At the capitol

Transportation


On April 29 the Senate Committee on Transportation approved a bill that would legalize the use of LED lights on motorcycles. Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, who authored SB 1919, said motorcyclists could use LED lights so other drivers could more easily see them at night and potentially reduce crashes involving motorcycles.

The House Committee on Transportation heard public testimony on several bills during its April 23 meeting, including HB 2442, which would eliminate the ability of the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles or a county tax assessor to withhold vehicle registration because of an outstanding red-light camera ticket. HB 3020 would raise the statewide minimum fine for illegally passing a stopped school bus from $500 to $750. On April 21 the committee also approved House Joint Resolution 13, which would propose a constitutional amendment to temporarily dedicate $3 billion of revenue from the state sales and use tax to the State Highway Fund each fiscal year. The bill was scheduled for a second reading in the full House on April 30.

Economy and Small Business


A bill was passed by the House of Representatives that would shorten the time frame to approve Texas Enterprise Fund grants.

Authored by Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, HB 1701 would require the lieutenant governor or speaker of the house to approve a grant proposal from the governor in 30 days instead of 90 days. Under the bill, the lieutenant governor or speaker of the house could add 14 days to the review period with written notice to the governor. The bill left the House Committee on Economic & Small Business Development April 17, and the House passed it April 29. The topic will be reviewed by a Senate committee.

A trio of bills related to the operation of the TEF—HB 26, HB 27 and HB 28—were placed on the state general calendar in April for review by the House.

On April 29 the Senate passed SB 326, which would allow winery permit holders to manufacture, bottle, label and package wine and sell it to consumers in amounts not to exceed 155,000 gallons annually. The topic will be discussed by a House committee at a future date.

Public Education


On April 22 the House passed SB 149, which aims to create committees to determine if students who pass classes but fail standardized tests can graduate. The Senate passed the bill in March. Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, who filed the bill, moved to concur with House amendments April 29, and the Senate approved that motion. SB 149 is on its way to the governor’s office for consideration.

Other education bills include HB 1759, filed by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen. The school finance legislation aims to add $3 billion in per-student funding and eliminate adjustments once intended to protect districts from short-term losses in funding. On April 10 the House passed HB 4, which outlines a high-quality prekindergarten program.

The Senate Committee on Education heard testimony April 7 on bills including SB 1483, filed by Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, which defines the community schools model.

“Although community schools are operational in Texas, currently there is no definition or uniform set of practices,” she said, noting underperforming schools could choose the model outlined in statute instead of a Texas Education Agency intervention team.

Higher Education


Higher education University presidents Bill Powers and Mark Hussey joined forces earlier in the legislative session asking law makers
for funding.[/caption]

Bills slated to bring changes to higher education are still waiting for passage.

A bill that would allow licensed concealed weapon owners to carry firearms on public college campuses was approved by the Senate but still has not been heard on the House floor. A bill repealing a law allowing some undocumented students to pay in-state tuition rates is waiting to be heard by the Senate but has not cleared its first committee in the House. Some other bills in limbo include those that would issue revenue bonds to help higher education institutions fund projects such as new facilities.

Health Care


On April 24 the Public Health Committee in the Texas House of Representatives voted to send HB 3476 to the Calendars Committee. The bill, authored by Rep. Garnet F. Coleman, D-Houston, is related to the reimbursement of benefits for home telemedicine medical services under Medicaid. Telemedicine offers better medical access in a potentially more cost-efficient way for patients who have difficulties traveling to see a physician for treatment, according to the bill analysis.

The bill is also related to the reimbursement of telemonitoring services and certain health benefit plans provided to some retired public employees. The bill repeals a government code provision, which prohibits the Health and Human Services Commission from reimbursing Medicaid providers for home telemonitoring services on or after Sept. 1, 2015. The bill aims to address the limitations of telemedicine services and extend coverage for a wider population, including establishing a pilot project in the Teacher Retirement System of Texas to include a health benefit plan for telemedicine and telehealth services for TRS retirees in their homes.

Budget


On April 28 the House unanimously approved HB 31, which would decrease the state sales tax rate from 6.25 percent to 5.95 percent, and HB 32 by a vote of 116-29, which would reduce the state’s franchise tax rate by 25 percent.

“Today the House voted [HB 31] to provide all Texans with tax relief that encourages job creation and economic growth,” House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, said.

Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, opposed HB 32, saying the money saved should be spent on state needs including public schools and veterans programs.

“If you think we have enough money in our schools, vote for this bill,” he said. “... If you believe our health care plan is the best plan that we can provide to our Texans, vote for this bill. Otherwise, know we’ve just sent a tax relief bill to the Senate with HB 31.”

The Senate passed SB 762 also on April 28, resulting in an increase from $500 to $2,500 in the amount of business personal property that is exempt from property tax.

“Every Texan that owns a small business, is a sole proprietor, LLC or others will love this bill as it saves them time and money,” Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, said.


MOST RECENT

Exaco will build a new headquarters at One Thirty Business Park along SH 130 in Pflugerville. (Rendering provided by Exaco)
Exaco will build new 42,100-square-foot headquarters, distribution center in Pflugerville

Greenhouse distributor Exaco outgrows current space, will move to Pflugerville

Wag-A-Bag is headquartered in Round Rock. (Megan Cardona/Community Impact Newspaper)
Wag-A-Bag to operate under new ownership, name; Austin, TxDOT at odds over I-35 overhaul; and more top Central Texas news

Read the most popular business and community news from the past week from the Austin area.

The program, which began this week in San Marcos, gives Amazon and Whole Foods employees and contractors direct access to COVID-19 vaccinations. (Courtesy Amazon)
Amazon begins rollout of statewide vaccination clinics for employees

The program, which began this week in San Marcos, gives Amazon and Whole Foods employees and contractors direct access to COVID-19 vaccinations.

Federal funding is set aside for public schools to address effects of the pandemic. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Why Texas has not yet distributed $18 billion in federal funds intended for public schools

As budget decisions loom for school districts across Texas, state leaders are holding on to federal funds intended for public schools to use in addressing the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The temporary waiver covering initial vehicle registration, vehicle registration renewal, vehicle titling, renewal of permanent disabled parking placards and 30-day temporary permits will end April 14. (Hannah Zedaker/Community Impact Newspaper)
Officials: No grace period to follow end of statewide waiver for vehicle title, registration requirements

Officials with the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles announced April 5 there will be no grace period following the end of the temporary waiver of certain vehicle title and registration requirements this month.

The new tool will give Texans one place to sign up for a COVID-19 vaccine through multiple health departments, including the eight DSHS public health regions—which provides public health services to nearly 200 Texas counties—as well as more than a dozen local health entities statewide. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Department of State Health Services launches Texas Public Health Vaccine Scheduler

The new tool will give Texans one place to sign up for a COVID-19 vaccine through multiple health departments, including the eight DSHS public health regions—which provides public health services to nearly 200 Texas counties—as well as more than a dozen local health entities statewide.

Residents wait to receive a COVID-19 vaccine at the Delco Activity Center in Northeast Austin on March 13. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
More than 74,000 vaccine first doses coming to Austin-area providers in next week

The total allocation is fewer than the area received last week from the state.

The Centers for Disease Control released new guidance on in-person instruction for K-12 grade schools on March 19. (Courtesy Pexels)
CDC loosens guidelines on social distancing in schools

The updated guidance recommends students maintain 3 feet of social distancing in classrooms while wearing masks.

Rice Stadium Vaccine Site
Texas vaccine rollout: After 90 days, over 2.9 million fully inoculated

That figure represents about 13% of Texans over age 16—roughly one of every seven.