Legislative Wrap-Up for March 17

Controversial Pick for Pension Board Faces Texas Senate Opposition:
Serious opposition has developed in the Texas Senate to the appointment of Josh McGee to serve as chair of the State Pension Review Board. McGee is a prominent critic of state-guaranteed pension benefits and is employed by a foundation in Houston that has led attacks on defined-benefit pensions around the country. McGee’s nomination by Gov. Greg Abbott was okayed in the Senate Nominations Committee March 16, but just barely. The vote was four to three, with Democratic Sens. Kirk Watson of Austin, Jose Menendez of San Antonio, and Borris Miles of Houston all voting no. McGee needs a two-thirds majority of the full Senate in order to be confirmed, so if 11 Democrats oppose his nomination in the 31-member body, his appointment will be rejected. Texas AFT opposes the McGee nomination.

House Budget Writers Ready to Use Reserves to Help TRS Retirees: ┬áHouse Appropriations Committee chair John Zerwas (R-Richmond) announced on March 16 a budget bill that would tap the state’s Economic Stabilization Fund for $500 million to help out TRS retirees faced with exorbitant premiums if the state fails to act. The pay-as-you-go TRS-Care health plan needs an infusion of as much as a billion dollars to stay solvent through fiscal 2019, and Zerwas said the alternative to tapping the ESF reserve is unacceptable. The alternative, he said, would be premium increases that would mean health-care costs eat up half the pension of the average TRS retiree.

Immigration Bill Slowing Down in Texas House: SB 4, the bill by Sen. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock) that would force local governments to become enforcers of federal immigration restrictions at local expense, was passed by the state Senate but now faces uncertain prospects in the House. After hundreds of witnesses spoke against the bill at a House committee hearing this week, the committee chair said the House is not in a hurry to push this bill through.

Trump Budget Proposal Takes Meat Ax to Education Funding: President Donald Trump’s budget proposal issued Thursday would take a meat ax to education funding, said AFT President Randi Weingarten. The White House plan would cut education by 9 percent and includes policy ideas that were rejected by Congress just a year or so ago as threats to educational funding for schools serving high percentages of disadvantaged students. The good news about the plan, if there is any, lies in the fact that presidents can propose but Congress actually decides what goes in the budget–and Trump may well face bipartisan opposition to much of his education-gutting budget proposal.

State Senate Education Committee Hears Voucher Bill March 21: Now is the time to speak out strongly against SB 3, the Texas Senate voucher bill set for a hearing on Tuesday, March 21. Click here to send your email in opposition to SB 3 and any other voucher scheme.