How the end of Texas’ legislative session will impact you

Texas

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The 87th legislative session will conclude Monday, so now many are wondering how the actions taken by Texas lawmakers will impact them, their communities, health care, schools and much more.

The effects of the legislation passed this year will be the focus of Capitol Closeout, a live-streamed conversation happening Thursday evening. Josh Hinkle, host of the weekly politics program “State of Texas,” and KXAN Live anchor Will DuPree will lead the discussion.

Nexstar’s Capitol correspondents Wes Rapaport and Maggie Glynn along with KXAN’s politics reporter John Engel will join the conversation to break down some of the most consequential decisions made by lawmakers.

State budget

State legislators came into this session facing a massive budget shortfall based partly on challenges from the economic downtown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, they announced a compromise this week on a nearly $247 billion budget, which one lawmaker said would be a balanced budget.

“We kept the commitment we made last session to public education and then some,” State Rep. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, explained. “This budget maintains our commitment to education, meets our obligations to vulnerable Texans, strengthens public safety and funds many other priorities — all within our constitutional spending limits and population times inflation.”

However, experts said the state will see funding gaps in other areas.

For example, the spending plan did not make up for losses that state-owned higher education institutions experienced last year when they had to cut their budgets during the pandemic. DeLuna Castro with Invest in Texas previously told KXAN those institutions may push the costs to students in the form of tuition hikes.

“If universities think they have to respond by raising tuition, that will really be a growing burden for students that may already find college unaffordable,” Castro said.

State lawmakers will reconvene sometime in the fall for a special legislative session called by Gov. Greg Abbott, where they’ll help decide how the state will spend nearly $16 billion in coronavirus relief funds. Additionally, they’ll meet for a separate session about redistricting.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick publicly pitched the idea Wednesday to hold a third special session this summer after three of his legislative priorities related to transgender student-athletes, lobbying and social media respectively failed to meet key deadlines.

Abbott issued a response signaling he’s not yet committed to following through with that proposal.

“Some are trying to end the game before the time clock has run out. There’s still time remaining for the House and Senate to work together to get important conservative legislation to my desk. Members in both chambers need to be spending every minute of every day to accomplish that mission,” the governor wrote in a statement.

Abbott is also expected to release which budget line items he’ll veto at some point during the summer.

February’s winter storms

Deadly winter storms in February interrupted the legislators’ work and forced more upon them, as possible reforms to better stabilize the state power grid and avoid long-lasting blackouts due to extreme weather became a new legislative priority.

The Texas House spent roughly four hours earlier this week debating more than two-dozen changes to Senate Bill 3, formally passing the legislation Monday morning.

SB 3 would require electricity providers operating on the grid managed by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, to weatherize their equipment. The rules would be set by the Public Utility Commission six months after the law takes effect.

The plan to reform the grid tackles three main objectives “from wellhead to light switch,” according to State Rep. Chris Paddie, R-Marshall, who led the House effort.

“And that is oversight and accountability, communication failures, which we saw throughout the system, and weatherization — to ensure that these facilities, both utility and natural gas facilities are prepared for these extreme weather events and will be able to continue to function and do the job that they are supposed to do,” Marshall said.

The bill creates a state advisory committee to decide what aspects of the gas industry are essential to feeding power generators. The Railroad Commission would develop rules for the weatherization of gas wells and mapping out critical infrastructure in the gas industry.

SB 3 would also create a statewide power outage alert system. The legislation includes a provision requiring the Texas Division of Emergency Management to post on its website a list of essential supplies needed during various disaster scenarios to help Texans prepare for emergency situations.

SB 3 would also create a statewide power outage alert system. The legislation includes a provision requiring the Texas Division of Emergency Management to post on its website a list of essential supplies needed during various disaster scenarios to help Texans prepare for emergency situations.

The legislation was sent back to the Senate where the chamber will either agree on the House changes, or key lawmakers from each chamber will iron out the differences behind the scenes.

Local control

Most of this legislative session defied concepts of local control after Texas Republicans spent much of the 2020 campaign running against decisions made by Democratic city leaders.

Arguably the biggest encroachment came in the form of two bills passed by the legislature to punish cities that cut police department budgets. These moves happened as a direct response to the Austin City Council’s reform of the police budget last year.

House Bill 1900 is a proposal that would freeze property taxes in cities with more than 250,000 residents that reduce police funding from the previous year — while redirecting sales tax revenue to the Texas Department of Public Safety. It cleared its final hurdle in the Texas Legislature on Monday.

Senate Bill 23 would require Texas counties with more than 1 million people — there are six that qualify, including Travis County — to hold an election before being able to cut police funding. The House granted final approval to the bill on Tuesday, but the Senate will have to approve changes that were made in the lower chamber.

Both proposals should soon head to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk to be signed into law.

Additionally, state lawmakers rebuked Austin’s strategy of dealing with homelessness by passing a statewide camping ban. This week the Senate made some changes to House Bill 1925, which passed in the lower chamber earlier this month. One amendment – in direct response to the City of Austin – would block local governments from using parks as temporary shelters.

The City of Austin identified 45 potential locations for designated homeless campsites on city-owned property, which include some parks. The options were presented in response to the reinstated camping ban brought forward by the passing of Proposition B.

Health care

After a marathon day debating legislation with the end of session deadlines looming, the Texas Senate approved a measure early Thursday morning to increase Medicaid coverage for new mothers.

The committee substitute to House Bill 133 would raise Medicaid coverage for new Texas moms to six months after the birth of her baby. Currently, two months are covered. The bill passed out of the Senate in a 30-1 vote.

The legislation returns to the House for approval before it can advance to the Governor’s desk.

Democrats also had high hopes heading into this session that they’d finally be able to get Medicaid expansion across the finish line, especially of inequities revealed more prominently by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, that effort went nowhere in the GOP-led legislature.

2022 election impact

Texas Republican legislators passed bills this session related to several of their most contentious priorities, including guns and abortion.

During a ceremony with dozens of lawmakers on May 21, Gov. Abbott signed Senate Bill 8 into law, which is also known as the “heartbeat bill.” It prohibits abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected. Several abortion rights groups are already promising to challenge the law in court.

The governor is also expected to sign a bill into law soon that would allow Texans over the age of 21 to carry a firearm without any license or training. Under the legislation, individuals with a misdemeanor or felony conviction for unlawfully carrying a firearm would also have those convictions expunged from their record. Someone convicted for felony unlawful carrying of a weapon would be able to own a firearm again once their conviction is expunged.

These pieces of legislation will undoubtedly play into the upcoming campaign season for the 2022 elections. Republicans will use them to tout their conservative credentials and attempt to maintain their control on the state legislature in both chambers.

In the past, Democrats tried to use previous sessions that were equally, or more, divisive as part of their push to take control. However, those attempts have so far fallen flat, leaving the GOP with most of the decision-making power in Texas.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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