Looking Back, Looking Forward
A weekly update of what just happened and what's ahead in the Lege.
updated Feb. 27
Feb. 27 - Mar. 5
Many Committees will be meeting (some for the first time) this week. Now is still a great time to watch a committee's Organizational Meeting. These set the tone for future meetings and can give you an idea of how a particular committee will be run (especially of interest if there's a new chair, and there are many this session). Check out the Video Archives, typically listed below the current meetings on the "Video Broadcasts" page for each Chamber on TX Lege Online's homepage.
Monday, Senate State Affairs meetings will have five guardianship bills that CTD and the Guardianship Reform and Supported Decision Making (GRSDM) workgroup supports and helped write.
The Tribune is also holding a conversation with Public Ed Committee chairman Rep. Dan Huberty. We expect a lot about special education. Rep. Huberty is a special education champion and might give us details about the type of bills he wants to see move through the House Public Education Committee.
Feb. 20 - Feb. 26
Holiday Schmoliday. Monday was President's Day, and while most of the Legislators were still in district, House Appropriations started on time at 7:30 a.m. As they did every day for the remaining week.
Later in the week, CTD testified before the House Appropriations subcommittee on Article II (Health and Human Services) better known as the HAC. Dennis and Chase testified on the personal attendant wage crisis, and Chase spoke about fully funding important items such as Comprehensive Rehab Services and other programs that have either been left of out the biennial budget or are underfunded.
Most of the non-budget committees focused on the Department of Family Protective Services (DFPS) and various Priority Bills.
The full Senate and House met on the floor most days to assign bills to their (sometimes surprising) committees and to pass resolutions.
A great way to see what's coming up in committees is to...
- Go to TX Lege Online.
- Select the "Meetings for Date" for the chamber you are interested in.
- Click the date to see the listings and meeting agendas.
- Plan your trip to the Capitol, and don't forget breakfast tacos.
To review what's already happened in committee...
- All hearings are archived and can be reviewed here for the House and here for the Senate.
- After every floor meeting, the minutes (even though they are not called that) are posted online. The Senate employs the Senate Research Center which calls the minutes a journal and the House (just to be different) employs the House Research Organization (HRO), which has a nifty calendar to access the House Floor Report.
- Finally, don’t miss a Committee's Organizational Meeting. These set the tone for future meetings and can give you a great indication of how a particular committee will be run (especially of interest if there's a new chair, and there are many this session). If you missed one, check out the Video Archives, typically listed below the current meetings on the "Video Broadcasts" page for each Chamber on TX Lege Online's homepage.
Feb. 13 - 19
Rise and shine. House Appropriations met most of the week bright and early at 7:30 a.m. Representative Chairman Dr. Zerwas led the informative hearings. Subcommittee for various sections of the budget (Articles I- VIII) met and will continue the following week. Keep up with the meeting announcements.
Many Senate committees met this week, and are already hearing some bills on the Floor. Emergency bills in the Senate are moving and may be available if they pass for assignment to the House. Fast and furious!
Even if love was in the air for Valentine's Day, the proposed budgets for the Senate and House are light years apart (CPPP has a very handy side-by-side comparison). Some folks are speculating that a "special session" will be the only way to bring these two love-birds together.
CTD attended many meeting and hearings, but none more ridiculous than the Texas Special Education Continuous Advisory Committee (CAC). Limited public testimony and input into special education planning and policy is a YUGE issue for parents and disability organizations. Keep your eye on SB 436 (Rodriguez).
This week was particularly hectic week as it marks the first time during session that a bill has to pass a deadline or die. While not written in stone, proposed legislation must be submitted to the Texas Legislative Council (they draft the bills) before 5:00 on Friday.
Feb. 6 - 12
How can a slow week for hearings be so busy?
Well, partially because the Speaker of the House appointed House Committees (finally!) and scrambled the balance of leadership in ways that many representatives and advocates were not expecting. Some of the appointments were made due to key retirements from senior representatives, and an obvious vision of the future Texas House of Representatives as a more diverse and younger chamber.
Our ED was literally jumping up and down we were pleased with Speaker Straus' appointments to Appropriations, Public Education, and Public Health. CTD congratulates, Representatives Zerwas, Huberty, and Price!
Senate Finance continued to meet all week about funding a variety of state agencies and various courts.
We have a brag! Tuesday evening, Chase Bearden, our Director of Advocacy and Organizing, received the Texas Healthcare and Bioscience Institute's annual Luminary Award for his advocacy work for Texans with disabilities (right, with fellow honoree Rep. Four Price). Congrats, Chase!
Jan. 30 - Feb. 5
Senate Finance met on Article II (Health and Human Services) with public testimony. Many exceptional items were dropped from the Senate budget. Advocates were dismayed and disappointed to see legislators ignore cost-effective programs that pull down matching federal dollars and save the state of Texas money (ahem, Medicaid block grant). Advocates worry that the Senate budget has been tailored to remove funding restrictions that help support people with disabilities living and prospering in the community.
- The School Finance Workgroup met and discussed potential solutions for a more equitable school funding system. Interesting (we'll call them) proposals were pitched the same week as TEA's reinterpretation of current law that will leave a $100 million shortfall for the current (and all future) budgets.
- The Senate Finance Committee Workgroup on Healthcare Cost discussed Health and Human and Services and Managed Medicare funding (footage here). Not a pretty picture with questions focusing on cost-containment and the rising cost of prescription drugs. Worth watching if the Senate Article II (Health and Human Services) budget proposals didn't crush your soul quite enough.
