Countdown To Sine Die: Senator Nelson Bill Status Report

May 22, 2015

With 10 days left in the 84th Regular Session of the Texas Legislature, several pieces of legislation by Senator Jane Nelson are working their way to the governor's desk.

"The finish line is within our sights, but there is still work left to be done," said Senator Nelson. "We are finalizing a responsible budget that meets our needs, makes smart investments and continues the policies of fiscal responsibility that will take our state to even greater heights. We are also finishing our work on a major tax relief package, contracting reforms and the re-organization of our health and human services agencies."

Following is a report on Senator Nelson's legislation and its status in the legislative process:

State Appropriations Bill: HB 1, the state appropriations bill, is the only bill the Legislature is required to pass each session and provides the funding for all state agencies and programs. "Our state budget will responsibly meet our growing needs while addressing our priority issues including increasing funding for education, securing our border and addressing our transportation needs. This is the only bill we have to pass all session, and I am confident we will complete our work and produce a budget worthy of the citizens of Texas." Status: Approved by Conference Committee

Property Tax Relief: SB 1 increases the homestead exemption for school district property taxes from $15,000 to $25,000, providing $1.2 billion in property tax relief over the biennium for Texas homeowners. "Our economy is producing sufficient revenue to meet our needs and return a substantial portion of those dollars back to the taxpayers. I see this as an investment in our economy that will make sure we continue to have jobs and opportunities for our citizens." Status: Approved by House Ways & Means Committee

Franchise Tax Relief: HB 32 reduces the franchise tax on Texas businesses by 25 percent, increases the revenue threshold for businesses to use the E-Z rate from $10 million to $20 million and reduces the E-Z rate from .575 percent to .331 percent. It would provide $2.56 billion in tax relief to businesses over the biennium. "For our economy to continue to thrive, for businesses to grow and for jobs to be created, we have to support our businesses. This is a smart investment, not just for our economy but also for young Texans to grow up in a state with jobs and opportunities." Status: Approved by Senate Finance Committee.

Zero-Based Budgeting: HB 5 requires that state agencies undergo a zero-based budgeting review at the same time they are undergoing sunset review. "This bill will ensure that the budgets of our state agencies undergo a deep scrubbing on a rotating basis. These fiscal reviews are important because they will make sure that taxpayer dollars are being used responsibly and that we are achieving our intended results." Status: In Conference Committee.

General Revenue Dedicated Account Reform: HB 7 reduces the state's reliance on General Revenue-Dedicated accounts for budget certification, increasing transparency in the budget process and ensuring fees are spent on intended purposes. "When we dedicate revenue for specific purposes, those funds should be put to use as intended – not stashed away in reserves. This bill will reduce our reliance on dedicated accounts and provide for greater transparency in the budget process." Status: Passed by Senate as Amended.

Graduate Medical Education: SB 18 addresses Texas' medical workforce needs by expanding graduate medical education in our state. "A strong health care workforce is key to a healthy Texas, and this bill will help ensure that Texas-trained doctors are able to finish their training and continue their careers in Texas. By working towards a goal of a 1.1 to 1 ratio of residency slots for medical school graduates, we will not only retain our own graduates, but also attract graduates from other states to help meet shortages in regions and critical specialties." Status: Passed by House as Amended. 

State Contracting Reform: SB 20 reforms state contracting practices and strengthen contract oversight across state government. "Texas citizens rely on state contracts to receive services they need, and we must ensure that those contracts are awarded fairly and transparently. Both houses of the Texas Legislature have unanimously approved this legislation. Clearly, we are committed to reforming state contracting practices this session." Status: In Conference Committee.

Veterans Mental Health Grant Program: SB 55 creates a grant program at the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) to support community programs for veterans mental health. "While Texas has several programs to help veterans, the program created in SB 55 is truly unique because the state will partner with communities and the private sector. We will be able to tailor these programs to the needs of each community. More importantly, we will be helping our fighting men and women heal from the psychological wounds of war." Status: In Conference Committee.

