February 12, 2021 Legislative Update
FROM WASHINGTON, D.C.
House committees have been hard at work this week divvying up funds for President Biden’s proposed $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package. The budget reconciliation process requires each committee to parcel out funds to particular programs. For example, the House Transportation Committee met earlier this week and decided on $30 billion of emergency funding for public transit and $1.5 billion of emergency funding for Amtrak. They also provided $11 billion in emergency funding and support for airports and aviation manufacturers. The House Budget committee will then meet next week to consider funding recommendations from all committees. A vote on the final House bill is expected by the end of the month. Meanwhile, work on the Senate side will have to wait until the conclusion of former President Trump’s second impeachment trial, although Senate leaders may skip the committee process entirely and choose to vote directly on the House bill.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) updated its FY2021 economic outlook this week. For the first time since World War II, the share of public debt will exceed the nation’s gross domestic product, a situation many had expected thanks to COVID-19. In addition, CBO projects that receipts from the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) excise taxes will be recovered back to their pre-COVID levels in FY 2022. At current spending rates, both the Highway and Mass Transit accounts of the HTF will remain solvent until summer 2022.
Democrats in the Texas House of Representatives have created a new climate, energy, and environment caucus to encourage discussion among members about addressing emission mitigation strategies. The issue is partisan in Texas. Last session, The Texas Legislature did not hear a single bill related to climate change. The new coalition, led by Representative Erin Zwiener, hopes to hold a hearing on climate change where experts would be invited to testify. The effort is in line with policy goals set by the Biden Administration. Texas, historically influenced by strong oil and gas interests, has adopted a cautiously optimistic attitude toward green technologies like wind and solar energy in recent decades.
COVID 19 Policy Updates
Governor Abbott has hinted that COVID 19 restrictions may be relaxed soon if hospitalizations continue to trend downward. In a Dallas press conference, the Governor said that his team has begun evaluating options that may loosen public health policies that have impacted Texas businesses. While it is unknown which restrictions the Office of the Governor intends to lift, the announcement is an optimistic change of pace for an administration that ordered businesses to operate at limited capacity in October.
HB 1651 (Wilson)- Relating to a study by the Texas Department of Transportation on the feasibility of charging a pavement consumption fee for the operation of certain motor vehicles on public highways.
If passed, HB 1651 would direct TxDOT, The University of Texas, and Texas A&M, to study methods whereby a road consumption fee could be measured and levied upon operators of commercial vehicles. The study would also find the best governing body to administer and enforce this program. Additionally, the bill outlines the need for software to aid in the collection and measurement of roadway consumption by commercial vehicles.
HB 1758 (Krause)- Relating to the use of an unmanned aircraft; creating a criminal offense.
If passed, HB 1758 would create an offense for pilots that operate unmanned aircraft with chemical weapons, explosive weapons, or firearms attached. This offense is a class A misdemeanor. Unmanned aircraft pilots may not be prosecuted if they use the weapon-equipped aircraft over their own property or with the consent of the property owner. Peace officers acting within their professional capacity are exempt. Military actors acting within their professional capacity are also exempt.
HJR 21 (Craddick) / HJR 82 (Craddick)- Proposing a constitutional amendment providing for the creation of and use of money in the Grow Texas fund and allocating certain general revenues to that fund, the economic stabilization fund, and the state highway fund.
Either of these two identical constitutional amendments would obligate the comptroller to determine the amount transferred from general revenue to the economic stabilization fund, reduce that amount by twelve percent, then send the difference to the Grow Texas fund. The Grow Texas fund could only be used to address infrastructure needs in oil and gas production areas. HJR 21 and HJR 82 also outline the procedure to select Grow Texas fund commissioners.
Safety related bills as mentioned during the February 11 Regional Transportation Council meeting:
HB 442 (Israel)- Relating to the prima facie speed limit on certain streets and highways.
If passed, HB 442 would amend Transportation code to allow for urban district speed limits to be set at 30 miles per hour on roads that are not alleys or 25 miles per hour in residential areas that are under municipal jurisdiction and are not a part of the state highway system that are not alleys.
HB 443 (Israel)- Relating to requiring the operator of a vehicle to stop and yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian.
If passed, HB 443 would obligate motorists to stop and yield the right-of-way to pedestrians crossing the street when the motorist is making a turn. HB 443 would also amend other areas of transportation code that govern motorist-pedestrian behavior to ensure that motorists “stop and yield the right -of-way” to pedestrians rather than just “yield the right-of-way” to pedestrians.
SB 42 (Zaffirini)- Relating to the use of a wireless communication device while operating a motor vehicle.
If passed, the bill would make using a wireless communication device a crime unless the vehicle is stopped and outside lanes of travel. SB 42 makes contacting emergency services an affirmative defense to prosecution but eliminates the following as affirmative defenses to prosecution: using a GPS device, reporting illegal activity to a software application, reporting road conditions to a software application, using a two-way radio, and using a music playing software application. Under SB 42, no one under the age of 18 would be able to use any affirmative defense listed in Transportation Code related to this section. Commercial motorists, other than school bus drivers, would be allowed to use wireless communication devices. Local authorities would not be able to preempt enforcement of wireless communication device prohibitions while using a motor vehicle if SB 42 was passed.
SB 221 (Zaffirini)- Relating to the prima facie speed limit in certain urban districts.
SB 221 would amend the same section of Transportation Code as HB 442. SB 221 would allow for speed limits to be set at 25 miles per hour on roadways in urban areas of municipalities that have a population of 950,000 or greater and 15 miles per hour on alleys in urban areas of municipalities that have a population of 950,000 or greater.
RECENT COMMITTEE HEARINGS
- The House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change held a hearing on Feb. 9 on “Back in Action: Restoring Federal Climate Leadership.” Chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) praised the Biden Administration’s aggressive plan to tackle climate change in his opening remarks and said it was necessary to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. He outlined a vision that includes legislation to revitalize American infrastructure through “green” job creation and Buy American provisions. He said this legislation would also advance equity and environmental protection with a robust consultation process for environmental justice communities.
- The Senate Finance Committee met on February 8, 2021. Committee Chair Senator Jane Nelson made opening remarks and introduced the new Vice Chair Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr. Senator Nelson and committee members then introduced their staff members. The proposed committee rules were adopted with no objections. Senator Nelson then laid out the details of Senate Bill 1, which represents the introduced budget for fiscal year 2022-2023. The bill allocates $119.7B in general revenue and $251.2B in total funds. Invited testimony was heard from both Comptroller Glenn Hegar and Jerry McGinty. Comptroller Glenn Hegar gave a layout of the Biennial Revenue Estimate. Jerry McGinty, from the Legislative Budget Board, gave an overview of Legislative Budget Estimates. The meeting was brought to an end as Senator Nelson moved that Senate Bill 1 be left pending.
UPCOMING COMMITTEE HEARINGS
- There are no hearings of interest scheduled next week.
- The House Appropriations Committee will meet on February 18, 2021 to hear testimony related to transportation, infrastructure funding, and other budget matters. Public testimony will be taken.
- The Senate Finance Committee will hold a hearing on February 17, 2021, to discuss Article VI funding. TCEQ is financed under Article VI. Public testimony will be taken.
- The Senate Finance Committee will hold a hearing on February 18, 2021, to discuss Article VII funding. TxDOT is financed under Article VII. Public testimony will be taken.
To view Committee Hearings for the Texas Senate click here:
To view Committee Hearings for the Texas House click here: