At the Capitol: Updates from the 85th Legislature

Updates from your local legislators

Here is an overview of activity from your area elected officials on various legislation this session.

Rep. Tony Dale
R-Cedar Park • Elected: 2012
Dale voted for passing SB 7, which seeks to add penalties for the offense of teacher-student inappropriate relationships. After House approval, it was sent to the governor.

Rep. Terry Wilson
R-Florence • Elected: 2016
Wilson presented HB 2782 to the Public Education Committee, which would require the A-F system for public schools to allow all schools to receive any grades. It died in the House.

Rep. Larry Gonzales
R-Round Rock • Elected: 2010
Gonzales' HB 1818, which improves and continues the functions of the Railroad Commission of Texas, was approved by both chambers. It has been signed by the governor.

Sen. Kirk Watson
D-Austin • Elected: 2006
Watson voted against HB 100, which would create blanket rules for ride-hailing companies, overriding local ordinances. Gov. Abbott signed the bill; Uber and Lyft are back in Austin.

3 steps to follow when state special-called session begins July 18

  1. Abbott said the special session will be limited until the Senate passes a sunset bill to extend the life of state agencies, including the Texas Medical Board, which licenses doctors. He said the Senate should be able to pass this bill in three or four days.

  2. After the sunset bill's passage, Abbott enabled legislators to address 19 additional bills. One proposal addresses property tax growth, which Abbott said can be fixed via reform bill SB 2, which some considered to also be the solution to school finance reform.

  3. Abbott also called to limit the local government powers by prohibiting tree regulations, capping new construction fees during projects and preventing slow permitting processes. Additionally, he asked legislators to consider enacting local spending caps.

News and notes from the Capitol

Community Impact Newspaper and The Texas Tribune have established a partnership to share essential updates from the 85th legislative session. The Texas Tribune is the only member-supported, digitally focused, nonpartisan news organization that informs and engages with Texans about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Budget update
On May 27, both chambers of the Texas Legislature approved a $217 billion, two-year budget that would boost funding for the state's beleaguered child welfare agency, increase the number of state troopers on the Texas-Mexico border and avoid serious reforms to the state's much-criticized school finance system. The budget now goes to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk.

Public education
On May 28, the House and Senate approved a compromise version of House Bill 22, which would tweak a plan for grading public schools and districts on an A-F scale. The measure now goes to the governor. On May 25, Abbott signed Senate Bill 7 into law. The legislation requires principals and superintendents to report cases of teachers having inappropriate relationships with students or face a state jail felony or a fine of up to $10,000. The House on May 22 backed a Senate bill extending a program that lets high school students who fail a couple of required exams take an alternative route to graduation.

On May 29, Abbott signed House Bill 100 into law. That measure establishes a statewide framework to regulate ride-hailing companies, like Uber and Lyft, and undoes local rules that the two companies have argued are overly burdensome for their business models.

Texting while driving
Legislation that would create a statewide texting-while-driving ban has passed through the House and the Senate. Abbott had appeared to be undecided on whether he would sign the ban into law.

Voter ID
The House and Senate have approved a deal to relax the state’s voter identification requirements, sending the legislation to the governor’s office.

'Sanctuary jurisdictions'
On May 7, Gov. Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill 4 into law. The measure would ban "sanctuary" jurisdictions in Texas and allow police to inquire about the immigration status of people they lawfully detain.

SCORECARD: Find out how the Texas Legislature did on Gov. Abbott’s top priorities

In January lawmakers were just about to begin the 140 day-long marathon of the 85th legislative session when Gov. Greg Abbott declared four issues as top priorities—and he recently added another. Here’s how each priority fared:

'Sanctuary City' Bans
Background: Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez promised  last year to implement “sanctuary city” policies. Abbott vowed to end sanctuary cities in Texas and create penalties for those leading jurisdictions that nurtured them.
The latest: Abbott signed Senate Bill 4 into law May 7. It allows law-enforcement officers to question an individual’s immigration status during a lawful detention or arrest—officers could pull someone over for speeding and ask about his or her citizenship, for example. Texas preemptively sued Travis County and other entities over what Texas believes will be nonenforcement.

