Interest Groups give rundown of 79th Legislative Session:
by James A. Bernsen
Volume 9, Issue 41
The Lone Star Report
This week, LSR spoke to a variety of interest groups to get their rundown of the high and low points of the session. The following is a sampling of their assessments of the 79th Legislative session:
Mike Lavigne, Texas Democratic Party
There's a few gems, but mainly a lot of coal. We didn't get CHIP back up to where it needs to be. It was kind of an anti-woman session, with a parental consent bill and other bills against what the women's caucus had been fighting for.
Obviously, school finance and the tax plan was just a big boondoggle.
Luckily, that voter ID bill didn't pass. That was just a big waste of time and energy. Obviously, we're not happy about HJR 6 (gay marriage ban)....
Another thing that's good that happened this session was that Texas Grants got funded again, and that was thanks to Sen. Rodney Ellis [D-Houston]. I'm sorry that tuition deregulation didn't get addressed this session. That's something that needs to be addressed...The low income folks have grants that are available, and the higher income folks don't have to worry about it, but it's the middle income folks that get crushed.
It would sure be nice to get a little bit of leadership here...There was a lot on the table, and nothing got addressed.
Billy Howe, Texas Farm Bureau
We think HB 2702 did make [the Trans-Texas Corridor] better for rural Texas for landowners and agricultural producers. We didn't get everything we would have liked to have gotten, obviously. There's always some compromise there that you have to do. I think, particularly on the access issue...the biggest issue for our folks is getting from one side of the corridor to the other side of the corridor, if it cuts off county roads, farm-to-market roads, things of that nature...That's the one issue where we didn't get as much as we'd have liked. On the other [corridor] issues, we, to a large extent, succeeded in what we wanted to do as far as getting some better compensation. (see p.8)
We worked with the [National Rifle Association] on SB 734, dealing with being able to maintain your right to hunt on your property if you get annexed into the city limits. In some instances, landowners had lost their right to hunt on their property if they were in the city limits...That was a property rights win for us.
School finance was a big issue for everybody. In any version of the school finance bill, we felt that agriculture was O.K. with the new taxes...
Nothing much really happened on water. There only a few significant groundwater bills that passed, HB 1763 by Robby Cook, and HB 2423 by [Robert] Puente...I think [SB 3] had a lot of good stuff in it.
Dick Lavine, Center for Public Policy Priorities
I am glad that we got out of session without increasing the regressivity of the tax system. Especially the House plan, with an additional penny on the sales tax would have moved us in the wrong direction, from our point of view. The best parts of the tax debate [were]...the attention paid to the tax equity note and the fact that regressivity was an element in the debate. We see that as a step forward. The Senate plan, maybe in response to the attention paid to the regressivity, included that Lone Star Card rebate...That is a very important recognition of the impact of the sales tax, especially on families at the bottom, and on middle class families too.
...Still, the top 10 percent came out the best [in the Senate plan] and then maybe the 10 percent just below them, followed by the bottom 10 percent. So, rather than being a straight line, it bowed it a little at the end, made it more of a horseshoe. That's a real innovation in Texas tax policy.
In our case, a lot of [our successes] were preventing steps in the wrong direction. For instance, HJR 35, the appraisal caps, which we thought would have not just limited the ability for local governments to raise money, but would have caused all kinds of disruptions in the market by creating these anomalies where people living in houses right next to each other would pay different taxes based on how long they'd lived there...
Elizabeth Graham, Texas Right to Life
Although the 79th Legislature did not muster the strength to pass any of the multiple pro-life bills filed due to committee road blocks, points of order, and substantial political infighting, a few pro-life amendments were added to other bills.
Rep. Will Hartnett (R-Dallas) successfully amended SB 419 (the Board of Medical Examiners Sunset Bill). Hartnett's first amendment...renders more effective the original third trimester abortion ban by narrowing the definition of severe physical impairment and by removing the mental health exception, a major loophole of the pre-existing language.
The second Hartnett amendment on SB 419 mandates parental consent for abortions on minors...(The judicial bypass provision in Chapter 33 of the Family Code will still allow a minor to bypass her parents if necessary).
The parental consent amendment as a whole leaves a few issues unresolved. First, notarized or in-person parental consent is not required, allowing any person (including the minor) to forge a parent's signature on the consent form. Second, even if an adult is present at the abortion clinic to sign the consent form, there is no required verification of the adult's status as the parent or legal guardian, allowing sexual predators to pose as the parent, sign the form, and force the minor to have the abortion. Finally, no specific legal penalties are outlined for a physician that is in non-compliance with parental consent, providing little or no incentive to comply.
