House Plan for State Budget Coming to a Vote April 6; Other Action at the Capitol

House Plan for State Budget Coming to a Vote April 6:  The House is scheduled to vote on its version of the 2018-19 budget bill, SB 1, on April 6. Also set to be voted on that day is the supplemental spending bill for fiscal 2017, HB 2. Pre-filing of amendments to the budget bills must occur by 10 am Monday, and we’ll be spending part of the day sifting through proposed amendments to identify good ideas and bad.

A key vote is likely to occur on an amendment to the budget bill to ban any funding for vouchers. Similar amendments have won by lopsided majorities in past sessions in the House, killing any momentum for vouchers. Keep an eye out for a possible action alert to support anti-voucher amendments in the House.

Potentially the biggest fight will be over an anticipated amendment by far-right representatives to block any use of the Economic Stabilization Fund (AKA the Rainy Day Fund).  The House version of SB 1 would tap this reserve, now nearing $12 billion, for more than $2 billion, including money for retired school employees’ health coverage. The House bill overall on education funding is distinctly better than the Senate version, which would grab local property-tax revenue increases to allow the state to spend $1.4 billion less in general revenue for schools. The House in contrast would actually increase school formula funding by $1.5 billion.

Other Legislative Action for the Coming Week:  Lawmakers have until around May 8 to get House bills out of committees and somewhat longer to report out Senate bills. Accordingly we see the number of committee hearings and the number of bills heard on the rise in the coming week. Here’s a sampling:

Monday, Senate State Affairs Committee–The committee will hear SB 788 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston), which would put all Medicare-eligible TRS retirees into a Medicare Advantage plan and would leave all non-Medicare retirees stuck with only a high-deductible plan with high premiums and copays. The bill increases the state contribution somewhat, but that small step forward would not be nearly enough to spare non-Medicare retirees from a big increase in their cost of health coverage through TRS.

Tuesday, House Public Education Committee–Nearly 20 bills will be heard. On the positive side, HB 713 by Rep. Gene Wu (D-Houston) would forbid the use of a performance indicator by TEA that places a cap on special-education enrollment. On the negative side, HB 3439 by Rep. Linda Koop (R-Dallas) would give school districts inappropriate financial and accountability incentives to contract with charter operators to run district campuses.

Tuesday, House Public Health Committee–HB 11 by Rep. Four Price (R-Amarillo) would set out extensive requirements for mental-health assessment and services in schools.

Tuesday, Senate Education Committee–SB 1398 by Sen. Eddie Lucio (D-Brownsville) would revise the law passed last session on the use of video monitoring in special-education classrooms. A key change would limit the use of cameras to the classroom where a requesting parent’s child receives instruction; the law on the books now has been misinterpreted to mean one parental request requires cameras in every special-education classroom throughout a school district.