The 88th Legislative Session kicked off with a $32.7 billion surplus. This afforded state legislators the opportunity to go beyond the status quo and meaningfully address critical issues, such as our state’s foster care system, mass shootings, healthcare access, the teacher shortage, and maternal mortality. State leadership had their own set of priorities, with Gov. Abbott pushing for school vouchers and strengthening Operation Lone Star, and Lt. Gov. Patrick and Speaker Phelan releasing their own lists of some 30 priorities that included culture war issues, such as eliminating tenure, runaway DAs, and anti-DEI measures, and some kitchen table issues like the grid and improving water infrastructure The big three aligned on some issues like property tax relief, book bans, reigning in “runaway DAs,” and teacher pay raises.
So what did the Legislature accomplish this session? This report offers a high-level overview of the bills that passed.
Before the start of the session, the Comptroller’s Budget Revenue Estimate (BRE) showed that the state had $188.2 billion available for general-purpose spending, which included the $32.7 billion surplus. Because of various spending caps, HB 1, also known as the 2024-25 General Appropriations Act (GAA) or the state budget, appropriated $144.1 billion of General Revenue funds.
The entirety of the 2024-25 state budget totals $321.3 billion. This is a 23% increase from what the Legislature allocated in the 2022-23 General Appropriations Act (GAA) and an 8% increase from what the state actually spent during the biennium ($297.2 billion).
State Budget Highlights:
- $1.8 billion for a 5% state employee salary increase per fiscal year, or at least $6,000 over the biennium.
- $1.95 billion to raise the base wage for home health care workers from $8.11/hour to $10.60/hour.
- $5 billion for a supplemental 13th check and cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA) for retired teachers.
- $1.5 billion to the Texas Broadband Infrastructure Fund, subject to voter approval.
- $1 billion to fund the newly created Centennial Parks Conservation Fund, subject to voter approval, for parkland acquisition and development to expand our state parks system, which has been strained by overcrowding in recent years.
- $550 million for the Gulf Coast Protection District to fund “Ike Dike”-related projects and meet requirements from federal partners in this $34 billion project.
- $113 million to support the increased workload due to the unwinding of continuous Medicaid coverage.
Supplemental Budget Highlights:
- $1.1 billion for school safety initiatives.
- $3 billion to the Texas University Fund.
- $2.5 billion in GR and $4.7 billion in FF to HHSC to cover additional costs related to Medicaid.
- $2.2 billion in GR to HHSC for the construction of state hospitals and additional inpatient capacity.
- $1.4 billion for projects related to semiconductor innovation.
- $900 million in GR to the Employees Retirement System of Texas (ERS) for a one-time legacy payment to the system’s unfunded actuarial liabilities to reduce long-term interest costs.
- $625 million in GR to the Texas Water Development Board to recapitalize the Flood Infrastructure Fund and $125 million for Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund match funds to leverage for a drawdown of IIJA (The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act) funds.
- $200 million for Port Capital Improvement Projects.
- $1 billion investment in the newly created Texas Water Fund, subject to voter approval, to address aging and deteriorating water infrastructure and to create new water supplies.
Property Tax Relief
The 2024-2025 state budget includes $17.6 billion for property tax relief. Of that, approximately $5.2 billion is statutorily mandated by HB 3, 86(R). The rest of the funds, totaling $12 billion, is contingent on the enactment of property tax relief legislation. However, no such legislation came to fruition during the regular session.
The House’s version of property tax relief, HB 2 and HJR 1, would have reduced the annual appraisal cap from 10% to 5% per year and expanded it to all real property, and reduced school districts’ maximum compressed rate by an additional 15 cents.
The Senate’s version of property tax relief, SB 3 and SJR 3, would have increased the school district homestead exemption from the current $40,000 to $70,000 and increased the additional mandatory school district homestead exemption for taxpayers who are age 65 and older or disabled from $10,000 to $30,000.
SB 3 made it the farthest in the legislative process, with the House amending the bill to include reducing the appraisal cap from 10% to 5% and expanding it to all real property, increasing the homestead exemption from $40,000 to $100,000, and expediting rate compression by an additional 15 cents. Both the House and Senate appointed conferees but no deal was struck.
Voting Rights and Elections
Bills that Help Texas Voters
- SB 477 (Zaffirini/Bucy) — improves curbside voting and standardizes certain voting accommodations for voters with disabilities or mobility impairments.
— SB 477 requires election officers at polling locations to prioritize persons with mobility problems at each entrance to a polling place.
— If a voter is physically unable to enter the early voting polling place without personal assistance or if entering the polling place would likely harm the voter’s health, the clerk must deliver the balloting materials to the voter at a reserved parking area marked with clear signage. The sign should display a telephone number in a large, readable font that voters can call or text to request assistance from an election officer at the polling place. The polling place also has the option of providing the voter with a button or intercom that they can use to request assistance from an election officer instead of displaying the phone number.
— SB 477 also requires the early voting clerk to post the official application form for an early voting ballot on their website. The form should be in a format that allows individuals to easily complete the application directly on the website before printing.
- SB 1599 (Hughes/Bucy) — expands opportunities for voters to cure defects in an application or ballot to vote by mail, standardizes and updates mail-in ballot voting procedures, and expands the purpose of the vote-by-mail tracking tools to allow a voter to track their application for a mail-in ballot, notify voters of defects, and, if possible, correct any application or mail-in ballot defects.Correcting Applications for Mail-in Ballots — SB 1599 requires early voting clerks to inform applicants within two days if any defects are found in their application that, if not corrected, would result in its rejection. If the clerk determines the voter can return the application by the deadline by mail, the clerk must either return the application or mail a new application form. If not, they may call or email the voter to correct the defect in person. The bill also allows a voter to be notified and, if possible, correct an application defect through the online tool.