Special Education: We sent a letter to TEA and Commissioner Morath demanding that Morath follow through on his public promises to permanently eliminate the arbitrary 8.5% cap. If he refuses, Disability Rights Texas and Winston & Strawn LLP intend to file a lawsuit on our behalf. If you're wondering, our petition on the SpEd cap is still active!
Distracted Driving: We attended Drive Out Texas Distraction's briefing Thursday afternoon (Feb. 2) on upcoming legislation to address distracted driving (aka texting while driving). Making rounds for the 4th session, such legislation would significantly contribute to pedestrian safety for Texans with disabilities. View the live stream of the briefing.
ACA Repeal: At the exact same time (Feb. 2) (who plans these things!?), the Coalition of Health and Human Services Advocates held a press conference to discuss the likely repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and what a Medicaid block grant would be like in Texas. A group of respected policy wonks, including our Dennis Borel, went over the ins and outs generally, and then we heard from five individuals who would feel the effects in their daily lives. You can view the live stream of the press conference, too.
The Governor announced his legislative priorities and released his budget proposal, which included $60 million to increase the current $8 hourly floor wage for community attendants. Without other details, we estimate this will equate to a 35-cent bump in the attendants' hourly pay. Our ED Dennis Borel was very diplomatic when he said "this raise is way below what is needed." More on community attendant wages.
Also at the Capitol and of note this week, public testimony was taken for the SB 4 (sanctuary cities legislation). After 16 hours of testimony into the next morning, a 7-2 vote passed the legislation out of committee.
Jan. 23 - 29
We set a date for our annual conference and rally day, co-hosted with The Arc of Texas: April 5 - 6. Save it!
Special education: we started a petition to TEA to take immediate action on their 8.5% enrollment cap. Rabble-rouse here.
Jan. 16 - 22
Inauguration of new US President: Making good on campaign promises, Pres. Trump signed an executive order Friday (Jan. 20) to weaken the Affordable Care Act. Fun fact, did you know many people with disabilities rely on the ACA due to pre-existing conditions? There is a lot of uncertainty about what will happen to Medicaid entitlements (which guarantee services to qualifying individuals) and ACA programs like Community First Choice (which CTD fought for in Texas, btw). Surprising no one, we're watching this closely.
New group Texans for Special Ed Reform (TxSER): Did you know that parents of children who need special education services were fed up with the denial of services, inadequate services, and being ignored by school districts and the Texas Education Agency? True story (not an alternative fact). Those parents are organizing! CTD has joined TxSER, check them out on Facebook.
The House and Senate released their budgets: Kind of. On Friday (Jan. 22), the House still had not filed their actual budget bill, but documents were available from the Legislative Budget Board. The Senate allocated $213.4 billion, compared to $221.3 billion for the House. The budget for 2016-2017 was $209.4 billion (which includes Federal dollars), but there are always additional expenditures that are added to a supplemental budget (covering 2016-2017), which is currently being developed. With expected population growth, less state tax income each year from tax cuts last biennium, and expected tax cuts this session, state spending will be between 5.6 and 7.9% less. Texas' GDP will take a hit on infrastructure, health services, public education (but not border security...). Read more from the Texas Tribune.
Supplemental Appropriations Bill: Each biennium there are circumstances which result in shortfalls, or more funds than what has been specially allocated in the general budget. These differences in what was expected, versus what was (or will be) spent, are addressed by the Legislature in one of their first actions via the Supplemental Appropriations Bill. Billions of dollars in shortfall are expected for the 2016-2017 biennial budget. For more information on the current Budget, the Legislative Budget Board's website provides a comprehensive look at every detail you could imagine.
Senate Finance Committees Announced: You loved them last year, and now for an encore performance - a mostly unchanged Senate Finance Committee returns to action. See the full list.
Health and Human Services Transition Oversight Joint Committee met Tuesday (Jan. 17) to discuss HHSC transition and other issues, including compliance with last session's Sunset bills.
Resolutions and Recognitions: Chambers recognized and pass resolutions on a great many things involving a great many people and ideas. These are all non-binding statements.
Jan. 9 - 15
CTD held our Legislative Briefing Monday (left: Amy Fawell of Mothers Advocating Medical Marijuana for Autism (MAMMA) on her group's goals for medical marijuana). Video and downloads from the event are available.
Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar announced that Texas will have $104.87 Billion in state funds available for the next two-year (biennial) budget, which is for 2018-2019. This is 2.7% less than was available for the 2015 Legislature. Review the 2016-2017 budget.
Legislators were sworn into service with family and friends in attendance. Not "business as usual" the halls of the Capitol were full of families, children, and supporters dressed in their best, exuberantly supporting newly elected officials. It was a day that really puts a personal face on session.
Representative Joe Straus was elected as Speaker of the House in an unopposed vote. This is in stark contrast with previous years' contentious votes that challenged Straus' nomination. Shockingly, former opposition members spoke on behalf of the Speaker's reasonable and inclusive governing style.
The adoption of House and Senate rules wiped the camaraderie and smiles right off everyone's face.
- The House Operating Rules were contentiously debated with a variety of outcomes. There was an attempt to amend controversial topics into the rules, which were debated and rejected. Some topics introduced will most likely become proposed legislation including government transparency and stakeholder input outside of the "Austin bubble."
- The Senate once again affirmed the elimination of the 2/3rds rule, a 68-year tradition that required 21 of the chamber’s 31 senators to agree to bring a bill up for a floor vote. Senate Republicans hold a 20 to 11 majority in the Senate and can therefore block any proposed bill along party lines when necessary.
The Sunset Advisory Commission met for the final time and approved the last agency recommendations. All reports, decisions, and input can be found at Sunset.Texas.gov.