News from the 84th Texas Legislature

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On June 1 the 84th Texas Legislature adjourned “sine die.” The Latin phrase, meaning without a specific date to reconvene, is used to end every Texas regular session after its 140 days conclude.

This session will be remembered for its balanced budget that included tax relief for citizens and funds for border security, passage of an open-carry handgun law in public and a concealed-carry law on state universities, legalization of marijuana extracts to be used for epileptic patients, funding for prekindergarten programs and a resolution for voters to decide whether to use sales tax revenue to improve state highways.

By statute the governor had until June 21 to sign into law or veto bills passed during the session. Bills without specific effective dates become law Aug. 31.

Budget

• The Legislature passed a $209 billion budget that includes funding for public education, health care and $800 million for border security;
• Approved tax cuts that would raise residents’ homestead exemption from $15,000 to $25,000;
• Approved decreasing the state franchise tax by 25 percent;
• Approved incentives to fund prekindergarten programs in public schools;
• Approved about $3 billion in bonds to build new public college campus facilities; and
• Left it to voters to decide on Nov. 3 if the state should transfer up to $2.5 billion annually from its general sales tax revenue to the State Highway Fund to improve transportation.

Economy and Small Business

• On May 18, Gov. Greg Abbott signed HB 40, a bill that gives the state, and not local authorities, the jurisdiction to regulate oil and gas operation. Prior to the bill’s passage, local laws had created “a patchwork of inconsistent regulation that undermines the safe and efficient production of oil and gas,” according to the bill’s analysis.
• Abbott signed SB 293 on April 8. The bill allows ESPN, NASCAR and Ultimate Fighting Championship events to be considered eligible for the Major Events Trust Fund.
• The governor signed SB 97, which regulates the sale, distribution, possession, use and advertising of e-cigarettes, cigarettes and tobacco products. The law will take effect this fall.

Health care

• Gov. Greg Abbott on June 1 signed a bill legalizing the growth of cannabis plants high in cannabidiol and low in tetrahydrocannabinol in Texas. SB 339 is effective immediately and allows patients access to cannabis as medicine upon the recommendation of two board-certified medical specialists.
• SB 1889 was signed by the governor June 10 and is effective Sept. 1. The bill, which was heavily advocated for by its author, Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, amends the current law relating to the disclosure and use of information included in Texas’ abuse and neglect registry at the Department of Family and Protective Services and the report of the information regarding those cases to the Legislature, according to the bill’s analysis.

Higher education

• Legislation passed allowing concealed handguns on college campuses. On June 13 the governor signed SB 11 into law. Publicly funded universities must put the policy in place by Aug. 1, 2016, while private universities may choose to opt out.
• The House and Senate approved about $3 billion in funding for projects at 64 Texas universities. As of June 18 the bill had not been addressed by the governor.
• Colleges and universities still have control of setting their own tuition because legislation that would put the power in legislators’ hands failed to pass.
• An attempt to repeal a state law allowing undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition failed.

Public Education

• Filed by Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, HB 4 will implement high-quality standards for prekindergarten education. Gov. Greg Abbott, who signed the bill May 28, issued a statement saying the legislation will help strengthen the foundation for student success.
• On May 11, Abbott signed SB 149. The new law establishes committees to determine if students who pass classes and meet other requirements but fail standardized tests can graduate.
• Lawmakers did not pass HB 1759, which aimed to add $3 billion in per-student funding and eliminate adjustments that were once intended to protect districts from short-term funding losses. Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, the bill’s co-author, moved to postpone consideration of the bill on the House floor.

Transportation

• Beginning in fiscal year 2017-18 the state will divert $2.5 billion of sales and use taxes to the State Highway Fund, which helps fund the Texas Department of Transportation, after revenue exceeds $28 billion per fiscal year. Starting in FY 2019-20 the state will divert 35 percent of motor vehicle sales tax revenue to the SHF after revenue exceeds $5 billion. Voters will need to give the bill, Senate Joint Resolution 5, final approval in November during a constitutional amendment election.
• For a third time lawmakers failed to pass a statewide texting-while-driving ban. HB 80 was approved by the House on March 26 but failed to gain enough votes for consideration in the Senate by the end of session.

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