Correcting Mail-in Ballots — SB 1599 requires early voting clerks to inform applicants within two days if any defects are found in their mail-in ballot. If the signature verification committee or early voting ballot board determines the voter can return the mail-in ballot by the deadline, the committee or ballot board must mail the voter a notice of the defect and a corrective action form developed by the secretary of state. The notice must include a brief explanation of the defect and a notice that the voter can either cancel their application to vote-by-mail or correct the defect by submitting a corrective action form by mail or in person no later than 6 days after election day. If the committee or board determines that it would not be possible for the voter to receive the notice within a reasonable time, they may call or email the voter to come to correct the defect in person. Lastly, the committee or board must, if possible, allow the voter to correct a defect using the online tool.
Other Provisions — SB 1599 requires election officers to maintain a register of persons returning their mail-in ballot to the polling place to cancel their application to vote by mail. The bill outlines procedures and forms for completing this requirement. Additionally, SB 1599 requires the jacket envelopes containing mail-in ballots to be delivered to an early voting ballot board no later than the ninth day before Election Day. After this deadline, they must be submitted to the presiding judge of the early voting ballot board until the polls close on Election Day or as specified by the presiding judge.
- HB 357 (Bucy) — makes it easier for voters to access the statewide mail-ballot tracker and standardizes the runoff election date for races held on May or November uniform election days.
— HB 357 modifies the information required for Texas voters to access the statewide tracking tool by removing the voter’s registration address.
—Rather than a runoff election held between 20 and 45 days after a final canvas of a main election, HB 357 requires that a runoff be held on a Saturday no earlier than the 30th day but no later than the 45th day after the election date and may not be on a national or state holiday.
- HB 3159 (Leach) — requires creating an accessible, electric absentee ballot system for people with disabilities or those confined for childbirth.
Bills that Weaken Voting Rights and Election Administration
- SB 1070 (Hughes/Jetton) — permits the SOS to create a voter crosscheck system from scratch so that Texas may withdraw from the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) compact. Withdrawing from the interstate program decreases available voter data and weakens the state’s efforts to keep voter rolls clean and prevent illegal voting.
Participation in ERIC helps member states in identifying and conducting outreach to eligible but unregistered voters to encourage them to register to vote. The program also helps the state clean voter rolls by identifying voters who have moved within Texas, voters who have moved out of Texas, voters who have died, and voters with duplicate registrations in Texas.
In a 2020 bipartisan effort, Texas became the 30th state to join the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) to increase voter participation and improve the accuracy of voter rolls. ERIC is governed and managed by the member states and was formed in 2012 with assistance from The Pew Charitable Trusts. Since then, former President Donald Trump and conservative activists have sprouted unfounded claims and conspiracy theories accusing ERIC of pursuing a left-wing agenda and sharing personal data with unauthorized parties, urging states to withdraw from the compact. Five states have followed suit and left the compact since January 2022.
SB 1070 allows the SOS to identify and contract with a third-party private company to develop a voter registration crosscheck program with the cooperation of other states. Any vendor must comply with the National Voter Registration Act and the Help America Vote Act. SB 1070 also requires the SOS to maintain records of the new voter crosscheck system and submit quarterly reports to the Legislature regarding its operations.
SB 1070 aims to create a voter crosscheck system from scratch based on misinformation rather than continuing the use of a working system, ERIC. Even with recent withdrawals of Republican-led states, Florida, Missouri, and West Virginia ERIC still has agreements with 31 states and Washington, D.C. Having as many states as possible in the compact is advantageous to prevent individuals from registering in multiple states. ERIC has been doing its job. ERIC data from June 2022 helped Texas identify 100,000 in-state duplicate voters and another 100,000 duplicates of people who moved in or out of state. Creating an entirely new system that aims to do the same thing as the existing one but with less state cooperation wastes time and resources.
- SB 1933 (Bettencourt/Oliverson) — allows state “administrative oversight” of Harris County elections. SB 1933 seeks to interfere and usurp county election administration.
Administrative Oversight of Elections — The bill authorizes the implementation of “administrative oversight” of an election in a county of more than 4 million (only Harris County) if the SOS has good cause to believe that there is a recurring pattern of problems with election administration or voter registration in the county, such as:
– malfunction of voting system equipment that prevents the casting of a vote;
– carelessness or misconduct in the distribution of election supplies;
– errors in the tabulation of results that would have affected the outcome;
– violations of the requirement for timely delivery of the precinct election records to appropriate authorities;
– delays in reporting election returns;
– discovery of voted ballots not counted after a canvass of an election; and
– failure to conduct maintenance activities on the lists of registered voters as required under this code.
Investigations by the SOS — No later than 30 days after the SOS receives an election complaint, SB 1933 requires the SOS to notify the applicable county election official with the specific allegations outlined. The county election official has 30 days to respond to the complaint. If the complaint is about an election for which in-person voting has begun and the final canvas has not been completed, the county election official must respond within 72 hours. If the SOS decides to conduct an investigation, they must notify the county beforehand and provide a report on the findings to the county election official and the person who filed the initial complaint.
SOS Oversight of County Elections — SB 1933 gives the SOS the authority to conduct in-person observations of election preparation, early voting, election day, and post-election day procedures. It also grants the SOS the power to approve and review any policies or procedures regarding the administration of elections issued by the county. If the SOS determines administrative oversight is necessary after a complaint investigation, the SOS must provide written notice to the county election official with authority over election administration or voter registration. The SOS must provide the county election commission and county attorney with a quarterly report on the activities of the administrative oversight personnel. Administrative oversight will continue until December 31 of the first even-numbered year following the initial complaint, or when the SOS determines the problems are remedies, whichever is earlier. After this, if the SOS determines the issues are not rectified, the SOS may file a petition to remove the applicable county officer with authority over election administration or voter registration, or enter a written order to the appropriate authority to terminate the county’s elections administrator.
