The Final Score: 84th Texas Leg Wrap-Up

Thursday, June 18, 2015
posted by elizabeth @ 4:01 PM

The Final Score
84th Texas Legislative Session Wrap-Up

The Texas Legislature adjourned Sine Die June 1st. State Senators and Representatives packed their bags to go home after having spent 140 days at the State Capitol. During the 140 day session, 6,276 bills were filed and fewer than 1,400 of those made their way to Governor Abbott’s desk. There were no big surprises or blow ups this session as some had expected, particularly as it related to the leadership of the new Lt. Governor, Dan Patrick. Patrick handled his new position without any major incidents proving that he knows how to use the gavel in the Senate and manage the flow of business. Once again, House Speaker Joe Straus provided an environment in which the House worked it’s will.

Show Me the Money
Like last session in 2013, legislators found themselves with another budget surplus. After a lengthy debate between the House and the Senate on the differences between their respective budget bills, the appointed conference committee negotiated a version, which was ultimately approved, containing a $209.4 billion biennium budget, an increase over last session’s $197 billion. The budget leaves $6.4 billion unspent and includes property tax cuts proposed by the Senate, a 25% tax cut on the franchise tax as well as $800 million in border security funding. There was also an additional $1.5 billion appropriated to public education, although some may argue that doesn’t even cover inflation or enrollment growth.

Drill Baby Drill
One of the most talked about energy issues came after the City of Denton implemented the first ban on hydraulic fracturing. Before session even began, the battle to define state and local control was a hot topic. In May, Governor Abbott signed legislation pre-empting local efforts to regulate drilling activities putting the jurisdiction solely with the State. Another hot topic was that of falling oil prices. This prompted the passage of a resolution urging Congress to lift the ban on crude exports. With the quickly growing Liquid Natural Gas export industry in Texas, a resolution was also passed urging Congress to expedite natural gas exports.

The Doctor is In
The Sunset Advisory Commission recommended the consolidation of the State’s five healthcare agencies into a single entity. The legislature partially accomplished that goal by consolidating the Health and Human Services Commission, the Department of Aging and Disability Services, and the Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services. As has been the case for the past decade, an attempt to address the physician shortage was also made this session with the creation of additional residency programs as well as a $300 million endowment for incentive programs for rural area physicians.

Time to Get Moving
Along with Education and Healthcare, Transportation is one of the State’s largest funding challenges. To address the issue this session, the legislature decided to give Texans an opportunity vote on a constitutional amendment this November that will dedicate a portion of the motor vehicle sales tax to the state highway fund. Additionally, the gas tax diversions will be eliminated, bringing about $1.3 billion back to its originally intended purpose.

Get Your Guns
Not many people made their presence felt more than gun advocates at the Capitol this session. Since 1995, Texans have had the right to carry a concealed handgun with a license obtained through proper training and background checks. Now license holders will be allowed to “open carry” a handgun unconcealed. “Campus carry” also passed which prevents universities from prohibiting the possession of firearms on campus.

Prior to session we heard talk about a potential special session. People were wagering on the success of the new Lt. Governor as well as the chances of the Speaker being re-elected by the House. For all of the talk, hand wringing, worrying, cussing and discussing, the 84th Texas Legislative Session opened and closed without fireworks. Both bodies and the Governor carried out their duties and for the most part worked together as leaders of the greatest state in the U.S. The biggest news is now coming post session. It is the retirement of some long-time members and key leaders and committee chairs in the House and Senate. The fun will be watching who replaces the retiring members and who the gavels of those key committees gets passed onto when they exit the Capitol.

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