AUSTIN — Today the Texas Legislature adjourned sine die for the 87th Regular Legislative Session, sending over 1,000 bills to Governor Greg Abbott's desk, including legislation authored by Texas State Senator Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound.
Senator Nelson passed more than 30 bills this session. Here are the highlights:
State Appropriations Bill: SB 1, the appropriations bill, was approved overwhelmingly in both chambers. It establishes the state's funding priorities for the next two years. "Never underestimate Texas! Despite the challenges of the past year, we are passing a budget that maintains our commitment to education, keeps Texans healthy, strengthens public safety and invests in our future while adhering to the principles of fiscal restraint. That's a testament to the resilience of our people, our businesses and our economy," Senator Nelson, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, said. "This budget is compassionate, responsible and meets the needs of our growing state."
Unemployment Compensation Fund Fix: HB 7, sponsored by Senator Nelson, protects businesses from a major increase in unemployment taxes amid the pandemic. The tax is recalculated annually based on the number of layoffs that have occurred. HB 7 exempts disaster-related unemployment from the calculation, which will give the state more time to consider ways to address the Unemployment Compensation Trust Fund, which was depleted in June. "Employers should not be punished for layoffs that occurred because of the pandemic and the corresponding economic downturn," Senator Nelson said. "At a time when our businesses are working so hard to reopen and rehire, we cannot allow them to face a dramatic tax increase, and HB 7 will prevent that from happening." The bill was signed into law by Governor Greg Abbott and is effective immediately.
Appraisal Reform: SB 63 reforms the governance of appraisal boards, establishes term limits for board members and expedites taxpayer exemption application decisions. "Last session we made significant strides towards ensuring a more transparent property appraisal system," Senator Nelson said. "This bill will improve public confidence in the appraisal system by ensuring transparency and making the process more taxpayer-friendly."
Law Enforcement Peer Network: SB 64 creates a peer-to-peer counseling network and increases access to licensed mental health providers for Texas Law Enforcement Officers. The bill is funded at $1M in the state budget. “Those working in law enforcement are at increasingly higher risk of suicide, depression or other mental health challenges. Because officers are more likely to open up to their colleagues, we believe this peer support program will save lives, ”Senator Nelson said.
Animal Welfare: SB 197 provides a sales tax exemption for purchases from nonprofit animal welfare organizations that rely on foster homes to care for displaced animals. Currently the Tax Code exempts organizations that operate an animal shelter facility from collecting sales tax. SB 197 extends that same exemption to rescue groups that operate through a network of foster homes rather than a facility. "The spirit of this law was to exempt rescue organizations as they work to find forever homes for stray animals. This is the right thing todo and will help connect more animals to people who will love and care for them," Senator Nelson said.
Retired Officer Certification: SB 198 makes it easier for retired officers to fulfill the firearms qualification requirement of their Texas Commission on Law Enforcement license. Current law requires retired officers to complete their weapons qualification at the law enforcement agency from which they retired. SB198 allows them to work through any certified license-to-carry instructor. "Backing the blue is a lifetime commitment, and we stand by both our retired and active duty officers," Senator Nelson said.
AED Liability& Training Reform: SB 199 extends current liability protections for the use of automated external defibrillator (AED) by businesses and property owners. The bill also extends civil liability protections to any person or entity that owns, occupies, manages, or is responsible for an AED, unless they did not comply with requirements in statute or were willfully negligent. Senator Nelson passed legislation in previous sessions that extended Good Samaritan protections to lay persons and expanded the presence of AEDs in state buildings, gyms, malls, airports and other businesses. "AEDs are easy to use and have proven to save lives — even before trained first responders reach the scene," Senator Nelson said. "SB 199 furthers Texas' efforts to expand access to AEDs by alleviating burdensome regulations and protecting Good Samaritans."
Cybersecurity &Public Data Privacy: SB 475 provides the state with more tools to prevent and respond to cyber incidents, while increasing security and standards for handling Texan's personal data. "As we have seen with recent data breaches, the bad actors are becoming more sophisticated in their attacks and are a clear and present danger to Texas. We must stay ahead of the threat."
Sexual Assault Response Teams: SB 476 directs the establishment of Sexual Assault Response Teams, multi-disciplinary teams that collaborate on sexual assault cases. "When sexual assault occurs, we need to bring all resources to bear. This bill will ensure that law enforcement coordinates with social workers, counselors and other professionals to meet the holistic needs of sexual assault victims." In addition, SB 1, the appropriations act authored by Senator Nelson, provides $29.6 million for rape crisis centers, an increase of$4.7 million over the current budget. SB 476 is on the Governor's desk.
Wayfair Clean-up: SB 477 aligns the Tax Code so that collection requirements for marketplace providers are in line with those applicable to other types of sellers. Senator Nelson sponsored legislation last session allowing Texas to collect online sales tax in compliance with the Supreme Court's Wayfair decision. "This is a cleanup bill to update the work we did last session on online sales tax collections — which has proven to be acritical component of our fiscal resilience in the face of the ongoing pandemic," Senator Nelson said.
Document Access for Domestic Violence: SB 798 allows survivors of domestic violence to obtain a new birth certificate and a state ID at no cost if needed. "Survivors of domestic violence may not have time to grab personal identification documents when fleeing dangerous living situations. SB 798 makes it easier to obtain the appropriate documents — at no cost — so they can focus on healing and moving forward." The bill was sent to the Governor.
Contracting Cleanup: SB 799cleans up procurement statutes to simplify training for state agency employees and, in some circumstances, provides greater flexibility for agencies to streamline the contracting process. "This is a clean-up bill to align statute with our state budget, standardize contracting thresholds and improve procurement training across state government," Senator Nelson said.
Obsolete Reports: SB 800streamlines agency reporting requirements. This legislation repeals obsolete reports, reduces the frequency of some reports, and redirects certain reports to relevant recipients. "Agencies should be focusing their time, energy and taxpayer dollars on serving the people of Texas — not producing reports that no one reads. This bill streamlines resources by eliminating redundant or obsolete reporting requirements."
DFW Airport Security: SB1550 clarifies that airport governing boards, including a joint airport board, are authorized to appoint commissioned peace officers with the same privileges of all other commissioned peace officers. "The security of the millions of travelers and commuters at Texas airports is of the utmost importance. SB 1550will help keep our airports safe," Senator Nelson said.
Department of Public Safety Windshields: SB 2222 provides bullet resistant windshields for Department of Public Safety (DPS) patrol vehicles. Senator Nelson filed this bill in response to the 500% increase in attacks on DPS officers over the past two years. "Texas sent a clear message when it passed SB 2222," Senator Nelson said. "We refuse to stand by while our troopers are being ambushed!"
Sexual Assault Survivors' Task Force: Sponsored by Senator Nelson, HB2706 increases access to resources for survivors of sexual assault. Enacting recommendations made by the Sexual Assault Survivors' Task Force, the bill expands access to forensic medical exams and clarifies the reimbursement process. It further codifies the state's commitment to survivors by removing the word "alleged" when referencing a sexual assault or other sex offense within state statute. "Texas stands with survivors of sexual assault," Senator Nelson said. "Expanding access to Sexual Assault Forensic Exams will help deliver justice to survivors across our state."
All legislation from the 87th Regular Legislative Session can be found at www.capitol.state.tx.us.
SENATOR JANE NELSON represents District 12,including portions of Tarrant and Denton Counties. She is Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and the highest-ranking Republican in the Texas Senate.
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