Election Audits — After the uniform election date in November of an even-numbered year, the Secretary of State (SOS) must conduct randomized audits of the elections held in four counties during the previous two years — two counties with populations less than 300,000 and two counties with 300,000 or more. SB 1933 requires the SOS to complete an additional audit on a random county of less than 300,000 if the SOS completes the four audits currently required by law before the end of the two-year period. An additional audit for no apparent reason is unnecessary. Randomized audits are employed as an efficiency mechanism because the costs associated with auditing all 254 counties is not worth the benefit. SB 1933 will only further burden the SOS.
- HB 1243 (Hefner) — raises the penalty for illegal voting from a Class A misdemeanor to a state jail felony for an attempt to illegally vote and a second degree felony for illegal voting. While illegal voting is a serious offense, there is no evidence of an increase in illegal voting cases since the passage of SB 1, 87(R). Raising the penalty could result in unnecessary incarcerations, waste taxpayer dollars, and deter voters from participating in the electoral process for fear of criminal charges for an error on their ballot.
- SB 1750 (Bettencourt/Cain) — abolishes the Harris County election administrator and transfers all duties to the county tax assessor-collector, interfering in county administration. While this may work in smaller counties, Harris County, in particular, faces unique challenges, with over 2.5 million registered voters spread out across the 1778 mi² of the county, and may necessitate a professional elections administrator, as the commissioners courts have already determined.
- HB 1299 (Noble) — requires an ink-on-paper signature on a mail-in ballot’s carrier envelope in the name of election security, disproportionately impacting individuals with disabilities who are unable to physically write their signature, and instead use stamps.
- HB 1848 (DeAyala) — requires the Secretary of State (SOS) to conduct an unecessary study to examine the feasibility of aligning every central counting station with the standards of Sensitive Compartmented Information Facilities (SCIF). SCIF standards were created for national security matters, not elections administration. A feasibility study is not needed to determine the impracticality of these standards on local elections.
HB 1000 and SB 375 ratified the House and Senate district maps, respectively, that were passed during the third special session of 2021.
This session, dozens of bills were filed aiming to increase resiliency and expand the capacity of the state’s electric grid to account for an increasing population, extreme weather events, and other climate-related impacts, such as rising temperatures.
Among the most talked about bills of the session was SB 7 (Schwertner/Hunter). The bill sought to develop a new ancillary service product called the dispatchable reliability reserve service (DRRS) and create guardrails on the Performance Credit Mechanism (PCM), the PUC-approved market redesign initiative. Opponents of the bill were concerned that SB 7 would deter renewable projects from building in Texas and reduce resource diversity which is vital for lowering wholesale electricity costs and maintaining reliability. There was also disagreement on the market’s $1 billion cost cap per year. While the cap is intended to protect consumers, some saw the measure as counterproductive to the PCM market design. Ultimately, SB 7 was incorporated into the PUC Sunset bill, HB 1500 (Holland).
Expanding dispatchable generation facilities (i.e., natural gas or coal plants) was a priority for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. However, there are some flaws with this pathway to resilience. During Winter Storm Uri, every kind of power generation fell short, including natural gas and coal power plants. In fact, significantly more natural gas and coal went offline than renewables (since they were responsible for more production during the storm). Simply put, it does not make sense to pinpoint any one generation source for criticism, or conversely, as a fix-all. Early on Lt. Gov. Patrick endorsed SB 6 (Schwertner) which would have mandated ratepayers fund the construction of up to ten gigawatts of gas-fueled plants. The bill never received a hearing in the House after being passed by the Senate. However, SB 2627 (Schwertner/Hunter), which incentivizes coal and natural gas over other energy sources, became law. The bill creates a taxpayer-funded low-interest loan program for companies that pledge to build or upgrade dispatchable electric generation facilities, i.e. natural gas or coal plants.
While SB 7 and 2627 both address the supply side of the energy equation, there are some bills, now law, that address electricity demand:
- SB 1699 (Johnson/Hunter) — implements recommendations from PUC and the ADER Task Force to integrate aggregated Distributed energy resources (DERs), like solar panels, into the ERCOT market. SB 1699 promotes the decentralization and diversification of the electric grid, encourages renewable energy sources, and reduces stress on the grid.
- SB 2453 (Menéndez/Hernandez) — aims to advance sustainable building conservation practices by allowing the State Energy Conservation Office (SECO) to implement the latest energy codes and water conservation design standards for new construction in buildings.
Lastly, SB 2013 (Schwertner/Hunter) addresses potential vulnerabilities, such as remote interference, in the electric grid that hostile actors could exploit.
As temperatures rise, drought worsens, and the population grows, so does the need to update Texas’ existing water system and create new water infrastructure. SB 28 and SJR 75 (Perry/King, Tracy O.) will create new funds for the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB). The New Water Supply for Texas Fund will go towards water supply and infrastructure projects in Texas and will be voted on by Texans on the November 2023 ballot. The Texas Water Fund will be used primarily to support other Texas water-related projects.
SB 1289 (Perry/King, Tracy O) directs the Texas Commission on the Environment (TCEQ) to develop rules for reusing onsite blackwater within buildings, a major efficiency gain.
