Sine Die Newsletter: "Sent-to-the-Governor" Edition
This week, the House and Senate adjourned for the last time. "Sine Die" is a Latin term meaning "without a day," and marks the final adjournment of the Legislature. As of this day, all bills are either on the Governor's desk, or they are dead. Below is a brief summary of a few major state initiatives, as well as my own local bills for the 84th Legislative Session.
Biennial State Budget
The House and Senate passed the final version of the state budget, leaving $8 Billion unspent in the state checking account. By prioritizing our state's needs, we were able to support public education, border security, transportation infrastructure, and basic state services - all without raising taxes or draining the treasury.
This budget falls well below the constitutional spending cap, well below the rate of growth in our state's population and inflation, and leaves $11.1 Billion in the state's rain day fun- the largest balance in the history.
House Bill 910 allows concealed handgun license holders to open carry. Texas is one of 6 states who still require CHL holders to conceal their weapons. This bill was passed out of the House and Senate and is set to take effect January 1, 2016 pending the governor's signature.
Senate Bill 11 allows CHL holders to carry on the campus of a state college or university. Several states have adopted similar legislation, and have reported no determinable negative incidents as a result. Upon enactment, CHL holders will no longer be expected to leave their lawfully held firearms when entering a college campus.
Dr. Bonnen's Local Bills: Sent to the Governor
Texas Windstorm Insurance Agency (TWIA) SB 900
Senator Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) and Representative Greg Bonnen (R-Friendswood) successfully passed Senate Bill 900, the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association (TWIA) reform legislation.
SB 900 improves the Association's funding structure by carefully balancing coastal policyholder and insurance company participation. The bill requires the Association to meet a 1 in 100 year probable maximum loss to ensure claims are paid in the aftermath of a major catastrophe. SB 900 also amends the Associations board of directors to ensure all stakeholders have equal representation. The bill keeps a 9-member board but goes from a 5-4 industry / coastal representation, and instead goes to a 3-3-3 industry/coastal/inland representation composition.
Finally, Senate Bill 900 gives the Texas Department of Insurance Commissioner the authority to privatize the Association's management if the Commissioner determines it is in the best interest of policyholders and the public.
HB 1927 requires early voting clerks for cities, school districts, and local entities to deliver mail ballots to all voters who qualify for them. Current law, strangely, does not require that these ballots be provided to eligible voters at elections in which they are entitled to vote. HB 1927 remedies this problem, and provides confirmation to all voters that they will be afforded the ability to cast their vote.
HB 2027 ends the practice of "rolling polling," wherein voting machines are moved around during an ongoing election. Voter targeting, however well intentioned, results in certain voters being actively solicited to the exclusion of others. Fairness in the electoral process is essential to maintaining voting integrity; this bill guarantees that every voter gets a fair opportunity to make their voice heard.
Protecting our Children
HB 1781 reforms certain provisions in the Family Code to allow adopted children under the age of 18 to petition a court to gain access to the sibling from whom they were separated in CPS proceedings. Hundreds of children each year are separated by CPS action, oftentimes splitting siblings into different adoptive families. Providing a means by which these children may keep in contact with brothers and sisters they've spent their early childhood with is critical to preserving their family ties.
HB 1782 creates a statutorily-defined presumption that an individual convicted of certain crimes against the family will be recognized as a potential threat to the safety and welfare of a child who has been removed by CPS and placed in foster care or adopted into a family home. Judges in this state will automatically recognize the threat posed by these individuals, and will be authorized to issue a protective order for the safety of the child.
Local Control for School Meal Program
HB 1305 removes statutory restrictions on schools who choose to opt out of the federal school meal programs. Prior to this bill's passage, the state school finance formula effectively penalized schools for opting out of the federal nutrition regime. By repealing this penalty, HB 1305 returns control to locally-elected school boards, teachers, students, and parents. Schools opting out of the federal regime are free to design their own food options, purchase from non-federal vendors, and avoid the US Department of Agriculture's unsatisfying nutrition mandates.