August 31, 2017

Special Session Update 7.26.17

Governor's Special Session Priorities

The first item on the list for consideration during The 85th Legislature First Called Session, otherwise known as Special Session, is the Sunset bill for the following state agencies: Texas Medical Board, Texas State Board of Examiners of Marriage and Family Therapists, Texas State Board of Examiners of Professional Counselors, Texas State Board of Examiners of Psychologists, and Texas State Board of Social Workers Examiners. This legislation is a must pass item, and without it the agencies would be abolished on September 1st. Currently, the Senate has passed Senate Bill 20 and it is headed to the House for consideration. In addition, the Governor listed 19 other items to be considered during this Special Session. Those items are listed as the following:

1. Legislation to increase the average salary and benefits (including TRS-Care) of Texas teachers; and legislation to provide a more flexible and rewarding salary and benefit system for Texas teachers.

2. Legislation establishing a statewide commission to study and recommend improvements to the current public school finance system; and other legislation relating to school finance, including Additional State Aid for Tax Reduction (ASATR).

3. Legislation to empower parents of children with special needs or educational disadvantages to choose an educational provider that is best for their child.

4. Legislation reforming the laws governing ad valorem property taxes.

5. Legislation using population growth and inflation to establish a spending limit for state government.

6. Legislation using population growth and inflation to establish a spending limit for political subdivisions.

7. Legislation protecting the private property rights of land owners from political subdivision rules, regulations, or ordinances that interfere with, delay, or restrict private property owners' ability to use or enjoy their property.

8. Legislation expediting the issuance of permits by political subdivisions and reforming the laws governing the issuance of permits by political subdivisions.

9. Legislation preventing political subdivisions from imposing on private property additional or enhanced regulations that did not exist at the time the property was acquired.

10. Legislation preempting local regulation of the use of hand-held mobile communication devices while driving.

11. Legislation regarding the use of multi-occupancy showers, locker rooms, restrooms, and changing rooms.

12. Legislation prohibiting state or local government entities from deducting labor union or employee organization membership fees or dues from the wages of public employees.

13. Legislation prohibiting financial transactions between a governmental entity and an abortion provider or affiliate of the abortion provider.

14. Legislation restricting health plan and health benefit plan coverage for abortions.

15. Legislation strengthening the laws applicable to the reporting of abortions and abortion complications to the State.

16. Legislation enhancing patient protections contained in the procedures and requirements for do-not-resuscitate orders.

17. Legislation enhancing the detection, prosecution, and elimination of mail-in ballot fraud.

18. Legislation continuing the operation and expanding the duties of the Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Task Force to ensure action is taken to reduce the maternal mortality rate in Texas.

19. Legislation adjusting the scheduling of Sunset Commission review of state agencies.


Maternal Mortality Task Force

This week, I signed onto House Bill 9, which extends the time the Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Task Force have to study why many Texas mothers are passing away less than a year after child birth. On Monday, July 24th, the Texas Senate approved House Bill 9's companion, Senate Bill 17. The task force previously found that between 2011 and 2012, over 189 new mothers passed away, mostly from heart disease, drug overdoses, and high blood pressure. House Bill 9 additionally asks the task force to look at what other states are doing, study the socioeconomic status of the new mothers, and find solutions to helping combat postpartum depression. The goal is to find out why so many are passing away, and what can be done to curb the horrific trend Texas is currently seeing. We must take care of the mothers in Texas, and this legislation and others like it are a good start.


Property Tax Elections

The Texas Legislature is poised to give Texans more direct control over the property tax rates that cities, counties, and special purpose districts set. House Bill 4 has an automatic election provision that plays into effect if a taxing unit wants to raise revenue by more than five percent. This moves the rollback rate of eight percent to five percent and demonstrates a need for a rollback that is more in line with today's economic environment. Like House Bill 4, Senate Bill 1 could give Texans more direct control over their property tax rates. This proposed legislation would require larger cities, counties, and tax districts to have an election if the amount of property tax revenue they collect on existing properties and buildings exceeds four percent of the amount collected the previous year. Smaller entities would be required to hold an election if the property tax revenue exceeded eight percent from the previous year.


Visit from Chambers County Sheriff Brian Hawthorne

On Wednesday, July 19th, I had a wonderful discussion with Sheriff Hawthorne and other fellow sheriffs advocating against unfunded mandates. I appreciate their hard work and will continue to fight against unfunded mandates.


 Teacher Retirement System

This week, Governor Greg Abbott added TRS-Care to his Special Session agenda. This opens the door to further help TRS and continue work that began in the 85th Session. The TRS-Care retiree health insurance program underwent significant changes during the regular legislative session. The program, which provides health care for 260,000 public education retirees and their dependents, has experienced significant revenue shortages for several sessions. Despite these issues, the Legislature supported the program by providing extra supplemental dollars during past sessions to cover shortfalls, so that retirees participating in the program would not experience huge cost increases. Additionally, retiree premiums have not increased in the last 12 years. The funding mechanism for the program was not able to keep up with the general increase in health care costs. These costs are rising nationwide. While many plans in the private sector have been rising gradually over the last 12 years, Texas retired teacher premiums have remained the same, due to statutory language approved by the Legislature. As health care costs have increased, standard contributions to TRS-Care have not increased, and active teacher payroll in Texas has not increased for a number of years. These issues led to problems in paying for total program costs, which led to deficits, or shortfalls. House Bill 3976, which is the bill that ultimately passed during the regular session to reform TRS-Care, received support from all stakeholder groups after much negotiating. This final bill included provisions to permanently increase revenue from the state and school districts. As the state and districts are absorbing increased costs moving forward, so are the teachers - through the increased premiums and deductibles. The House was adamant that no bill would move forward if the state and districts did not shoulder costs along with the participants. As your legislator, I am hearing from TRTA members and other TRS retirees about how painful the changes to the TRS-Care program will be once they go into effect in January 2018. I understand that many retirees are not happy with this solution. These changes were not made with a light heart, and the available options for saving the program were not easy. TRS-Care changes will certainly put financial strain on many TRS retirees. The options we had to support this regular legislative session are best summed up as we could either keep TRS-Care alive through some additional revenue but make deep cuts to TRS-Care benefits and increase premiums OR oppose any changes and watch TRS-Care fall completely apart, leaving retired school employees with extremely limited access to health care options. As your legislator, I am concerned about how this will impact you. I want and need to hear from you. The struggle to keep this program alive, affordable, and accessible is not over, and I want to do all that I can to make it better for the future. Which is why I support the Governor for having added it to the call.