Texas Council on Family Violence Funding: SB 59 ensures that funds appropriated to help family violence victims reach Texas shelters more efficiently. "Our shelters should not have to go through this much bureaucratic red tape in order to receive the funding they need to assist victims of domestic violence. I want to ensure that the funding we approve reaches these organizations swiftly and efficiently." Status: On House Local Calendar.

Child Advocacy Center Clarification: SB 60 aligns Child Advocacy Center (CAC) statutes with current best practices, clarifies that victim interviews can be conducted offsite and prohibits the distribution of victim interviews to unauthorized parties. "By ensuring our laws line up with current practices, we will strengthen our ability to protect and help child victims of abuse." Status: Sent to Governor.

Health and Human Services Sunset: SB 200 is the Sunset legislation for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, and reorganizes Texas' five health and human services agencies. "Our number one goal with this realignment is to make it easier for citizens to navigate what is currently a broken system that no longer reflects the reality of how we deliver services. Senate Bill 200 creates a more efficient enterprise with a clearly defined point of entry that will better meet the needs of our most vulnerable citizens." Status: On House Major State 5/24.

Department of State Health Services Sunset: SB 202 is the Sunset legislation for the Department of State Health Services (DSHS), which eliminates unneeded regulation and allows DSHS to squarely focus on its core public health mission. "This agency – which oversees behavioral health, public health, vital records, professional licensing and a range of other functions – is suffering from competing priorities. This legislation will help to restore the Department's most important mission of protecting our public health." Status: On House Major State Calendar 5/24.

Texas Health Services Authority Sunset: SB 203 is the Sunset legislation for the Texas Health Services Authority (THSA), which would continue THSA as a state agency for six years before allowing it to function as a private non-profit entity. "The Texas Health Services Authority has been a very successful private-public partnership and has greatly helped the healthcare industry transition into electronic health records. I have no doubt it will continue its success as a private organization." Status: Signed by the Governor.

Cremation Waiver: SB 292 authorizes physicians to waive the 48-hour waiting period for cremation to assist grieving families who wish to cremate loved ones within 48 hours. "This bill protects religious freedoms and eliminates unnecessary red tape for grieving families who wish to mourn in accordance with their beliefs." Status: Sent to Governor.

Camelot Landfill: HB 281 states that, in addition to going through the normal process at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, a city-owned landfill located entirely within another municipality's jurisdiction must obtain the consent of that municipality in order to expand. "My constituents believe – and I agree wholeheartedly – that it is profoundly unfair to have one city's will imposed upon another concerning a landfill within its own jurisdiction." Status: Approved by Senate Natural Resources Committee.

Respectful Burial: HB 635 ensures parents who have experienced a miscarriage have the option to give their child a respectful burial, regardless of the age of the fetus. "Every parent who experiences a miscarriage should have the opportunity to provide their child with a respectful burial." Status: Approved by Senate Health and Human Services Committee.

Mondragon Highway: HB 1044 names a segment of FM 423 in Denton County the U.S. Army Sergeant Enrique Mondragon Memorial Highway, to honor U.S. Army Sergeant Enrique Mondragon who died in Afghanistan in the line of duty in 2012. "I hope this memorial will serve as a reminder to the residents of Denton County of the ultimate sacrifice our troops make to secure our liberty and freedom." Status: Approved by Senate Transportation Committee.

Tuition Reimbursement: HB 3337 requires a state agency to establish rules for employee tuition reimbursement payments, increasing transparency and accountability for tuition reimbursement payments for state employees. "While state employees should have professional development opportunities, there needs to be more transparency and clear policies in place on how employees are reimbursed." Status: Sent to Governor.

The Texas Legislature will continue to meet until Sine Die on June 1. All bills must pass the House or Senate by 11:59 pm on May 27. To search legislation, visit the Texas Legislature online at www.capitol.state.tx.us.

EDITOR'S NOTE: All quotes in the capsules above are attributable to Senator Nelson.