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HOU in ATX: Legislative Update – Week 7

Published Feb 24, 2023 by Taylor Landin

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This week, Governor Abbott reinforces support for a new economic development incentive program, higher education institutions request funding, and the Partnership convenes at the Capitol. 

Next week, House and Senate committees will begin meeting to consider legislative proposals, and the Partnership heads to D.C. to advocate for the region and its federal priorities

Gov. Abbott urges lawmakers to act on economic development incentives 
This week, Governor Greg Abbott made his strongest statement to date for a new economic development incentive program.

The Governor expressed confidence the legislature would act during this legislative session, “there is a desire in the Capitol to make sure Texas does remain No. 1 for economic development,” by creating a new economic development program. 

Key Highlights: 

  • Governor Abbott cited to Texas’ recent loss of a major project to New York as a example of why economic development tools are necessary. 
  • He also indicated that any future program would “not exactly replicate 313,” but would make certain Texas remains the best state for business.

Why it matters: Abbott’s outspoken support is welcome news to proponents of a new economic development program, who believe a new program is critical to ensuring Texas remains competitive in winning large-scale projects.

House Appropriations considers higher ed budget requests
This week, the Article III subcommittee of the House Appropriations committee heard testimony from state agencies and higher education institutions as they laid out their legislative appropriations requests.

Why it matters: Houston institutions, including University of Houston and Texas Southern University, made bold requests for significant funding that would strengthen research opportunities, improve facilities, and provide student support services.

The Partnership’s CEO, Bob Harvey, authored a letter to the appropriators in support of Texas Southern University’s request for increased research funding. Check out the letter here.

Inside Austin: Coalitions are key
Collaborating with coalitions, trade associations, industry, and other community stakeholders is a key component of the Partnership’s work in Austin. 

Big picture: This week, the Partnership joined several of our partners across the state as they visited Austin to discuss their priorities. We joined Texas Ports Association, Texas Chemical Council, Texas A&M’s Texas Energy Summit, Transportation Advocacy Group, and regional chambers of commerce from Chambers County, Pearland, and Fort Bend as they hosted their respective groups in the capitol.

Christian Bionat, Sr. Director Public Policy, led an advocacy group that met with Sen. Kelly Hancock (R-North Richland Hills) for Green Light Houston Day.

Next week in Austin
The House of Representatives began referring bills to their respective committees of jurisdiction on Thursday, February 23rd. Committee chairs are setting hearings to consider the legislative proposals.

On February 23rd, Speaker Phelan announced four specific legislative priorities for the House, focusing on data security and privacy as well as supporting mothers and young children. These bills are the first in what will be a larger legislative package the Speaker supports for the 88th Legislative session. The remaining bills in the package have yet to be announced.

  • HB 4 by Rep. Capriglione (R-Keller) to grant individuals new online rights, including the ability to crack down on how companies collect - and in some instances, profit from - personal data. HB 12 by Rep. Rose (D-Dallas) to extend Medicaid eligibility to new mothers to a year after the delivery of their child.
  • HB 18 by Rep. Slawson (R-Stephenville) to equip parents with tools to keep their children safe online, including the ability to put a stop to addictive algorithms and prevent companies from collecting private information.
  • HB 300 by Rep. Howard (D-Austin) to exempt diapers and wipes, along with feminine hygiene products, from the state’s sales tax. 

Sneak peek: Washington D.C.
The Partnership is heading to Washington D.C. next Tuesday, February 28th. The trip will take Houston business leaders to our nation’s capital to advance important regional issues at the federal level.

What's next: The group will engage with Members of Congress, administration officials, policy insiders, and key stakeholders to advocate for the Partnership’s key priorities for the 118th Congress, such as the energy transition, and infrastructure, specifically, the Coastal Spine. 