Calling a convention of states
Background: Following the November presidential election, Abbott renewed his calls to form a convention of states to amend the U.S. Constitution to implement term limits for members of Congress, require Congress to adopt a balanced budget and allow more than 33 states to override a Supreme Court decision.
The latest: The House of Representatives and Senate worked out differences of SB 21 in a conference committee and sent the bill to the governor. The bill would only allow state lawmakers to serve as delegates for said convention.

Fixes to Child Protective Services
Background: In October, Abbott ordered Child Protective Services to work on a plan to protect endangered children in the foster care system. The order required the department to focus on retention and recruitment of new caseworkers.
The latest: The Senate and House worked to transfer some CPS duties to nonprofits through community-based foster care, increase payments to family members participating in the kinship care program and separate the Department of Family and Protective Services from the state health and human services system.

Ethics Reform
Background: In 2015, Abbott called for a number of ethics reforms throughout the government, including preventing retired legislators from immediately lobbying the state and requiring lawmakers to disclose contracts with public entities.
The latest: The omnibus ethics bill, SB 14, passed the Senate in early February but died in the House. The governor has signed some minor bills relating to open meetings. The House approved a bill that would prohibit donors to the governor who donated more than $2,500 from serving as a governor appointee.

Changes to Voter ID
Background: Just under four months after Abbott issued his first emergency items, he added another in response to a string of court decisions declaring Texas’ 2011 voter ID law as intentionally discriminatory. As a result, Texas could be required to seek federal preclearance before changing election laws.
The latest: SB 5, a bill expanding limitations on voter ID, passed in late March, and the bill sat in the House until May 20 when the governor declared it an emergency item. The Senate and House met to work out differences and sent the bill to the governor.


The Electric Reliability Council of Texas said power outages are not expected April 13, while requesting energy conservation. (Iain Oldman/Community Impact Newspaper)
UPDATE: ERCOT call for energy conservation ends April 13 without need for power outages

An ERCOT official said "tight" supply and demand conditions arose on the state's electric grid April 13 due to forecasting issues amid planned, seasonal maintenance outages by some power generators.

Georgetown City Council will use $910,000 from $5.6 million in excess funds from fiscal year 2020-21. (Ali Linan/Community Impact Newspaper)
Georgetown City Council to use $910K in excess funds for additional municipal services

Georgetown City Council will use $910,000 from $5.6 million in excess funds from fiscal year 2020-21.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommended health providers pause distribution of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine April 13. (Olivia Aldridge/Community Impact Newspaper)
State, federal health authorities recommend pause of Johnson & Johnson vaccine after 6 rare, severe blood clots

Hub providers in Dallas, Harris and Travis counties have all announced they will follow the recommendations and pause distribution of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Recipients of the COVID-19 vaccine wait after receiving their shot at the Delco Activity Center in Northeast Austin on March 13. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
National supply issues with Johnson & Johnson vaccine affect Austin-area shipments

After a manufacturing error ruined 15 million doses, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the supply will not increase until the plant in Baltimore is once again allowed to participate in production.

Here are the most recent coronavirus updates from Williamson County. (Community Impact staff)
Williamson County reported more than 250 new COVID-19 cases April 9-11

Here are the most recent coronavirus updates from Williamson County.

Lily Belle specializes in making hand-cut leather earrings. (Courtesy Lily Belle)
Online retailer Lily Belle now open in Georgetown

Lily Belle is an online jewelry shop.

Romeo's Pizza held its Georgetown groundbreaking April 6. (Courtesy Romeo's Pizza)
Romeo's Pizza coming to Georgetown; Vacancy Brewing opens in South Austin and more Central Texas news

Read the latest business and community news from the Central Texas area.

The Georgetown Arts and Cultural Board has scheduled for two new murals to be installed this spring. (Courtesy The Georgetown Arts & Cultural Board)
2 new murals to go up in Georgetown

The murals will be installed this spring.

The splash pads at San Jose Park, Downtown Georgetown, Rabbit Hill and Garey Park are now open. (Courtesy Georgetown Parks & Recreation)
Splash pads now open in Georgetown

Four splash pads across the city are open for the summer.

Romeo's Pizza held its Georgetown groundbreaking April 6. (Courtesy Romeo's Pizza)
Romeo's Pizza coming to Georgetown

The pizza joint plans to open in June.