Making Sausage in the 85th Texas Legislative Session

Published on: 04 Aug, 2017
Making Sausage in the 85th Texas Legislative Session
Making Sausage in the 85th Texas Legislative Session
John Crutchfield III
President & CEO,
Greater Killeen Chamber of Commerce
 
“One thing I have learned – and I have said this to Republicans and Democrats – is, bees cannot sting and make honey at the same time. They have to make a choice. Either they are going to be a stinger or a honey-maker, and I contend that honey is a symbol of legislation and, the nuclear language used by members is the stinger, and you can’t do both.” Emmanuel Cleaver
 
The 85th Legislative Session came to a close just after noon on Monday, May 29, 2017. Later in the week, Governor Abbott called a Special Session, to begin on July 18, limited to those items he put on the call. A list of those items is included as a side bar to this article.
 
The Regular Session, just concluded, received a lot of media attention for the frequent use of nuclear language by participants. Legislative success depends on your point of view. Our point of view is that of the business community. Legislative success can mean passing legislation favorable to business. It can also mean killing legislation unfavorable to business. Despite media coverage, there was a great deal that happened during the session to ensure that employers can provide jobs and paychecks to Texans.
 
Here are examples of legislation that passed that will help business.
  • $26.6 billion was approved in all funds to the Texas Department of Transportation.
  • $86 million was approved for the Texas Enterprise Fund and $22 million was approved for film and music incentives.
  • The use of current telemedicine technology was expanded.
  • The current mediation statute was expanded to include all out-of-network hospital-based providers and freestanding ERs protecting consumers from “balance bill shock”.
  • The hailstorm litigation process was reformed.
  • Funds were provided for the development of brackish groundwater resources.
  • Funds were provided to support desalination efforts and expedited water right amendments.
  • In a sign of the times, cybersecurity for state information sources was improved and penalties for cybercrime were increased.
 
Here are just a few pieces of legislation that were killed that would have hurt business.
  • Bills that would have hindered business’ ability to attract, recruit and retain talent and tarnish Texas’ reputation as open and friendly.
  • Bills that would have required businesses to release proprietary information if they have contracts with government entities, thus exposing trade secret information and placing the business at a disadvantage with competitors.
  • Legislation that would have reversed the exemption of nonprofits from state open record laws and could have imposed “governmental body” status on chambers of commerce and economic development corporations.
  • Legislation that would have repealed Chapter 313 agreements.
 
There are always issues that should be addressed during the session that, for some reason, stay off the legislative radar. In this session, one of those issues was the Hazelwood Act. This is a State of Texas benefit that provides qualified Veterans, spouses and dependent children with an education benefit of up to 150 hours of tuition exemption, including most fee charges, at public institutions of higher education. The benefit has been constantly expanded over the years. The problem is that the state pays none of the expense. Cost are borne by non-exempt students. At this point, the program is driving up the cost of higher education and is becoming unsustainable. It is an issue that must be addressed sooner rather than later.
 
Funding for education was pretty much cut across the board. This could have significant long-term implications on our ability to develop our economy locally. KISD continues to experience growth and challenges to Impact Aid funding. CTC is a growing community college experience reduction in world-wide revenues due to reductions in military spending. TAMUCT is a developing university trying to grow and, importantly for us, development research capabilities to incubate emerging technologies. While these funding issues will not be addressed during the Special Session, they will likely be addressed by Interim Committees before the next 86th Session. Elements of our community are going to have to aggressively engage these committees to earn a different outcome in two years.
 
The upcoming Special Session can last no longer than thirty days. As mentioned, there are a long list of items on the call. All of them are controversial or, it stands to reason, would have been addressed during the Regular Session. One suspects that the chances of a satisfactory resolution to each item during the first Special Session are slim. If that proves to be the case, it might be a while before the remained of the sausage gets made.