Go deeper: See the trip’s packed agenda here. Stay informed on the trip’s activities by clicking here

During the 88th Legislative Session, the Greater Houston Partnership will provide a weekly update on newsworthy items from Austin. You can view more policy news and archives of our weekly updates here

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HOU in ATX: Legislative Update – Week 6

This week, Gov. Abbott delivers State of the State address, announcing his emergency items, Senate Finance holds Natural Resources hearings, Lt. Gov Patrick releases top priorities, and House Appropriations held its first hearings.    Governor Abbott Delivers State of the State, Announces Emergency Items  Thursday evening, Governor Abbott delivered his biennial State of the State address at a manufacturing facility in San Marcos, sharing his legislative priorities for the 88th session. Typically held in the Texas House Chamber, it is the second time Abbott delivered his speech outside the Capitol complex.  In his speech, Abbott announced a list of seven emergency items:  Cutting property taxes Ending COVID-19 restrictions forever Education freedom for all Texans School safety Ending "revolving door" bail Securing the border Fighting the fentanyl crisis Some highlights: The Governor’s speech also mentioned three of the Partnership’s top executive priorities. Economic Development Incentives: Gov. Abbott conveyed support for strategic economic development tools in keeping Texas an attractive state for business. He stated the need for a new economic tool this session for the benefit of local communities.  Flood Mitigation: Gov. Abbott alluded to a proposed plan to spend $100 billion on transportation infrastructure, which would likely include flood mitigation advantages.  Higher & Public Education: Gov. Abbott expressed support for school choice, school safety, and investments in community colleges. Why it matters: The Governor’s designation of these seven emergency items allows the Legislature to immediately begin taking up legislation on these issues.    Senate Finance: Article VI, Natural Resources What’s new: This week, the Senate Finance Committee held a hearing on Article VI, the natural resources section of the budget. The General Land Office (GLO), Gulf Coast Protection District (GCPD), and Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) all testified.  GLO described the different sources of federal resiliency funds and the need for state matching dollars. GCPD explained the federal design process of the Coastal Texas Program gates in response to a local news article.  TWDB asked to replenish the Flood Infrastructure Fund (FIF) and for more staff to assist with implementation. Go deeper: During the hearing, Senator Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe) emphasized the need to increase the amount of funding in the FIF to address the flood mitigation needs of communities across the state.    Houston in Focus: The Partnership submitted a letter to to the committee emphasizing the need for reinvestment in the Flood Infrastructure Fund.    Lt. Governor Releases List of Priority Issues  On Monday, Lt. Governor Patrick announced his list of 30 priority bills for this legislative session.  Go deeper: Several priorities laid out by the Lt. Governor align with issues important to the business community, including issues relating to taxes, energy transition, flood mitigation, and higher education.  Business Property Tax Exemption (SB 5): Texas is one of only nine states with a business inventory tax, which can be a hinderance for economic development opportunities. Narrow exemptions for business personal property taxes can increase our ability to compete for future large-scale projects.  Addressing Texas’ Future Water Needs (SB 28): Texas is growing rapidly, meanwhile, the state’s population will continue to face increasingly severe weather events. Water infrastructure, including flood mitigation and drinking and wastewater projects are major priorities for state leaders to consider.  Health Care Workforce Shortages (SB 25): Many of the workforce shortages in the health care industry predate COVID-19, however it is increasingly difficult to recruit and retain health care workers, particularly nurses. The Lt. Governor is showing a commitment to addressing health care labor shortages by using state resources to reduce the overall burden of entering the nursing field in creating new scholarships for registered nurses.  Priorities relating to Higher & Public Education: Lt. Governor Patrick’s priorities signal a heightened focus on public and higher education. Several of the priorities are broadly supported, including the creation of a new university endowment, improving teacher pay and retention, and increasing school safety resources. The Lt. Governor released the full list of his priority bills on his website.    House Appropriations Kicks Off Budget Hearings  The House Appropriations Committee met this week to begin its budget discussions, starting off with a look at the state’s health and infrastructure investments. Agencies and regional stakeholders testified on the critical nature of many of these programs, including the postpartum Medicaid program, behavioral and mental health, and transportation, water, and flood mitigation funding. Postpartum Medicaid Coverage for New Mothers: Last session, the legislature extended postpartum Medicaid coverage from 60 days to 6 months but fell short of the recommend 12-month coverage. Texas has one of the highest maternal mortality rates and extending postpartum coverage is one way to help new mothers obtain the life-saving medical care they need. This week, the committee explored the impact of extending postpartum coverage for the full 12 months.  Behavioral and Mental Health: There has been a significant rise in behavioral and mental health challenges since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. To address these needs, the state has increased its investments in mental health resources and efforts to attract professionals to the field. Additionally, the committee explored ways the state can further invest in mental health resources, particularly focusing on public school and student needs.  Flood Mitigation Funding: Flooding mitigation is a top priority for many in the legislature and the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) is pursuing the replenishment of the Flood Infrastructure Fund (FIF) and additional staff for implementation. The state-wide need for flood mitigation projects is estimated to be $42 billion. Concurrently, the Gulf Coast Protection District (GCPD) is seeking the required state matching funds the coastal barrier project.  House Appropriations Chairman Greg Bonnen also announced the appropriations subcommittee chairs and membership.    During the 88th Legislative Session, the Greater Houston Partnership will provide a weekly update on newsworthy items from Austin. You can view more policy news and archives of our weekly updates here.   
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Public Policy