Operation Lone Star
For the 88th legislative session, there was an established intention to further the fortification of the Texas-Mexico border and enhance the operations of Operation Lone Star (OLS). This intention was reflected in the finalized version of HB 1, allotting billions of dollars for border security. There were many pieces of border security measures introduced in this legislative session.
Harmful bills that didn’t pass include HB 20 (Schaefer) which would have created a “border protection unit” and a state-level equivalent to Title 42, a federal policy authorizing the federal government to deny entry based on COVID-19 public health concerns, and various bills that would have enhanced penalties for illegal entry or human smuggling, such as HB 1600 (Hefner), SB 2424 (Birdwell), and HB 800 (Guillen). HB 2 (Guillen), a nearly identical bill to HB 800, was filed and passed by the House in the 1st special session. Because the Senate tacked on amendments and the House had already adjourned sine die, the House could not vote on the amendments, and no further action on the bill was taken.
A harmful bill that made it to the finish line includes SB 602 (Birdwell/Harless) grants border patrol agents the powers to arrest, search, and seize for any felony offense under state law or criminal offense under federal law committed within counties adjacent to the Texas-Mexico border or the Gulf of Mexico, any adjacent counties, and counties served by an attorney representing the state whose jurisdiction includes any of these counties. SB 1403 (Parker/Spiller), which allows the governor to create and implement an interstate compact with interested states. The proposed compact would authorize collaborative actions between involved states, including the exchange of intelligence on activities occurring at the southern border, pooling resources to build physical and technological barriers to deter or identify activity along the border, and sharing law enforcement resources.
With the end of the Public Health Emergency, 5.8 Texans on Medicaid will be re-evaluated for eligibility which will result in many Texans losing coverage. Medicaid expansion continues to be a dire need for Texas to ensure low-income Texans can access medical care. Despite this, no bills that would have expanded Medicaid received a hearing. During floor debate on the supplemental budget, Rep. Turner offered an amendment to an amendment that would have expanded Medicaid. The amendment failed adoption by 65 Yeas, 83 Nays, and 1 Present Not Voting.
However, there was a huge win with HB 12 (Rose), which will extend postpartum Medicaid coverage from two months to 12 months. The passage of HB 12 will mitigate the extreme rate of maternal morbidity and mortality in Texas. Additionally, no reductions to Medicaid were made in the budget.
Regarding telehealth services, HB 2727 (Price) will broaden telemonitoring services in Medicaid for high-risk pregnancies and other medical conditions. HB 2727 also expands the list of medical conditions eligible for telemonitoring services and adjusts the criteria for eligibility. Additionally, it ensures that clinical information is shared with the patient’s physician and provides telemonitoring equipment for patients with high-risk pregnancies. HB 617 (Darby) will re-establish the 9-1-1 telemedicine medical services pilot project, which expired in 2021. Under the pilot program, the Commission on State Emergency Communications (CSEC), with assistance from the Texas Tech Health Sciences Center (TTHSC), would provide instruction on emergency medical services and prehospital care to providers from rural trauma facilities and emergency medical facilities through telehealth services. Telehealth services have been revolutionary for healthcare and its continued progression will be essential.
HB 3286 (Klick) will improve access to medications for Texas Medicaid patients by adding protections similar to those in the commercial market, ensuring Medicaid patients have access to necessary medications without being forced off effective treatments and establishing a database for providers to verify if drugs are on the state’s preferred drug list.
In the budget, the Texas Child Mental Health Care Consortium was appropriated $280 million which will enhance various aspects of the program including access to child psychiatry, school-based telehealth psychiatry, and expansion of the mental health clinician workforce. Additionally, mental health community hospitals received $302 million, community mental health grant programs received $83 million, and $1.6 billion was appropriated to construct new mental health state hospitals. HB 400 (Klick) would increase the number of mental and behavioral health professionals in Texas by creating two new grant programs: The Psychiatric Specialty Innovation Grant Program and The Behavioral Health Innovations Grant Program.
Regarding progress in addressing mental health among veterans, HB 671 (Gonzalez, Mary) will require the Texas Veterans Commission to conduct a suicide prevention campaign to provide veterans with information on suicide prevention and a website to instruct about safely storing firearms. SB 63 (Zaffirini/Raymond) requires the Health and Human Services and the Texas Veterans Commission to create an instruction guide for families and caregivers of veterans with mental health conditions.
There was a major movement for substance use with HB 299 (Murr) which defines recovery houses in state statute, establishes a voluntary accreditation system, and outlines the roles of accrediting organizations and the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC). SB 1319 (Huffman/Turner) will require local health authorities or law enforcement agencies to report overdose information to an entity that maintains a computerized system to map overdoses. This will provide essential information regarding the frequency of overdoses and provide accurate, timely responses should overdoses escalate in particular areas.
Other Beneficial Healthcare Legislation
- HB 25 (Talarico) — will require the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) to create a program to import prescription drugs from Canadian suppliers, enabling Texans to get their medications at a lower cost.
- HB 1647 (Harris, Cody) — prohibits health plans from intentionally switching drugs from being self-administered to clinician-administered at an increased out-of-pocket cost for patients, and prohibits insurers and PBMs from pressuring patients to use affiliated or preferred pharmacies by increasing copays, coinsurance, and other associated costs for drugs that are “whitebagged.”
- SB 2193 (LaMantia/Frank) — allows federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) to create a primary care access program for employees and dependents of participating employers. The program aims to reduce the number of individuals without primary care access, promote preventive care, offer fair payment rates, and encourage innovative health information technology use.
- HB 999 (Price) — will require health benefit plans covering prescription drugs or pharmacy benefit managers to apply any coupon or other out-of-pocket expense reduction to an enrollee’s deductible, copayment, cost-sharing responsibility, or out-of-pocket maximum for prescription drug benefits.
