The Back MicThe Back Mic: Status of Emergency Item Bills Listed, Collier Poised to Run Again for Lt. Governor, Federal Aid Presents Budget Conundrum

This week — Abbott's emergency items make progress, Dan Patrick draws a familiar challenger, and federal aid leaves a question mark over budget discussions.
April 9, 2021
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Status of Governor’s Emergency Items Legislation

In his 2021 State of the State address, Governor Greg Abbott laid out five emergency items for this legislative session. Since, in response to the February blackouts, Abbott added three more emergency items.

Here is where the main legislation for each stands.

Broadband Expansion

  • SB 5 – Creates a statewide Broadband Development Office to facilitate the expansion of internet access.
    • Passed unanimously on March 31 and referred to the House, sent to the State Affairs Committee on April 7.
  • House Bill (HB) 5 – Creates a statewide Broadband Development Office to facilitate the expansion of internet access.
    • Passed unanimously on April 8 on 2nd Reading, must pass on 3rd Reading before moving to the Senate.

Police Defunding

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  • SB 1405 – Prohibits cities with 950,000 residents or more from reducing police force.
    • Referred to the Senate Jurisprudence Committee on March 18.
  • HB 1900 – Establishes recourse for cities that are deemed to have defunded their police department.
    • Reported favorably by the State Affairs Committee on April 6.
  • HB 1950 – Permits the creation of a “public safety zone” by the state within a city that is deemed to have defunded its police department.

Bail Reform

  • SB 21 – Restricts qualifications for defendants to be given bail to first-time, non-violent offenders with no failure to appear history.
    • Reported favorably by the Senate Jurisprudence Committee on April 8.
  • HB 20 – Prohibits those credibly accused of a capital offense from receiving bail.
    • Left pending in the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee on April 6.

Election Integrity

  • SB 7 – Broad election reform legislation.
    • Passed on party lines by the Senate on April 1.
  • HB 6 – Broad election reform legislation.
    • Voted out of House Elections Committee on April 8.

Coronavirus Lawsuit Protection

  • SB 6 – Create retroactive civil liability protection for businesses and other institutions against coronavirus-related lawsuits.
    • Passed the Senate on April 8.
  • HB 3659 – House companion for SB 6.
    • Referred to House Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence Committee on March 22.

Power Grid Weatherization

  • SB 3 – Broad response to ERCOT blackouts, including requirement that the power industry protects its infrastructure from extreme cold weather.
    • Passed by the Senate on March 29 and referred to the House State Affairs Committee on April 7.
  • HB 11 – Requires the power industry to protect its infrastructure from extreme cold temperatures.
    • Passed unanimously by the House on March 31.

ERCOT Reform

  • SB 2 – Establishes in-state residency requirement for ERCOT board members and CEO and compels the presiding officer to be appointed by the governor with support from the senate.
  • HB 10 – Establishes in-state residency requirement for ERCOT board members and CEO and makes five board positions appointed by state officials.
    • Passed unanimously by the House on March 31.

Electricity Repricing

  • SB 2142 – Orders the ERCOT to reprice wholesale electricity transactions made within a period during the Texas blackouts.
    • Passed the Senate on March 15 and referred to the House State Affairs Committee on March 18.
Mike Collier Eyes Dan Patrick Rematch

The 2022 race for lieutenant governor may feature a case of déjà vu as Mike Collier, the 2018 Democratic challenger to incumbent Republican Dan Patrick, announced the formation of an exploratory committee for another run.

“I’m running for Texas Lieutenant Governor to hold Dan Patrick accountable for his many failures. To hold our leaders accountable you have to run against them — and you have to beat them. We all saw what happened in February when our energy sector failed because of decades of poor Republican leadership from politicians like Dan Patrick. We must ensure that never happens again,” said Collier in a statement.

Patrick beat Collier in 2018 by under five points — roughly 400,000 votes. Compared with other top-ticket races, Patrick’s victory falls between Governor Greg Abbott’s landslide victory and Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) narrow one.

Abbott won re-election by 1.1 million votes and Cruz eked out a 215,000-vote win.

Senators Talk Use of Federal Aid in Budget Discussion

Congress has allocated $45 billion in coronavirus relief money to Texas through last month’s American Rescue Plan Act. Among that includes $18 billion for schools, $17 billion for the state, and $10 billion for certain localities all meant to cope with coronavirus setbacks.

The Senate’s budget does not allocate any of these portions, including the one earmarked for its own use and the federal government has provided only two conditions for the sum: it can neither be used to lower tax rates nor shore up pension systems. 

Because of that uncertainty, however, the $17 billion figure is tentative.

In Tuesday’s floor debate over Senate Bill (SB) 1, Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) inquired about the use of those funds pertaining to public education. 

“Regardless of whether we maintain the Maintenance of Effort,” West stated, “we would not be able to spend [the federal grant] on tuition, facilities, or research, correct?”

The “Maintenance of Effort” is a statutory requirement that federal funds be matched by state and local funding in proportion. Per that requirement, Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Houston) confirmed, state funding would have to increase between $700 million and $800 million.

Taylor added, “We need to make sure they direct this money to things that are one-time [expenses.] What we don’t want to do is have an injection of $17 billion and come back next session and have people talk about how we’re cutting their funding. I’ve told some districts directly this: I don’t want to hear how we’re cutting your funding next session because this isn’t our money, it’s federal money and we’re not going to have it next time.”

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Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson is an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.