HOU in ATX: Legislative Update – Week 5

This week, Speaker Dade Phelan announcing House committee assignments, Senate Finance committee holds hearings on both Public and Higher Ed, the Partnership goes deeper on flood funding, and the Governor prepares for his State of the State address next week.  1 big thing: Houston in the House Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) unveiled committee assignments with Houston-area members chairing or vice-chairing several critical committees. Of the thirty-six full committees, the following seventeen will have Houston-area representatives in leadership positions.  Agriculture & Livestock - Chair Briscoe Cain (R-Deer Park) Appropriations - Chair Greg Bonnen (R-Friendswood); joining Bonnen on this powerful committee from the Houston region include Cecil Bell (R-Magnolia), Jarvis Johnson (D-Houston), Gene Wu (D-Houston), Mano DeAyala (R-Houston), Gary Gates (R-Rosenberg), Jacey Jetton (R-Katy), Ed Thompson (R-Pearland), Steve Toth (R-Spring), and Armando Walle (D-Houston) Business & Industry - Vice Chair Cody Vasut (R-Angleton) Higher Education - Vice Chair Dennis Paul (R-Houston) Homeland Security & Public Safety - Vice Chair Jarvis Johnson (D-Houston) House Administration - Chair Will Metcalf (R-Conroe) Insurance - Chair Tom Oliverson (R-Cypress); Vice Chair Ann Johnson (D-Houston) Juvenile Justice & Family Issues - Chair Harold Dutton (D-Houston) Licensing & Administrative Procedures - Vice Chair Armando Walle (D-Houston) Natural Resources - Vice Chair Ed Thompson (R-Pearland) Public Education - Vice Chair Alma Allen (D-Houston) Resolutions Calendar - Vice Chair Gary Gates (R-Rosenberg) State Affairs - Vice Chair Ana Hernandez (D-Houston) Urban Affairs - Vice Chair Gary Gates (R-Rosenberg) Ways & Means - Vice Chair Shawn Thierry (D-Houston) Select Committee on Health Care Reform - Chair Sam Harless (R-Spring) Select Committee on Youth and Safety - Chair Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston); Vice Chair Lacey Hull (R-Houston) Other notable Houston-area appointments: Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston) was selected Dean of the Texas House along with Tom Craddick (R-Midland) Click here to view full committee listings.  Committee assignments and our PrioritiesWhy it matters: Committee chair positions influence what bills make it to the floor. Below we will outline how the Speaker’s committee assignments will impact the Partnership’s top priorities for the legislative session. Economic Development Incentives  Proponents of a new economic development incentive program remain hopeful legislation establishing a new program will be filed in the coming weeks. Such legislation would likely be considered by the powerful House Ways & Means Committee and the Senate Committee on Natural Resources & Economic Development. Members of the Houston delegation serve on both committees. What’s next: The Partnership will continue work and engage with key stakeholders on this issue, recognizing the critical role economic development incentives play in bringing opportunity to our region. Energy Transition Rep. Craig Goldman (R-Fort Worth) will again chair the Energy Resources Committee, handling priority issues like carbon capture use and storage (CCUS). Under Chairman Goldman's leadership last session, the committee helped pass legislation clearing a path for state primacy to permit carbon geologic sequestration wells.  We look forward to building upon that success to ensure Texas can become a global leader in CCUS. Flood Mitigation  With both Rep. Greg Bonnen (R-Friendswood) and Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) chairing House Appropriations and Senate Finance, respectively, having deep knowledge of the region’s flood mitigation needs, the Partnership looks forward to working with the legislators on passing key legislation.  To note: Sen. Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe),who helped create the Flood Infrastructure Fund during the 86th legislative session, also sits on Senate Finance. Higher & Public Education  Leadership changed hands in both the Higher and Public Education committees, as the Speaker selected new chairs for each. Rep. John Kuempel (R-Seguin) was assigned Chair of Higher Education and Rep. Brad Buckley (R-Salado) was selected to lead the Public Education committee.  What it means: It remains to be seen which direction the new leadership will take their committees, but it is encouraging that the Houston region is well-represented on both.  