- HB 2002 (Oliverson) — will require Texas insurers to credit an insured’s deductible and annual maximum out-of-pocket expenses when they pay a healthcare provider directly for medically necessary services or supplies.
Harmful Healthcare Legislation
- HB 44 (Swanson) — would prohibit Medicaid and CHIP providers from refusing treatment solely based on a person’s “refusal or failure” to obtain a vaccine for a particular infectious or communicable disease. HB 44 requires the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) to deny Medicaid or CHIP reimbursement for violating providers and disenroll these providers from Medicaid and/or CHIP.
Attacks on the LGBTQIA+ community
The 88th legislative session has continued the attacks on the LGBTQIA+ community, specifically focusing on the transgender community. Four egregious bills moved through both chambers and have been signed into law.
- SB 14 (Campbell/Oliverson) — prohibits providing gender-affirming care to minors by medical professionals and insurers from covering such care. SB 14 would interfere with the private medical decisions between patients, their parents or legal guardians, and medical professionals.
- SB 15 (Middleton/Swanson) — bans the participation of transgender athletes from collegiate-level athletic teams and competitions. SB 15 is nothing more than government overreach into instances already addressed by policy and regulation implemented by the NCAA. The intentions behind SB 15 stem from transphobic, hateful rhetoric that targets one community in the name of fear, ignorance, and hatred.
- SB 12 (Hughes/Shaheen) — prohibits “sexually oriented performances” where minors are present and establishes a criminal offense for performers and a civil penalty for businesses. This perpetuates the continued misrepresentation of the LGBTQIA+ community as sexual deviants and that the community is a danger to children.
The LGBTQIA+ community, especially LGBTQIA+ youth, is the current target of oppressive legislation, and it should be expected that whatever was not accomplished in this session will reappear or take a more extreme form when refiled in the future. For example, HB 42 (Slaton), HB 436 (Patterson), and HB 672 (Hefner) were filed this session that would add gender-affirming care to child abuse statutes. HB 1752 (Toth) would allow for civil lawsuits against those providing, aiding, or abetting gender-affirming care for LGBTQIA+ youth and can be brought forward even if the treatment did not occur in Texas. Texas also had its own “Don’t Say Gay” bills, like HB 631 (Toth), HB 1155 (Patterson), and HB 1541 (Toth), to restrict classroom instruction regarding sexual orientation and gender identity.
Although there were pro-LGBTQIA+ bills filed this session — such as HB 428 (Lopez, Ray) which would have created a task force to evaluate the housing needs of LGBTQIA+ senior citizens, HB 2055 (Jones) that wold have repealed the criminal offense relating to “homosexual conduct,” and bills prohibiting “conversion therapy” including HB 496 (Meza), HB 1679 (Hernandez), HB 5026 (Bryant), and SB 439 (Menendez) — none made it to the finish line.
The big question surrounding the higher education policy items passed by the 88th Legislature was whether ideological interference would prove to be problematic for legislative efforts to make significant investments in research at both our major universities and smaller state universities that do not benefit from the state’s larger endowment funds.
The Texas Tribune reported that at the start of the legislative session, university leaders requested additional funds and pledged to state budget writers that they would keep tuition rates flat for the next two years. By the time the budget passed last month with $700 million in new funding for state universities, two other higher education bills had passed: SB 17 (Creighton), which banned diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) offices in Texas higher education, and Senate Bill 18 (Creighton), to ban or overhaul tenure. SB 17 and SB 18 will upend decades of progress and long-standing higher education values, may harm universities’ standing among national and international educational institutions, and discourage talented and respected faculty and researchers from coming to Texas
Higher Ed Investments
- HB 1, the state budget, set aside nearly $43 billion for public colleges and universities. A little over $9 billion of that is specifically for public universities’ general funds, representing a $1.1 billion increase from the last biennium.
- SB 30, the supplemental budget, includes millions of dollars for additional projects at individual universities. The University of Texas at Austin received $440 million to create the Texas Institute of Electronics, while Texas A&M University got $226.4 million for chip fabrication and the creation of the Center for Microdevices and Systems. The budget also includes nearly $1.5 billion in grants for low-income students that will serve 70% of students in both public community colleges and four-year universities.
- HB 8 (VanDeaver) provides about $430 million to community colleges via a new system based on student outcomes like the number of students who earn “credentials of value,” complete at least 15 hours of courses and transfer to a four-year university, enroll in dual credit courses, and other positive outcomes. The bill would also create the Financial Aid for Swift Transfer program to enroll high school students economically disadvantaged in dual credit courses at no cost.
A New Endowment Fund for Texas Universities
For decades, the University of Texas System and the Texas A&M University System have benefited from the Permanent University Fund (PUF) and the Available University Fund (AUF) endowments. Lawmakers, higher education officials, and boosters at the University of Houston and Texas Tech University — the largest schools not in the UT or A&M systems — have argued that other universities’ inability to tap into these endowments has hampered those schools’ capacity to rise in the national rankings and improve their prestige and stature.
Subject to voter approval, HB 1595 and HJR 3 (Bonnen) will redesignate the National Research University Fund (NRUF) as the Texas University Funding (TUF) and restructure it to make Texas State University, Texas Tech University, the University of Houston, and the University of North Texas eligible for yearly funding — plus any other general institution if they meet certain criteria. They also provided an additional $3 billion to help relaunch the fund. If voters give the OK this November, the University of Houston will receive $48 million, the University of North Texas $21 million, Texas Tech University $44 million, and Texas State University $22 million.
Following the challenges left in the wake of COVID, culture wars, and a divisive political environment, public education was not immune to the effects of polarization. On the one hand, the state had a surplus of roughly $33 billion of our tax dollars thanks to inflation and federal COVID relief dollars. Meanwhile, as many as 70% of our teachers considered leaving the profession after years of being overworked and paid $7,000 below the national average, and local public school leaders faced budget shortfalls due to inflation and declining attendance due to the pandemic.
Success in the classroom leads to a strong economy and going into the session with a surplus seemed like an opportunity to work across party lines to address the needs of our students and their teachers. Unfortunately, statewide politicians held good policy hostage when it came into conflict with partisanship and ideology.
Vouchers/ESA’s Defeated for Now
Private school vouchers are taxpayer-funded subsidies with little, if any, accountability for results. For decades, voucher supporters and out-of-state special interest groups have worked without success to siphon public tax dollars out of public schools claiming they provide “choice” to Texas families. However, numerous credible studies have found that vouchers have provided students little, if any, academic benefit.
This year, Gov. Abbott joined Lt. Gov. Patrick in support of private school vouchers by linking them to culture wars as part of a new “Parents Bill of Rights” while traveling the state in support of SB 8 (Creighton), which would have provided $8,000 taxpayer dollars to families of students that transfer from public schools to “accredited” private schools or those with students entering pre-K and kindergarten students for the first time. These families would place these tax dollars in “educational savings accounts” and could be used to pay for a number of “educational” expenses.
A bipartisan House majority voted 86-52 (including 24 Republicans) for an amendment to the state budget that prohibits using state tax dollars from being used to pay for “school vouchers or similar other programs.” As the session wound down, voucher supporters attempted to add a voucher amendment to other education bills without success.
On February 24, Governor Abbott released the recommendations of his Teacher Vacancy Task Force with the following statement:
“Educating Texas students is crucial for the continued success of our great state, and teachers play a pivotal role in that success. Working with the Texas legislature, we will develop and implement strategies that attract, retain, and support highly qualified educators to provide students across the state with even greater opportunities to learn and grow.”
The recommendations included the following:
- An increase in teacher salaries by increasing the basic allotment (HB 1 and HB 100);
- Expanding teacher apprenticeships and full-year paid teacher residencies (HB 11 and SB 9); and
- Funding for and increasing the Mentor Program Allotment (HB 1).
Unfortunately, the Legislature was unable to follow through on these recommendations. Instead the Lt. Governor and Senate used teacher pay raises as leverage to fund vouchers. The effort failed and although $4 billion set aside in HB 1 for school funding and teacher compensation increases, no school finance legislation (like HB 100 or HB 11) passed that would have enacted that funding.
SB 10: A Win for Retired Teachers
SB 10 (Huffman/Bonnen) includes $5 billion for a supplemental 13th check ($1.6 billion) and a cost-of-living adjustment ($3.4 billion) for eligible retired teachers. The most recent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) that retired teachers received was in 2013, but only for those who retired before 2004. Under SB 10, retirees ages 75 and up would receive a $7,500 one-time payment and those aged 70-74 would receive $2,400. SB 10 includes a 2%, 4%, or 6% COLA for those who retired on or before August 31, 2020 depending on the retirement date. The more distant the retirement, the higher percentage of the cost of living adjustment. The monthly annuity increases would take effect January 2024, contingent on approval by the voters
Scores of education bills pass every session. Here are a few that drew attention and passed:
- HB 900 (Patterson), Book Bans — regulates the available material in public school libraries by requiring vendors to rate the degree of sexual conduct in books and banning “sexually explicit” material. While pornographic content has no place in school libraries, HB 900’s interpretation of inappropriate material casts such a wide net and doesn’t consider the material’s value as a whole. There are serious concerns that HB 900 will work to condone the erasure of LGBTQIA+ representation in school library material, as some may deem this community’s experiences as “patently offensive,” further marginalizing LGBTQIA+ children. 41% of currently banned books across the nation address LGBTQIA+ themes or have protagonists or prominent secondary characters who are LGBTQIA+.
- HB 1707 (Hughes), Charter School Accountability — This bill began as a requirement that political subdivisions consider charter schools as school districts for purposes of zoning, permitting, utility services, etc. The full House amended the bill to consider charters governmental bodies for purposes of public information laws and accountability provisions related to real estate for charters, which do not have local oversight like school districts do.
- SB 763 (Middleton/Hefner), Chaplains as Counselors — Allows districts to employ or allow untrained volunteer chaplains to perform the duties of school counselors and provide restorative discipline, mental health support, and behavioral health services. Not only are chaplains not required to complete any of the extensive qualifications to become a school counselor, but there are also no standardized regulations to becoming a chaplain.
- HB 1605 (Buckley), TEA Open-Source Curriculum — This is a permissive bill that allows TEA to create an open resource instructional material program that districts may use. However, concerns were expressed that should a district choose to use this resource, highly qualified teachers might no longer be able to skillfully craft lesson plans. On that note, the bill creates detailed posting and access requirements with which districts must comply and it provides a small allotment for districts that use the state-created/approved materials.
HB 3: School Safety Omnibus Bill
Since 2018, there have been 12 school shootings in Texas. The most recent shooting in Uvalde resulted in the unimaginable loss of 19 children and two teachers. While there is no one solution to this nuanced issue, lawmakers must take action to increase school safety. Several pieces of legislation focused on mental health and increasing the school safety allotment for “school hardening” measures, such as increased armed security, arming teachers and staff, surveillance cameras, metal detectors, and door-locking systems. Ultimately, only HB 3 (Burrows) made it to the Governor’s desk and became law.
