Dallas Regional Chamber Fights to Preserve, Build Upon Texas’ Business Advantages
The 85th Texas Legislative Session adjourned on May 29. While many bills were left unheard or unresolved, the House and the Senate ultimately passed the one item mandated each biennium, settling on a $217 billion budget.
Through the support and guidance of our 1,100 member companies, the Dallas Regional Chamber worked to help shape legislation during the regular session in line with our support for pro-growth public policies that enhance our region’s quality of life, including issues to improve transportation and infrastructure, health care, and helping to create an educational system that better prepares our students for the workforce of tomorrow.
Arguably, some of our biggest wins came from defeating or diffusing bills that would likely have hurt our business climate.
In a tough budget year, economic incentive programs were maintained, although at lower levels than previous years. The Texas Enterprise Fund was allocated $86M for incentive grants, the Governor’s University Research Initiative was allocated $15.6M, and other funds – such as the Film and Music Marketing program – were maintained.
This session, our goal was to maintain incentive programs. A number of bills were filed threatening Chapter 313, a temporary school property tax abatement program that has proven to be one of our state’s most effective tools for encouraging business expansions and relocations to Texas. We worked diligently with our statewide partners and the urban chambers of commerce to ensure none of those bills passed.
Another economic development bill we have worked on the past two sessions finally passed: HB 108, the “Recruit Texas” bill. Workforce readiness continues to be the number one concern of employers considering doing business in Texas. This effort was championed by the Dallas County Community College District and will support employers expanding or relocating their operations in Texas by partnering colleges with businesses to provide technical training based on workforce needs. The legislation also puts Texas on competitive footing with several states that have similar programs.
Our biggest transportation win was killing all of the anti-high speed rail bills. Our efforts paid off again this session as no legislation inhibiting the Dallas to Houston project passed – although many attempts were made. More than 20 bills were filed to obstruct or inhibit the Texas Central Partners rail project, along with many amendments to the same effect. However, all of the bills were either amended favorably or did not pass both the House and Senate.
School Finance Reform
The DRC began in January with a statewide convening of education policy experts to gain traction on public school finance reform. Valiant attempts were made in the House to simplify the system and to add money to address some of the issues under HB 21. The House passed HB 21, a school finance reform bill that primarily would have provided an additional $1.5 billion for public schools, with nearly all school districts across Texas seeing an increase in funding. The bill would have also created a new funding weight to provide districts with additional money for educating dyslexic students, and more funding for career and technical education for eighth grade students.
Ultimately, attempts to reform Texas’ public school finance system ended when the Senate changed HB 21 dramatically, removing most of the funding and adding provisions that were not acceptable to the House. A final attempt to reconcile the two bills ended, with school finance and tuition vouchers remaining at odds.
There was a big push by public school administrators and parent groups to eliminate testing that helps track whether schools and their students are on grade level and working toward college and career readiness. There were bills to reduce high school graduation requirements and instate age-based promotion, regardless of content mastery. The DRC and its members fought hard to defend against these bills and were successful in holding the line on many of them.
Some testing was reduced and alternate graduation requirements were put in place for limited circumstances, but the most drastic bills were killed. Financial accountability was an issue with a push for vouchers or credits that would allow parents to spend public school funds on private schools or tutors without the requirements to prove that the spending resulted in improved academic outcomes. These bills were not successful during the regular session but the issue remains on the special-session list for special-needs students.
Expanding career technical education was successful through a Pathways to Technology (P-TECH) program (SB22) that the DRC and Dallas ISD supported, and is being implementing in the Dallas area.
Pre-K funding was a casualty of the session, as grant money for quality pre-K added in the 84th Session was cut from the budget. The resulting unfunded mandate requires ISDs to meet the higher standards established in 2015 but at 2013 funding levels. On the plus side, we were successful in expanding educator preparation opportunities, including certificates for optional early childhood-through-third-grade teaching, and an early childhood educator baccalaureate program.
The 85th Session began with concerns that the initial budget cut funding for all “special items” for Texas’ public higher education institutions. Special items fund a broad range of university programs, including research. The final budget added many special items back to the higher education budget, but there were still some cuts.
Working closely with Texas State Sen. Royce West, the DRC pushed hard for a number of improvements to the college credit transfer process, but only modest improvements were ultimately made and, therefore, North Texas will continue to have to work collectively to improve the earning and transfer of hours between institutions without new legislation.
As health care costs continue to grow across the country, we worked with our health care systems to relieve some of this pressure through the creation of a Local Provider Participation Fund (LPPF) in Dallas County. Legislation creating a Dallas County LPPF will allow our local safety net hospitals to leverage every resource at their disposal to ensure that those who live in our region have access to adequate health care as health care costs rise.
In a statewide health care victory, Texas will now allow telemedicine and telehealth services. SB 1107, signed by Gov. Abbott, expands access to telemedicine across the state, increasing care options for consumers while decreasing the cost and time of a face-to-face visit.
Dallas Police and Fire Pension Bill
After months of tense negotiations and legal action, a bill to address the failing Dallas Police and Fire Pension system was signed by Gov. Abbott on May 31. HB 3158, written by Dan Flynn R-Canton, addresses the pension board governance, city and employee contribution rates, and DROP (Deferred Retirement Option Plan).
The final version of the bill allows the mayor to appoint six of the board’s 11 members, requires minimum contributions by the city and first responders into the fund, and requires a series of lumpsum payments in the amount of $13 million from the city for seven years. It also reduces member benefits, and increases firefighter and police officer contribution rates, and raises the retirement age. The bill also eliminates lumpsum DROP withdrawals except in emergencies. After months of contentious disagreements, all parties came together on a compromise bill that reflects shared sacrifice from all parties to save the fund from insolvency.
Bathroom Bill/SB 6
We managed to survive the session without the passage of a bathroom bill. However, the governor announced a special session to begin on July 18 to consider 20 items, including a bathroom bill modeled after State Rep. Ron Simmons’ bill, HB 2899. While HB 2899 was styled similarly to the compromise reached in North Carolina after HB 2 was repealed, Simmons’ bill removes all county and municipal anti-discrimination ordinances throughout the state, creating its own set of issues. Although this legislation did not target bathroom use, the scope would have many unintended consequences, removing the ability of local governments to protect vulnerable classes such as veterans and elderly. The bill was heard in committee during the regular session but was left pending.
SB 6, championed by the Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, passed the Senate early in the session but was never brought up by the House. This bill targeted transgender people using public restroom facilities and carried civil penalties. Many additional attempts were made to include bathroom-style language to other bills, including budgets, the operation of government facilities, and sunset bills, to no avail.
We, along with Metro 8, opposed SB 6/HB 2899.
In the final days of the session under the greatest pressure from the Senate to pass a bathroom bill, State Rep. Chris Paddie included an amendment allowing school districts to handle sensitive issues on a case-by-case basis, which was not accepted by the Senate and the compromise failed.
We continue to be in contact with state leadership opposing any bathroom bills brought up in the special session. The DRC will remain strongly opposed to any discriminatory legislation that would negatively impact Texans and the Texas economy.
Staying Focused on Our Mission
Texas legislators faced tight budget constraints and tough decisions this year. Despite some turbulence, the DRC and its partners mustered support for bills and amendments we deemed most important to improving the Dallas Region’s business environment, and opposed legislation that didn’t.
We held our own during the 85th Session, never losing sight of our mission, which remains making the Dallas Region the best place in America to live, work, and do business.
We welcome your questions and comments. To request more information about area businesses or to share an idea, contact us: