As the Legislature takes a break until Monday for the Easter/Passover holiday, there’s news to report on a number of bills of importance to education employees. With just 46 days left in the 2017 regular session, some major bills are on the move, while some others are not.
Educator misconduct: SB 7, the bill by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) to crack down on employees involved in improper relationships with students, is definitely in the on-the-move category. With some modifications, this Senate bill has been passed by the House Public Education Committee and is likely to be scheduled for floor action soon in the full House. The bill expands the categories of employees facing penalties for such misbehavior, and it imposes new penalties on educators who know of such misconduct but fail to report it. One part of the bill as passed by the Senate, but removed by the House committee, would take away the pension of an education employee convicted of a felony for improper relationship, sexual abuse, or sexual assault involving a student. Texas AFT has raised concerns about this part of the bill, citing among other things the potential harm to innocent dependents of the person convicted.
School funding: HB 21, the leading House bill on school finance by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Houston), is now scheduled for action on the House floor on Wednesday, April 19. Rep. Huberty has had remarkable success thus far in piecing together a broad coalition of supporters across the spectrum from low-wealth to high-wealth school districts and from education organizations of all stripes. On average HB 21 would give school districts a gain of $210 per pupil under the state funding system, fueled by an increase of $1.5 billion or more in school funding. A new funding weight for dyslexia would support services to students with that disability, and funding for bilingual education would be bumped a bit as well. Amendments proposed for HB 21 must be pre-filed by 5 PM on Monday, April 17. We will report on significant amendment proposals and on the floor action on this crucial bill in upcoming Hotline messages.
Vouchers and payroll deduction: Hotly contested bills deservedly not on the move at this point include SB 3, the Senate voucher bill by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), and SB 13, the Senate’s attempt to ban voluntary payroll deduction by education employees and some other categories of public employees for their union or non-union association dues. SB 13 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) would take away your freedom to do as you wish with your own hard-earned money. It is a blatant effort to muzzle education employees who dare to speak out against bad policy ideas like the transfer of public funds to unaccountable private schools via vouchers.
Both bills cleared the Senate on March 30, but as yet neither SB 3 nor SB 13 has been assigned to a committee for consideration in the House. A House companion to SB 13, HB 510 by Rep. Sarah Davis, has been sent to the House State Affairs Committee, but no hearing date has been set for the bill. You can help defeat both SB 3 and SB 13/HB 510 in the Texas House by emailing letters to your legislators that you will find on the Texas AFT action page.
Retiree health care: Sen. Huffman also is the author of SB 788, a highly controversial measure to put the lion’s share of the burden of rising health-care costs on retirees rather than the state. Sen. Huffman has now pulled this bill off of the Senate Intent Calendar, signaling that SB 788 will not come before the full Senate for a vote. In effect, it appears that Sen. Huffman has ceded the initiative on the issue of retiree health care to the House. In that chamber the Appropriations Committee is scheduled to consider a plan for retired school employees’ health care that would go easier on retirees, reportedly marshaling about twice as much funding for the TRS-Care health plan as SB 788 would have offered. The House proposal will be laid out in an April 17 hearing on HB 3976 by Rep. Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin).
Look for further updates on legislative activity during the coming week in the next Hotline, which will appear on Monday, April 17.