The bottom line: Despite Houston area members seated on every committee, our efforts to pass meaningful legislation for the Houston region requires a diverse group of stakeholders including legislators across the state — from both parties, coalitions, trade associations, and industry partners.  Senate Finance Tackles Education What’s new: This week, the Senate Finance committee held its first hearings on public and higher education. State agencies and educational institutions laid out their priorities and legislative requests to lawmakers. Why it matters: This was the first look into the education-related policies and topics that will be most important to legislators this session and offered insight into the requests of educational institutions. Highlights include: Public Education: The committee explored ways to address school districts’ declining funding, which has resulted from declining student populations. One solution is to base funding on enrollment rather than attendance. The Texas Education Agency committed to make significant investments in math-related instructional materials. Teacher recruitment and retention strategies were discussed, including expanding the Teacher Incentive Allotment and increasing base pay. Higher Education: The committee discussed workforce development and the ways that Texas’ colleges and universities are supporting our talent pipelines in high-demand fields such as nursing and teaching.  Houston-area universities requested additional research funding, which would help attract federal dollars, high-quality faculty, and top students. Several legislators raised the issue of high tuition costs and their prohibitive effect on student enrollment and success. The committee explored methods of increasing financial aid to make college more accessible to more students.  Going forward, the outlook is optimistic as both chambers have proposed meaningful investments in education. These investments will strengthen the region’s and state’s economies, workforce pipeline, and long-term competitiveness. Future Flood Funds Flowing?What’s New: Next Monday, February 13, the Senate Finance Committee will hold a hearing on general appropriations bill for article VI, which includes the Flood Infrastructure Fund (FIF). Why it matters: Houston is susceptible to severe weather events with recent storms resulting in billions in economic damage. While the Flood Infrastructure Fund is expected to be exhausted early this year, the legislature has an opportunity to replenish it and continue the necessary momentum in protecting life, property, and economic vitality. According to the Texas Water Development Board’s online tool, the Partnership’s footprint has received more than $159 million in flood mitigation dollars from this fund to date. Brazoria County - $150,000 for one project Chambers County - $4,656,000 for one project Fort Bend County - $96,891,760 for seven projects Harris County - $42,076,847 for six projects Montgomery County - $9,055,000 for four projects San Jacinto County - $48,100 for one project Waller County - $502,500 for two projects Wharton County - $5,753,032 for two projects. By the numbers: The Texas Water Development Board, in their 2019 State Flood Assessment, estimated a more than $31.5 billion need in flood mitigation for the entire state of Texas. This year, the San Jacinto Region alone estimates $31.3 billion in flood mitigation needs.  The bottom line: The Houston business community sees this fund as a crucial piece of the puzzle when attracting high-quality jobs to our region as many prospective employers consider factors like flooding a risk to investment. What's next: Senate Finance will discuss Article IV (Natural Resources) on Monday where we can hear testimony involving flood mitigation. What to Watch Next Week Next Thursday, Governor Abbott will deliver his State of the State address and announce his emergency items for the 88th Legislative Session.  Go deeper: The Governor, as required by the Texas constitution, must submit emergency matters to the Legislature. Emergency items are typically announced at the beginning of session. However, the Governor has the ability to submit emergency items throughout session for appropriations related to specific purposes.  Why it matters: Legislators can immediately take up bills on emergency issues. During the 88th Legislative Session, the Greater Houston Partnership will provide a weekly update on newsworthy items from Austin. You can view more policy news and archives of our weekly updates here. 
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