Legislative update: 3/22/2021
It’s fast and furious time in Austin: more than 10,000 bills were filed by last Friday’s deadline.
While there’s been a lot of press focus on “What are we going to do about ERCOT?”, committees are holding meetings and hearings on other items on our Legislative Agenda.
Broadband: About 25 bills have been filed focusing on expanding broadband access. The major focus is on House Bill 5 and Senate Bill 5, which will create a state broadband office.
State Sen. Robert Nichols, who represents the state's 3rd senate district, chairs the Senate’s Transportation committee, which held a hearing on SB 5 this week.
"If we do not have a statewide plan, we lose credits on competition for federal grants," he said. "The federal government has tried to map and they're going to get a lot better at it. I'm convinced, but we need to have our own map to identify down to the address level, whether that service is available or not. And if that service meets that quality standard."
“I was very pleased to see the governor add broadband access to the designation for emergency items,” said state Rep. Trent Ashby, R-Lufkin, who authored the House bill, which also was the focus of a hearing. “Whether it’s an urban, suburban or rural part of the state, access to broadband, as he said, no longer is a luxury, but it’s really a necessity and it’s become an essential tool for our livelihoods.”
Local State Rep. Jeff Leach’s House committee on Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence held hearings on HB 19. The bill seeks to level the litigation playing field in lawsuits against owners and operators of company vehicles.
HB 3 was discussed in the House Committee on State Affairs. This bill provides COVID liability protections for businesses from open ended and abusive litigation due to COVID-19 exposure or future pandemics. Other bills that focus on the issue include SB 6 and HB 3659 (also filed by Leach).
The House Ways and Means committee heard HB 1195, designed to ensure that employers will not be taxed on PPP loans they accessed to use for payroll.
One of the silver linings of the pandemic was the availability of “alcohol-to-go.” HB 1024 was voted out of committee unanimously, which means it will face a vote in the State House. This makes that temporary option permanent to help restaurants.
ERCOT: The ball has been pushed to Gov. Abbott’s court. The State Senate moved unusually swiftly last week to pass a bill calling for the agency to reverse billions of dollars charged for wholesale electricity during the power outages last month. The House declined to take up the issue. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is now asking the governor to take executive action.
In response to the snow-pocolypse, the House State Affairs Committee OK’d and sent several bills to the full House. One bill would order the Public Utility Commission to adopt rules requiring power generators “to prepare generation facilities to provide adequate electric generation service during an extreme weather emergency.” Other bills would overhaul the make-up of the board that directs ERCOT, create the Texas Energy Disaster Reliability Council and create a statewide emergency alert system.
Medicaid expansion: In an opinion piece in the Dallas Morning News, State Sen. Nathan Johnson says Medicaid must be expanded in Texas now. He further explains in a fun video.
As many of the 10K bills fade away, we’ll update our legislative tracker on the ‘cream’ of the crop.
Many of us have received our stimulus checks from the American Rescue Plan. There’s more to the plan, though. ARP includes billions in dollars to help schools safely open; Texas is set to receive more than $20 billion. The plan also includes funding for Covid-19 testing in schools.
The House approved two priority immigration bills: the Dream and Promise Act and the Farm Workforce Modernization Act. This represents a momentous victory for the millions of Dreamers, TPS holders and farmworkers.
The House also voted to extend the Paycheck Protection Program until May 31 and gives the Small Business Administration an additional 30 days to process loans.
Texans will have until June 15, 2021, to file various individual and business tax returns and make tax payments, as a result of the last month’s winter storm.