The budget (HB 1) was approved by the Senate Finance Committee late last week and could be up on the Senate floor later this week. Once this action is taken, both the House and the Senate can appoint conference committee members to begin the budget deliberations. In addition, the supplemental appropriations bill (SB 30) has passed both Houses but has not yet had conferees appointed. The finance and budget process have begun taking center stage in the current “charged” atmosphere. In addition, internal off-color alleged personal behavior adds to the cacophony of noise in what was and is a very strange legislative session.
The recently passed House version of property tax reform is dead on arrival according to the Lt. Governor. The versions in each house are worlds apart, and at this point, neither side appears interested in compromise, with the Lt. Governor loudly proclaiming that he has no plans this summer and is happy to be here working on this issue.
The Governor has spent the past 2 months traveling the countryside speaking to potentially pro-voucher groups in an attempt to persuade locals to pressure enough key rural Republicans needed to pass some sort of a voucher program. There was a test vote that occurred on an amendment presented during the House budget process. The House voted 86 to 52 in favor of amending the House version of the budget to “ban state funding for school vouchers or other similar program.”
The amendment vote came on an interesting day, the same day the Senate voted to create a voucher-like program and 5 days before a House committee considers the subject. The 86 votes were fewer than the 115 votes that a similar amendment received on the budget bill last session. The Senate-approved measure would establish an “education savings account” program that would give parents up to $8,000 per student each year. I am sure there is more to come on this issue.
All three of these issues are taking up significant amount of interest, time, and oxygen from the session and the time left is brief. Although the session does not conclude until May 29, the House has self-imposed deadlines that bring hard stops to bills that have yet to move through the process. Realistically, if your House bill is not out of committee by the end of this week, that bill will have a difficult time successfully working through the system.
The House is significantly behind on the number of bills passed to date so far this session compared to past sessions and the current pace of the Senate. As of this past Friday, the House has passed 75 bills while the Senate has passed 310 bills. For context, last session at this time the House had passed 191 bills and the Senate 195. In 2019 those numbers were House 180 and Senate 288. It is possible for the House to increase its pace, but these slowdowns are almost always intentional.
On Wednesday, April 12, the House Licensing Committee heard HB 2686 by Chairman Dutton. This is legislation requested by TWGGA to allow for the registering of off-site warehouses. I was the only witness offering testimony, although we understand the liquor distributors and the package store association registered against the bill. There was a number of questions but nothing overly complicated. The bill was left pending and hopefully will be voted out of committee this week.
The other interesting bill heard that day was the ready-to-drink (RTD) bill. This bill was supported by Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS) and the convenience stores and opposed by the Texas Package Stores Association and Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas. Although this bill is not expected to pass out of committee, this issue is not going away anytime soon, and I feel certain it will be considered again next session.
There has been no significant change regarding our efforts to obtain viticulture research money. Once the budget process begins in earnest, we hope to be in the discussion. This should begin next week.
—TWGGA Legislative Advocate Kyle Frazier