Michael Sullivan, Texas Public Policy Foundation
I think that it's real important to focus on the fact that some really good things came out of the legislative session, most notably the Governor and the Speaker and the Lieutenant Governor need to be firmly congratulated for bringing the state two very positive things for economic growth, most notably asbestos reform and workers' compensation reform.
[On education reform] it took a great deal of political courage and will to put forward some of those things despite what was the known opposition there. I thank Kent Grusendorf and the education committee and others for even having the guts to bring up a lot of those reforms.
It is unfortunate that the same fiscal restraints that were evident two years ago were fairly absent this time. A 19 percent increase in the budget is not sustainable, and it really drives home the need for true tax and expenditure limitations in the state...
Certainly, I think all of us would like to have seen a property tax reduction come out of this session, but I don't think any of us were interested and thrilled at the thought of that property tax reduction coming at the expense of new taxes...It was a good thing that at the end of the day our tax system maintained the status quo, because it was on a track to getting a lot worse...
Kelly Shackelford, Free Market Foundation
We thought it was a little disappointing. Stuff that should have been very easy to get through was very hard to get through, unnecessarily so. So even the things that we won on, like the marriage amendment and parental consent...There wasn't a single pro-life bill that went through the regular process and made it, which is unheard of when you look at the legislative makeup and how those people are pro-life...
The marriage amendment again was much more difficult than it should have been. It got out of committee only after being watered down, and we had to strengthen it back up on the floor of the House...and then we had problems in the Senate. Again, this is an issue that is an 80 percent issue, and it almost got killed...
On the other side, you've got things like school choice and truth in taxation which were killed. Really the talk of the session was all about new taxes, which we think would have been a horrible mistake, and fortunately, everything died. Everybody else is crying over the fact that things died, but we're very pleased, because the whole debate was wrong.
Frank Sturzl, Texas Municipal League
It was a really hard session for us, although at the end of the day, things came out OK for us. The appraisal caps got voted down on the House floor. On the revenue caps, or the rollback bills, the one that passed, sponsored by Sen. [Tommy] Williams was certainly something that we can live with and does, I think, solve many of the truth in taxation issues that the Governor was concerned about...
We faced the takings legislation.[U]ltimately it died. The telecom and the cable legislation came out of the House but did not pass muster in the Senate and died as well. We opposed that bill. We spent a lot of time negotiating with SBC and trying to come up with something that we can all live with, but we just never got there. I think there's a way to do this...[W]e just didn't think we found the right mix of provisions...
Some of the worst bills were bills pushed by builders and developers. One of them was amended on third reading in the House to make it look like zoning is now affected by the permit vesting statute. We're not sure how that will play out...So presumably we'd be banned from zoning for the duration of eternity, but we don't know that [for sure] yet.
All in all, the story for us was we were busier than ever...We ran 20 miles and sort of stayed in place.
Dinah Welsh, Texas Hospital Association
Overall, it was a challenging session, I think with the impetus on public school finance and property tax relief. For hospitals and health care, our No. 1 issue continues to be increased funding because of our Medicaid rolls and our uninsured. Providers, hospitals and docs are very interested in health care spending. Medicaid spending did increase. Children's Health Insurance Program received additional dollars and increases in case loads and cost growth were reflected in the budget allocation. On some hands, I think we did well, but on others not. On one hand, you had the ICM [Integrated Case Management]; and on the other hand, you had a trauma sock in the gut.
Many of the benefits in CHIP were restored and some of the benefits to Medicaid were restored. I think one of the things that we've really worked hard on was SB 500, which secured a change in the insurance code to allow hospitals to offer discounts on health care services to uninsured patients. That was really big for us as far as trying to address the uninsured problem on a local level, where hospitals could provide some kind of discounts.
On nursing workforce, we were able to secure $6 million for nursing faculty recruitment and retention and secured almost $2 million for financial aid to nursing students...On patient safety and quality of care...we secured the creation of an advisory panel to study and develop recommendations for collection and reporting of health care associated infection rates, which I think is definitely the right step...
One of the big issues that really was a challenging issue for many was the physician self-referral issue. There were a number of bills out there, but SB 872 was Sen.[Jane] Nelson's bill that requires a study on the issue, that was passed. We're really excited about that study...It is about a level paying field...We're optimistic that there will continue to be a debate and discussion of the issue.
Any other groups interested in sharing their views of the session can email their comments to email@example.com and they will be considered for the Newswire section of the LSR website.
The Lone Star Report: