Longbow Partners’ Legislative Highlights -1.29.2016

Presidential campaign headlines and some heated state contests are dominating media coverage cycles leading up to the primary election date, March 1. Campaign fundraising sources, endorsements, and expenditures are being scrutinized, while questions about primary voter turnout are being debated extensively. However, at the end of the day, predictions about turnout remain largely a mystery or matter of opinion. With roughly a month left, only time will tell if the current polling numbers hold up and whether those being polled end up translating into actual votes, particularly when viewing the impact that the top of the ticket might have on down ballot races in Texas.

In the most recent example of uncharted waters, political observers need not look any further than the Special Election win by political new comer, John Lujan (R-San Antonio,) who defeated Tomas Uresti by a vote of 52% – 48%. Lujan will win the unexpired term for House District 118 (Rep. Joe Farias resignation), temporarily flipping the set to the Republic Party and adding to the total number of Republicans (99) in the Texas House – one shy of a partisan super majority. Lujan will face Robert Casias, who came in 6th during the special election, garnering only 5%, in the Republican primary. Meanwhile, Tomas Uresti (brother of Sen. Carlos Uresti), will face Gabe Farias (son of Rep. Joe Farias) again in the Democratic primary, hoping for a rematch with Lujan in the general election. Interestingly, HD 118 is a 59% Democratic district in presidential general elections, making it the bluest seat currently held by a Republican.

Equally significant is the legislative activity and coverage of several significant issue, including increased concern about the continued volatility of oil and gas prices and its effect on the state budget forecast, implementation of open/ campus carry, calls by Governor Abbott for a convention of states to amend the U.S. Constitution, and TxDOT’s announcement that the agency was planning to spend $1.3 billion to reduce traffic congestion.

What follows is a summary of the most essential happenings, including a full list of scheduled interim hearings.

State comptroller: Oil prices aren’t wrecking Texas budget

In a hearing Tuesday on how falling oil prices might affect the state budget, state Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, had a question for Comptroller Glenn Hegar: “Is the sky falling in Texas?”

“No, sir. Is it something we need to continue to pay attention to and watch? Absolutely,” Hegar said. “I would much rather be in this state than the other 49 states.”

“I just don’t want to be in the state of denial,” West said.

Hegar, who in October lowered his projection for state revenue in the current budget by $2.6 billion because of falling fossil fuel prices, on Tuesday told a leery Senate Finance Committee that, despite a continued decline in prices, the state budget isn’t in jeopardy of being dragged down by the energy market.

Hegar said Texas is well-positioned to survive the downturn of drilling activity in West Texas and South Texas.

“Do we face headwinds in the international markets? Do we face some headwinds with low oil prices? Yes,” Hegar said, “but if you also look at the long-term trends, we’ve have a lot of tailwinds behind us as well.”

State Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, who heads the committee, said she invited Hegar to the hearing after other senators expressed concern about what slumping oil and gas prices would mean for state coffers. Driven by a surplus of supply, the price of oil has fallen about 70 percent since mid-2014. Hegar said that, although the low prices might be devastating for towns that depend on the oil industry, Texas will be fine.

The state has followed prudent fiscal policies, building up cash reserves, he told the budget-writing Senate Finance Committee. Hegar also said that for several decades, Texas has attracted and nurtured other economic sectors than oil and gas, lessening its dependence on drillers’ booms and busts.

“The budget you passed, it works,” Hegar said. “It will continue to work,” he said, even if the world price of oil remains at about $30 a barrel through the end of the current two-year budget cycle in August 2017.

One reason for confidence, he said, is that the Texas economy is less dependent on the oil and gas industry than it used to be. In 2014, 13.5 percent of the gross state product came from the industry, Hegar said, compared with almost 20 percent in the 1980s, when low gas prices helped fuel a state budget crisis.

Another measuring stick: In the 12- month period that ended in November, Texas lost more than 30,000 jobs in the fossil fuel sector and an additional 36,000 jobs in manufacturing. But overall, the state gained 179,000 jobs during that period, he said, thanks in part to big increases in the health care and hospitality industries.

Hegar said that he believes the Legislature last year set aside enough money in the $209.4 billion two-year budget to cover continued losses associated with low oil prices, but that he needs a few more months of data from 2016 before he can offer an estimate of how much those losses will be.

Hegar, though, said the revolution in shale oil technology and declining clout on the part of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries are requiring him to retool his computer models for forecasting.

“We need more economic data,” he said. “I need more than four months out of a two-year biennium to be able to see a long-term trend line of where we are going with lower oil and gas prices” and how much of a drag they exert on sales tax receipts, he said.

His revised projections in October were based on oil prices averaging $44.53 per barrel this year and $50.87 next year – reductions of about $15 each from his original predictions at the beginning of the 2015 legislative session, right after he took office. On Tuesday, oil was trading at about $30.50 per barrel.

The most direct hit to state coffers will be in the severance taxes on oil and gas producers, which takes 7.5 percent of the market value for natural gas and 4.6 percent for oil. Other levies, including the sales tax that is the state’s primary source of revenue, will also see declines related to the dip in oil prices.

Sales tax revenue in October, November and December was down 3.3 percent compared with those months a year earlier, Hegar said, but not all of the decline is attributable to oil and gas.

Ursula Parks, director of the Legislative Budget Board, told the committee that money will be tight when lawmakers meet next year because of the decline in oil and gas prices and because some programs, such as Medicaid and the state’s retiree health care system, are expected to demand more money. Just how tight the budget will be depends on when – or if – oil and gas prices begin to rise again, she said.

“When does that line start to bend? When do we start pulling back up again? I don’t know the answer to that, but the real effect on the next budget you write is going to be so influenced by when we see a shift,” Parks said. “Barring a quick uptick, I think everybody should be prepared for a budget environment that is more limited.”

State Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, said the Legislature needs to be cautious because the full effects of a slumping oil and gas market might not be felt until months down the road.

“It looks like we are in a different environment, and I think it’s time for us as appropriators to realize that,” he said.

TxDOT Planning $1.3 Billion to Reduce Traffic in Largest Cities

The Texas Transportation Commission unveiled a $1.3 billion plan targeted at reducing traffic congestion on some of the most clogged Texas roadways.

The plan calls for the Texas Department of Transportation to direct funds for 14 roadway projects specifically designed to relieve gridlock around the state’s five largest cities: Houston, San Antonio, Dallas, Austin and Fort Worth.

“On average, Texas drivers are losing about 52 hours annually and over $1,200 annually,” said J. Bruce Bugg, Jr., a member of the Texas Transportation Commission. “In order to tackle this, what we decided to do is focus on the five major metropolitan areas.”

In September, Gov. Greg Abbott called on the commission to develop a plan to address traffic congestion, citing the potential for “business growth and job creation” if roadways were less crowded.

The largest amount of state funding — $262 million — is going toward relieving congestion on parts of I-35 and U.S. 67 in Dallas. Another $210 million is also going toward I-10 in Houston.

The proposal also allocates $148.6 million toward three different projects on I-35 in Austin, a portion of which topped TxDOT’s most recent annual list of the 100 most congested roadways in the state.

While TxDOT regularly allocates funding for road projects around the state, the size of the announcement and the focus on the state’s five largest cities was unusual.

Bugg said the agency is focusing on cities because they are home to two-thirds of the state’s total population, which means they also possess some of the most jam-packed roads.

Bugg said the proposal is only the initial phase of a larger effort by TxDOT to clear Texas roads, something that would require further funding down the line.

State lawmakers have taken multiple steps since 2013 to address a shortfall in funding for road construction and maintenance, collectively adding billions annually to the state’s highway fund. The most recent change came in November, when Texas voters overwhelmingly approved a change to the state’s Constitution to direct some of the taxes collected on car sales to road construction and maintenance.

Lawmakers Review Open Carry and Campus Carry Laws

Supporters and opponents of two controversial new gun laws passed last year — one allowing the open carry of handguns and another allowing handguns on public university campuses — updated Texas lawmakers on how the measures are working so far.

The Senate State Affairs Committee invited activists, law enforcement officers and six university system chancellors to speak at the hearing. The goal is to measure whether the new laws are “easily understood” or whether Texans need clarification about where, when and how they can now carry their weapons.

The open carry law took effect New Year’s Day, allowing roughly 826,000 handgun license holders to carry their weapons openly in a hip or shoulder holster. So far, there have been no major incidents reported. But local officials are still struggling to interpret some of the law’s requirements, including whether police officers can ask those visibly carrying guns to present their permits — So far, it has largely fallen to individual district attorneys and police chiefs to determine proper procedure under the law.

Senators also heard concerns about a requirement that businesses give “effective notice” in oral or written communication to customers if they prohibit firearms. Some people have taken that provision to mean they must be verbally told by a business that they are not permitted to carry their firearms.

As the panel concluded, Huffman asked senators to continue collecting information from their constituents so that lawmakers could prepare to make “any little tweaks” to the measure in the fall.

The campus carry law doesn’t take effect until August, and rules for guns in campus buildings are still being worked out at campuses across the state. The law allows university presidents to declare some buildings gun-free, but they can’t create so many gun-free zones that it’s practically impossible to carry a gun on campus.

That lack of specificity has sparked considerable debate. Many faculty members have urged their campus leaders to ban guns in classrooms. But so far, no schools are considering proposals that would institute such a ban, and lawmakers involved in passing the legislation and Attorney General Ken Paxton have said classroom bans would violate the spirit of the law.

