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Legislative update: 4/23/21

The biggest action to come out of Austin this week was the marathon debate in the House of SB 1, the Senate’s proposed two-year budget as amended by the House Appropriations Committee.
More than 240 amendments to the bill were proposed, some adopted, and many put in a holding place for unfunded by desired expenditures.  In the end, the $246.8 billion budget as amended was approved unanimously and sent back to the Senate.

Despite strong support from the business community, an amendment focused on expanding Medicaid failed. It would have allowed Gov. Greg Abbott and the Texas Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services to design a 1115 waiver that would capture federal dollars and reduce the number of uninsured Texans. With the recent passage of the U.S. American Rescue Plan Act, Texas could receive a gain of $3.9 billion if the state will expand Medicaid.

With an eye on the May 31 session deadline, House members voted 147 to 0 to require a special session of the Legislature to appropriate billions in federal funds coming to Texas, not leaving it in the hands the governor.

One successful amendment barred spending state funds on school vouchers, educational savings accounts or tax credit scholarships to send kids to private schools. In addition, another approved amendment requires federal relief dollars for education must supplement, not supplant, state financial support.

Republican lawmakers successfully pulled $145 million of general purpose state revenue from film, music and video game production subsidies and the Texas Enterprise Fund.  However, those actions are not expected to endure in the final version of the bill that will be sent to the Governor.

In other news, the Senate Transportation Committee held a hearing on HB 5, the broadband expansion bill.  The Committee substituted the Senate version of the bill and voted it out of Committee with a recommendation it go on the Local and Uncontested Calendar.  The Senate previously unanimously approved its version of the broadband bill. The final version will eventually go to conference committee to work out the House and Senate differences.

Lawmakers passed a “fix” for the school finance bill passed in 2019.  The $330 million bill includes reworking the fast-growth allotment; creating a tiered system for funding successively harder CTE courses; and reworking the teacher incentive pay in a way that provides additional funding for districts considered property-wealthy under the school finance system.

The Senate Higher Education Committee heard testimony in favor of SB 1622, which is the identical companion to HB 3767. Both bills make permanent the temporary, collaborative work of the Texas Education Agency, the Texas Workforce Commission, and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board over the last few years. Under this initiative, the three entities are required to:
•         Identify statewide workforce goals, including goals for the attainment of living wage jobs. This will hold the state accountable and keep all agencies pulling in the same direction.
•         Designate career pathways for occupations aligned with current workforce needs and for forecasted high-growth careers and skills.
•         Evaluate career education and training programs across Texas based on the workforce outcomes of program participants to ensure transparency and accountability in how the state spends its workforce dollars.
Washington, D.C.
On Capitol Hill, bipartisan discussions continue on Pres. Joe Biden’s infrastructure bill. Some lawmakers want a smaller increase in the corporate tax rate as well as changes to the size and scope of the overall package.

PSA: Just week ago, people were desperate to find a Covid-19 vaccination appointment. Now, the country is reaching a point of supply outpacing demand. So, vaccinations are much easier and quicker to obtain, meaning far fewer lines. So, if you haven’t had yours…..

For the latest on the Biden administration's executive actions, click here.
Public Policy events…pull from last week.
Washington D.C. Fly-in April 27-29
The all-virtual Washington, D.C., Federal Legislative Policy Briefing is scheduled for April. 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.
Tuesday, April 27th
8:00 - 9:00 a.m. - Introduction with Ron Eidshaug, VP and Chief of Staff, Government Affairs, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
12:00-12:30 p.m. CST - Rep. Van Taylor, Serves on the House Committee on Financial Services
1:30 - 2:00 p.m. CST – Sen. Ted Cruz, Serves on the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation, Committee on the Judiciary, Committee on Foreign Relations and the Joint Economic Committee
2:00 - 2:30 p.m. CST - Kirk Burgee, Chief of Staff - Wireline Competition Bureau, Federal Communication Commission
Wednesday, April 28th
11 - 11:30 a.m. CST - Se Sen. nator John Cornyn, Serves on the Senate Committee on Finance, Committee on the Judiciary, Select Committee on Intelligence
Thursday, April 29th
9:30 - 10:00 a.m. CST - Rep. Pete Sessions, Serves on the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, Committee on Science, Space and Technology
City Council Candidate Forum archived videos
The Chamber hosted a Richardson City Council Candidate Forum this week. Kyle Kepner and Joe Corcoran are running for Place 4. Daniel Burdette, Marilyn Frederick and Arefin Shamsul are running for Place 6. The forum gave 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.
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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