In this issue of Legislative Advocacy Today, we will provide updates on the Special Session of the 83rd Legislature, a brief recap of the 83rd Regular Session, and some links from around the Web.

 Legislative Advocacy Today serves to inform Irving residents and businesses about current legislative and public policy issues that impact the greater Irving community. The Greater Irving-Las Colinas Chamber’s Legislative Advocacy Team fights for economic freedom and pro-business legislation at all levels of government.

Special Session

Less than an hour after adjournment of the 83rd Regular Session, Governor Perry issued a call for a Special Session to deal with the issue of redistricting.

Perry’s call for the session lists only enacting “legislation which ratifies and adopts the interim redistricting plans ordered by the federal district court as the permanent plans for districts used to elect members of the Texas House of Representatives, Texas Senate and United States House of Representatives.”

Attorney General Greg Abbott and Republican leaders look to move quickly to approve state and congressional maps that a federal court put in place last year. Democrats believe that the maps are discriminatory and should be invalidated.

As it stands now, the most interesting question on redistricting remains unanswered: Is the special session confined to simply ratifying the interim maps or may the legislature amend them and pass what they want?

Meanwhile, House redistricting hearings are being held in select locations around the state, including a hearing in Dallas on June 6. You can read about it here.

We will continue to monitor this issue and keep you updated as things progress in the House and Senate.

Many analysts believe that the maps will pass quickly, with additional issues like abortion, drug testing for welfare recipients, and guns on campus likely being added to the special session.

What’s So Special? (hat tip: Christy Hoppe, The Dallas Morning News)

The Legislature meets in regular session for 140 days every other year. In the interim, only the governor can call a special session. Here’s how it works:

  • A special session is limited to topics determined by the governor. Lawmakers can work on other issues, but to pass bills, they must persuade the governor to add the topic to his list.
  • The Legislature operates with the same officers and committees, unless lawmakers decide to change them. But rules can be different. In the Senate, that’s key, as the rule requiring that two-thirds of senators support a bill for it to be considered is abandoned.
  • Sessions can last up to 30 days but are often shorter. A governor can call endless back-to-back special sessions.
  • A 30-day session is estimated to cost the state about $1.3 million.
  • This will be the 10th special session Perry has called in more than 12 years as governor.

June 26 is the last day of the 30-day special session, unless it ends early.  

Highlights: 83rd Regular Session

The 83rd Regular Session of the Texas Legislature ended quietly, with mixed results for Texas businesses.

Governor Perry has until June 16 to sign or veto bills passed during the legislative session. If the Governor does not act, bills passed become law without his signature.

Budget

A balanced budget, as required by the Texas Constitution, was passed by the House and Senate. The 2014-2015 budget bill was approved by a vote of 118-29.

According to State Representative Linda Harper-Brown, the budget accomplished three significant goals: (1) it did not exceed the constitutional spending limit; (2) it preserved the Rainy Day Fund; and (3) it did not raise taxes. The budget bill also restored deep cuts to education made during the 82nd Session and it provided $1.2 billion in tax relief.

Tax Relief

HB 500

HB 500, the major franchise tax relief bill of the session, passed and is waiting to be signed into law by the Governor. HB 500 cuts the tax rate for the franchise tax by 2.5 percent in 2014 and 5 percent in 2015. The second year tax cut is dependent on state funds being available. The bill also makes permanent a $1 million exemption for small businesses that have less than $1 million in gross receipts. Under HB 500, a business would deduct the greater of $1 million, 30% of total revenue, cost of goods sold, or compensation from total revenue.

HB 500 also allows businesses to deduct up to $1 million in expenses once they pass $1 million in gross receipts.

HB 800

HB 800 provides much-needed tax relief to companies that invest in research and development. HB 800 gives tax incentives to companies who do qualified research and development in Texas, or who buy depreciable R&D equipment. Prior to HB 800, Texas was one of only seven states that did not provide a R&D credit.

