative session is wrapped up, and now we need to buckle-up and get ready for the start of the 2020 elections.