HB 3 mandates new requirements for school districts and the TEA to attempt to increase safety for kids in Texas schools.
District requirements include:
- Each district and charter must have at least one armed security officer per campus. Such an officer must be a school district peace officer, a school resource officer, a commissioned peace officer employed as security personnel, or a school marshal. The bill also permits a district employee to act as a security officer as long as they carry a handgun during school hours and complete training provided by a certified handgun instructor in school safety. If a school cannot meet this requirement, it may claim a good cause exemption.
- The TEA commissioner will adopt standards, including construction quality and other standards, related to the safety and security of new and existing school facilities. Under HB 3, at least once every five years, the Texas School Safety Center must review building standards for school facilities and recommend changes to improve safety.
- District must require employees who regularly interact with students to complete an evidence-based mental health training program regarding the recognition and support of students who may be experiencing a mental health or substance use issue that poses a threat to school safety. TEA must provide an allotment for district compliance. The State Board for Educator Certification must also propose rules to allow the training to be a part of educators’ continuing education requirements.
- TEA must establish guidelines for EOPs to ensure the safety of students with disabilities in consultation with the Texas School Safety Center, advocacy groups, educators, and regional education service centers. Districts may adopt updates.
- TEA must develop a model policy to electronically notify parents and guardians of violent activity that has occurred or is being investigated. Each district must adopt a policy that meets the standards.
- Regarding threat assessments, each campus must establish a clear procedure for a student to report concerning behavior by another student.
- Each school district must provide DPS and local law enforcement agencies with an accurate map of each campus and an opportunity to conduct a walk-through of each facility.
- The sheriff of a county with populations less than 350,000 must conduct semi-annual meetings to discuss law enforcement capabilities, resources, technology operability, law enforcement response, and more related to school safety. HB 3 mandates that various different stakeholders attend each of these meetings, and outlines who must attend. Following such a meeting, the sheriff must provide a report to TxSSC regarding attendees and subjects discussed. These reports must be made publicly available by TxSSC.
TEA Monitoring and Compliance:
- TEA will establish a school safety security office to coordinate the monitoring of safety requirements. The director of the office is appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate. The office must establish a school safety review team in each region of the twenty regional education service centers.
- TEA must conduct a random vulnerability assessment of each school district every four years to assess emergency operations procedures and other school safety requirements.
- TEA must conduct annual on-site audits to assess a campus’s general intruder detection and provide districts with corrective actions if any security deficiencies are identified.
- The TEA commissioner may assign a conservator if a district does not comply with school safety requirements.
- Currently, the school safety allotment is $9.72 per student ADA (average daily attendance) or around $50 million per fiscal year. HB 3 creates a baseline for each district’s annual school safety allotment, equal to the sum of $10 per student ADA and $15,000 per campus. This equates to approximately $327.8 million for the biennium. In addition to training and planning, HB 3 allows these funds to be used to purchase school safety technologies from TEA-approved vendors.
- HB 3 allows school districts to use proceeds from bonds issued for construction, equipment, and site purchases for school safety requirements. If a school is found noncompliant by the aforementioned monitoring process, it will be required to use such bonds to become compliant before they use the funds for anything else.
There are some useful provisions in HB 3, such as mental health training. However, there are serious concerns about increased police presence in schools, which has proven to criminalize our most marginalized students further. Because officers are not likely to respond to a violent event day to day, school police spend the majority of their time monitoring children. This can increase rates of exclusionary discipline, arrests and criminal charges, and the use of force. Lastly, the presence of armed police during these incidents of mass violence may not lead to fewer casualties; the Uvalde school shooting had 376 law enforcement on the scene. Bottom line, more guns in schools won’t make kids safer. Arming teachers may also work to harm students’ trust in educators.
Additionally, there are also concerns that districts do not have adequate funding, staff, or knowledge to carry out the bill’s requirements. HB 3 requires school districts to have one armed security officer per campus. San Antonio’s Northside ISD, for example, already has around 100 officers in its district police department but has 123 different campuses. Depending on the commission of officers and salary benefits, the bill’s allotment plus $15,000 may not fully cover the cost to comply. Not to mention the costs of the unknown facilities requirements that the commissioner will adopt. HB 3 does allow districts to claim a good cause exemption if it cannot pay for an officer per campus; however, districts would need to adopt an alternative plan like a school marshall or armed employee.
While there are some helpful provisions of HB 3, many missed opportunities exist to implement solutions that focus on preventing mass shootings and helping end gun violence in Texas schools.
A Committee Vote on Raise the Age
After much advocacy by the Uvalde families and days after the Allen Mall shooting, a bill that would raise the minimum age to purchase certain semi-automatic rifles from 18 to 21 (HB 2744 by Rep. Tracy King) passed out of the House Select Committee Community Safety. Republican Representatives Sam Harless and Justin Holland joined Democrats in the 8 Yes – 5 No vote. While this impactful bill did not make it to the House floor, the vote shows that the needle is moving on common-sense gun reform.
Other Noteworthy Bills
- HB 2127 (Burrows) — Local governments will no longer be able to implement and enforce ordinances in the best interests of their constituents, impacting issues like housing, worker protections, public health, and more.
- HB 567 (Bowers) — The Texas CROWN Act, protects Texans against race-based discrimination of hairstyles and hair textures in schools, workplaces, and housing entities.
- SB 379 (Huffman/Howard) — Exempts family care, maternity, menstrual, and postpartum products from taxation, including children’s diapers, baby wipes, baby bottles, maternity clothing, breast pumps, tampons, menstrual pads, and other related hygiene products.