HB 500 and HB 800 will greatly improve the tax climate for Texas businesses. The Greater Irving-Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce is proud to have supported these important bills, and we look forward to continuing our efforts to reform the tax code to make it a simpler, fairer code for all taxpayers.

HB 1133

HB 1133 provides a limited tax exemption for businesses that provide telecommunications, Internet, and cable television services. This bill is critical for economic development in Texas, and the Chamber is proud to have advocated for its passage in the House and Senate.   

Transportation

Unfortunately, transportation funding was not adequately addressed during the 83rd Session. Prior to the session, there was much talk of the need to find a reliable revenue source for transportation infrastructure. Executive Director of TxDOT, Phil Wilson, told lawmakers that the agency needed $4 billion a year just to maintain current congestion. Numerous legislative proposals to deal with transportation failed to pass the House or Senate. In all, the final budget deal included $400 million in gas tax dollars for TxDOT that had in the past gone to the Department of Public Safety.

The Greater Irving-Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce believes that transportation and infrastructure funding are critical to economic development in Texas. And we join with the Texas Association of Business (TAB) in urging Governor Perry to add transportation funding to his call for a Special Session.

The Greater Irving-Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce supports SJR 2, filed by Senator Tommy Williams and Senator Robert Nichols. SJR 2 has already been filed and is waiting to be heard by a committee.

SJR 2 would dedicate half of future dollars that would go into the state’s Rainy Day Fund to transportation projects. SJR 2 is a constitutional amendment that would need to be approved by Texas voters in the November 5th constitutional amendment election.

By dedicating money that would normally go to the Rainy Day Fund to pay for transportation projects, SJR 2 would reduce the need to go into further debt to fund new roads.

Water

One of the signature achievements of the 83rd Session was the passage of HB 4. HB 4 authorizes $2 billion to start a revolving water fund to ensure that Texas has adequate water supplies for the next 50 years.

HB 4, SJR 1, and HB 1025 represent a package of historic pieces of water legislation that fund water infrastructure in a fiscally responsible manner and help to provide water for generations of Texans.

SJR 1 proposes two dedicated funds for projects within the Statewide Water Plan. SJR 1 is a constitutional amendment that requires voter approval in the November 5th constitutional amendment election. If approved by voters, SJR 1 would allow the state of Texas the ability to provide low-interest loans for regional water projects in Texas. The loans would generate revenue to go back to the accounts to be loaned out again in the future.

The Greater Irving-Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce strongly supports SJR 1, and we look forward to joining the statewide campaign to educate voters about the importance of passing SJR 1 in November.

Education

HB 5, which changes the graduation requirements for Texas high school students, passed and was sent to the Governor’s desk. HB 5 reduces the number of end-of-year course exams from 15 to 5 needed to graduate from high school.

HB 5 replaces the current 4×4 plan, which required four years of math, science, social studies, and English. Now, students will have more flexible options-a so-called “endorsement pathway”-that includes Business & Industry Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). These options provide choices for students who may not be college bound.

SB 2 provides for significant charter school reform in Texas. SB 2 lifts the cap on the number of charter schools in Texas from 215 to 275 and provides for greater charter school accountability.

Links from around the Web

The New York Times has an interesting profile of Tom Donohue, President and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. You can find it here.

90-year-old Congressman Ralph Hall shows no signs of slowing down.

Speaker Joe Straus says House had a successful session.

Perry open to expanding special session agenda.

Analysis: Lawmakers not out of the woods on school finance.

Houston Chronicle: This session’s winners and losers in education.

Congressional Democrats ask Perry to add Medicaid expansion to special session call.

Large, small businesses have different take on legislative session.

Interactive: Bills Sent to the Governor.

Interactive: Special Sessions, 1971 to now.

Legislative Reference Library of Texas: FAQs about Special Session. 

To subscribe to Legislative Advocacy Today, email jsimon@irvingchamber.com.

 Twitter users – follow @IrvingProBiz for updates from Austin and Washington, DC
Print Friendly