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4/2/21 Legislative update

Austin
SB7 was passed by the Texas Senate late this week. The “election integrity” bill would limit early voting hours, restrict the amount of voting machines available at countywide polling places and take power over election administration away from local officials. The bill moves to the Texas House. In that chamber, public testimony regarding HB6 was postponed due to parliamentary errors by committee chair Rep. Briscoe Cain of Deer Park.

HB 3781 has been referred to the House Human Services Committee. Along with its companion bill, SB 117, the “Live Well Texas” program focuses on expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act and would draw billions in new federal Medicaid dollars, but with key compromises including work and health incentives for recipients, better physician reimbursement rates, and a commitment to end the coverage if it loses the state money or the federal government stops funding nearly all of it. The Perryman Group estimates potential gains of $45.3 billion in gross product, 461,700 job-years of employment, and increases of tax revenue of $2.5 billion for the State of Texas and nearly $2.0 billion for local governments during the 2022-2023 biennium.
HB 19 was voted out of the House Committee on Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence. The bill seeks to level the litigation playing field in lawsuits against owners and operators of company vehicles.

SB 207 was heard in the State Affairs committee. The bill proposes legislation that protects businesses from being targeted for excessive medical expenses in litigation.

SB 14, the "Business Freedom and Uniformity Act", was heard in the Senate Committee on Business and Commerce. This bill will ensure local governments cannot dictate to businesses how they operate, and remove a number of regulations throughout the state.

Legislation to expand broadband access throughout Texas is moving forward.  The Texas Senate voted unanimously in favor of SB5 and heads to the House. The legislation would establish a broadband office to oversee improvements to internet access, detail which areas lack connections, establish a program to distribute grants and financial incentives for improved access, and create a statewide plan with long-term goals. A similar bill, House Bill 5 is under consideration by the House State Affairs Committee. Expanding broadband access is on Gov. Greg Abbott’s emergency priority list. Pres. Joe Biden’s latest infrastructure plan sets aside $100 billion to expand broadband access in rural areas. The Texas Senate and House bills differ in one major way – whether the proposed statewide office would fall under the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts or under the University of Texas Systems. The final location could affect setup costs and administration of related federal funding.

Senate Bill 1255 was heard in the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Economic Development. The bill reauthorizes the Chapter 313 economic development program for 10 years, while also eliminating renewable energy projects from qualifying for the program and making several changes to reporting requirements.

The Senate approved SB3, which relates to weather emergencies, i.e. winter storm power outages. The House is hearing a number of similar bills. The big difference between the two approaches: the Senate would slap a $1 million a day fine on gas and oil providers who don’t weatherize.
The issue with charter schools is still a hot topic in Austin. SB28/HB3279 would grant public charters the same treatment that traditional school districts have in zoning and planning cases. The bill prohibits local governments from taking any action to stop an open-enrollment charter from operating a campus, and provides the state’s education commissioner exclusive jurisdiction over the creation and location of charters.

SB1, the state’s proposed budget, has moved out of the Senate Finance Committee. The House Appropriations Committee is marking up HB1.
 
Washington, D.C.
In national news, President Biden has allowed a pandemic-related ban on visas for certain temporary workers, enacted by former President Donald Trump, to expire. The moratorium, which affected H-1B visas used by technology companies to hire foreign coders and engineers, was imposed last June.
As mentioned above, Texas could see an influx of money from Biden’s infrastructure plan. In addition to broadband expansion, the $2 trillion plan could help rebuild Texas highways and ports. It could help Texas weatherize the grid in a way that wouldn’t stick consumers with the bill as well as guard the Gulf Coast against hurricanes and address racial disparities that have made Latino and Black communities particularly vulnerable to natural disasters. But the proposal also comes with a heavy emphasis on clean energy that some say is an attack on the state’s oil industry, and Biden is calling for corporate tax increases to foot the bill.

When the U.S. Senate returns from Easter break, the chamber will focus on three areas, accounting to majority leader Chuck Schumer:  1-climate change, economic recovery, and jobs; 2-voting rights and civil rights; and 3-health and gun safety.
 
Public Policy events
Washington D.C. Fly-in April 27-28
The all-virtual Washington, D.C., Federal Legislative Policy Briefing is scheduled for April. The schedule is still in work, but attendees will speak to legislators and attend briefings on important policies and movements in the legislature. Sponsorships are available. Participation is free for chamber members.

City Council Candidate Forum -- April 14
The Chamber will host a Richardson City Council Candidate Forum on April 14. Kyle Kepner and Joe Corcoran are running for Place 4. Daniel Burdette, Marilyn Frederick and Arefin Shamsul are running for Place 6. The forum will give candidates the opportunity to tell voters about themselves, their experience, and their policy ideas for Richardson.

RISD $750 million bond proposal
Based on the recommendations of a community bond steering committee, RISD trustees place two bond propositions before voters as part of the May 1 election. The total of both propositions is $750 million. RISD plans to keep its debt service tax rate at the current $0.35/per $100 of taxable value even if RISD voters approve Bond 2021. One proposition for $694 million is for capital construction, infrastructure, repairs, safety and security, and equipment. The other proposition is for $56 million for student and staff technology.  The Chamber Board has endorsed voter approval of these bond proposals.
Public forums will be conducted in person and virtually in April. More information is available here.

City bond election
Eight projects intended to enhance areas of Richardson targeted for redevelopment could be included in the city's upcoming municipal bond package.  Details and estimated costs for each project are being finalized. Staff will refine the plans before returning in April for further guidance from council. A final bond proposition is expected to be called by the City Council in August. The election is tentatively scheduled for November.
 
If you’d like to revisit the Public Policy Committee’s virtual fly-in with Texas legislators, click on the links below:
Austin Legislative Policy Briefing -  Rep. Jim Murphy, Rep. Jeff Leach, and Glenn Hegar, Comptroller
Austin Legislative Briefing with Mike Morath, Commissioner of Education for the State of Texas
Austin Legislative Policy Briefing with Sen. Angela Paxton
Austin Legislative Policy Briefing with Rep Angie Chen Button (excerpt)

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