- HB 3297 (Harris, Cody) — Eliminates the mandatory annual vehicle safety inspections for noncommercial vehicles starting in 2025. However, Texans would still have to pay the annual $7.50 inspection fee. There are still 17 counties that mandate annual emissions testing.
- HB 4 (Capriglione) — Regulates the collection and use, and treatment of consumers’ personal data collected by certain business entities to enhance the personal privacy of Texas residents.
- HB 6 (Goldman) — Enhances penalties for many fentanyl-related crimes. Criminalizing drug use and delivery to combat overdose epidemics is ineffective and harmful. If an individual overdoses in the presence of the person who delivered the drugs, that person is more likely to flee to avoid arrest instead of calling the authorities or staying to assist the person in distress. HB 6 has the potential to increase overdose rates. There is a way forward through harm reduction practices, insurance coverage, and access to community care. HB 6 provides no such resources and may cause Texans further harm.
Many state entities were up for extension this legislative session, with functions ranging from overseeing the state’s electric grid, environmental regulation, law enforcement, and other important government functions. Below are entities that had sunset legislation this 88th session.
- HB 1500 (Holland), Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUC), Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) & Office of Public Utility Counsel (OPUC) — PUC’s mission is to protect customers, foster competition, and promote high-quality infrastructure. PUC supervises ERCOT and the competitive electric markets within the ERCOT region. PUC conducts utility rate cases, licenses industry professionals, and investigates customer complaints and violations of agency rules. OPUC advocates for customers in rate and contested cases, participates in PUC rulemaking projects, represents customers on the ERCOT board, and addresses consumer inquiries and complaints.SB 7 (Schwertner) was rolled into this sunset bill. These entities will continue for six years.
- SB 1397 (Schwertner/Bell, Keith), Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) — TCEQ is responsible for monitoring and permitting the release and disposal of harmful chemicals and pollution into the air, water, and soil. Along with the extension of the agency, the TCEQ’s sunset legislation provided essential changes to the agency involving transparency, public participation, and enforcement practices. TCEQ will continue for 12 years.
- HB 1565 (Canales), Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) & State Water Implementation Fund for Texas (SWIFT) Advisory Committee — TWDB’s mission is to ensure water security for the future of Texas and its citizens. TWDB is tasked with issuing bonds for conserving and developing Texas’ water resources, water science and conservation research, and water supply and flood mitigation. SWIFT provides financial assistance for projects in the state’s water plan. SWIFT Advisory Committee provides legislative guidance for the fund’s operation, function, and structure. TWDB and SWIFT will continue until 2035.
- SB 1727 (Schwertner/Canales), Texas Juvenile Justice Department (TJJD) — TJJD executes duties related to juvenile justice, including the care, custody, and rehabilitation of the youth assigned to them. In addition to the extension, there were changes made to TJJD to increase accountability, transparency, and the ability for children to be diverted away from TJJD. TJJD will continue for four years.
- SB 1445 (Paxton/Goldman), Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE) — TCOLE licenses and certifies peace officers, county jailers, telecommunicators, and school marshals and provides basic training and continuing education courses. TCOLE also investigates complaints and takes disciplinary actions for violations relating to certain crimes or violating TCOLE rules. TCOLE will continue for eight years.
- SB 2040 (Springer/Clardy), Anatomical Board of the State of Texas (SAB) — SAB oversees the distribution of donated or unclaimed cadavers and anatomical specimens to board-approved medical and forensic science institutions for use in education and research. SAB will be abolished, and its authority will be transferred to the Texas Funeral Service Commission (TFSC).
- HB 1515 (Springer), Texas Economic Development and Tourism Office (EDT) — EDT’s mission is to market and promote Texas as a premier business location and travel destination. EDT assists companies considering relocating to Texas or expanding their operations in the state. EDT also works with other state agencies and local entities to provide economic development programs, services, and other aid to help businesses succeed. EDT will continue for 12 years.
- SB 1424 (Perry/Clardy), Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board (TSSWCB) & Texas Invasive Species Coordinating Committee — TSSWCB supports local Texas soil and water conservation districts via state and federal grants and works with these districts and landowners to encourage voluntary natural conservation in Texas. TSSWCB will continue for 12 years but receive a limited scope re-review during the 2026-2027 biennium to inspect its dam structural repair program.
Texas Invasive Species Coordinating Committee is responsible for creating cooperation between state agencies to control invasive species, facilitate governmental efforts to prevent and manage invasive species, and other duties. Texas Invasive Species Coordinating Committee will continue and be reviewed simultaneously as TSSWCB.
- HB 1550 (Springer), Office of State-Federal Relations (OSFR) — The OSFR coordinates with the governor, the legislature, and other state agencies to advocate for Texas at the federal level, maintains contact with Texas congressional delegates to provide information for state and federal partners, and is a resource for government partners. The OSFR will continue for 12 years.
- SB 1414 (Johnson/Holland), State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners (TBVME) — TBVME regulates veterinary medicine, surgery, and dentistry. TBVME licenses veterinarians, veterinarian technicians, and equine providers, sets standards for veterinary medicine and equine dental services, investigates and addresses complaints against licensees, and takes disciplinary actions. TBVME’s sunset date is 2027 instead of 2029.
- SB 2592 (Paxton/Clardy), Lavaca-Navidad River Authority (LNRA)
- HB 1535 (Clardy), San Antonio River Authority (SARA)
- HB 1540 (Holland), San Jacinto River Authority (SJRA)
- HB 1555 (Clardy), Upper Guadalupe River Authority (UGRA)
The deadline to veto bills for the 88th Regular Legislative session was June 18, 2023. See our appendix of all 76 bills (and one line-item veto in the budget) that Gov. Abbott vetoed, with bill summaries, chamber votes, and veto proclamations.