A task force at UT-Austin, however, has proposed banning guns in dorms. Its leadership said it’s confident it can do that under the new law. Paxton disagrees.  Meanwhile, most of the state’s private universities have opted out of campus carry, as the new law allows.

AG Paxton Declares Daily Fantasy as Illegal Gambling

Contests offered by popular daily fantasy sports sites violate Texas laws against gambling, according to an opinion released by Attorney General Ken Paxton.

By paying entry fees, participants in the online contests are placing improper bets on the performance of athletes, Paxton said in the nonbinding opinion, adding that daily fantasy operators also violate gambling laws by keeping a portion of the fees.

“Simply put, it is prohibited gambling in Texas if you bet on the performance of a participant in a sporting event and the house takes a cut,” Paxton said.

DraftKings, a leader in the lucrative and fast-growing daily fantasy industry, vowed to continue operating in Texas while criticizing Paxton’s opinion as uninformed and mistaken.

“The Texas Legislature has expressly authorized games of skill, and daily fantasy sports are a game of skill,” said Randy Mastro, a lawyer for DraftKings. ‘The attorney general’s (opinion) is predicated on a fundamental misunderstanding of DFS. We intend to continue to operate openly and transparently in Texas.”

FanDuel, another industry leader, raised similar objections but declined to say whether daily fantasy games would continue to be offered to Texans.

Under Texas law, it is illegal to wager on the “partial or final result of a game or contest or on the performance of a participant in a game or contest.”

Paxton, writing that a Texas court would probably conclude that the contests are games of chance that violate gambling laws, disagreed with operators who argued that daily fantasy was not gambling because success is largely due to the preparation and skill of participants.

“Texas law does not require that skill predominate,” he concluded. “It is beyond reasonable dispute that daily fantasy leagues involve an element of chance regarding how a selected player will perform on game day. The participant’s skill in selecting a particular player for his team has no impact on the performance of the player or the outcome of the game.”

Paxton’s office declined to discuss whether the opinion could be followed by a lawsuit or other action to block daily fantasy games in Texas. “We cannot speculate on potential legal actions. We will allow the opinion to speak for itself,” spokeswoman Katherine Wise said.

Paxton’s opinion was sought by state Rep. Myra Crownover, R-Denton, who also asked him to determine the legality of season-long fantasy leagues that typically involve friends, family and co-workers.

Such leagues, Paxton said, also appear to violate Texas gambling laws. However, he added, courts are not likely to hold participants in traditional leagues accountable because state law allows for private games where nobody receives a “rake,” or a portion of entry fees, to run the game. Daily fantasy is a relatively new and largely self-regulated industry, with operators required to interpret each state’s laws – most of which, like Texas, do not mention fantasy sports – to determine whether the games are allowed.

The stakes are high. DraftKings, for example, said it will distribute more than $1 billion in winnings this year, and FanDuel said it paid more than $560 million to game winners in 2014 on a website that gets 15 million entries a week during the NFL season.

Paxton’s opinion came amid greater scrutiny of daily fantasy sports by other states, with attorneys general in Illinois and South Dakota releasing similar opinions saying the games violate gambling laws.

New York’s attorney general moved to ban the fantasy sites as illegal gambling operations in December, winning a short-lived court order to stop the sites. An appeals court judge quickly halted the ban after an emergency appeal by FanDuel and DraftKings, allowing the games to operate in New York while the appeal continues.

In addition, a federal grand jury in Florida is investigating fantasy sports, while officials in California, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts and Michigan are studying the legality of the games, according to published reports. Residents of Arizona, Iowa, Louisiana, Montana, Nevada and Washington are blocked from playing daily fantasy.

How daily fantasy works

  • Participants pay an entry fee and choose from a menu of athletes from professional or amateur sports, compiling points based on statistical performance, such as yards gained in football.
  • Players join a league with a set number of other players, with predetermined prize amounts paid to the teams that compile the most points.
  • Contests typically last one day to one week

Gov. Abbott’s Convention of States

This month, Gov. Greg Abbott called for a convention of states to amend the U.S. Constitution,

Abbott received a standing ovation at a conservative think tank’s conference after he unveiled nine proposed amendments to the U.S. Constitution, intended to bolster states’ rights while reining in the powers of Congress and the federal government. The governor predicted a majority of Americans would support amending the Constitution to require Congress pass a balanced federal budget and allow states to override federal laws and U.S. Supreme Court decisions. The Governor offered the following constitutional amendments:

  1. Prohibit Congress from regulating activity that occurs wholly within one State.
  2. Require Congress to balance its budget.
  3. Prohibit administrative agencies—and the unelected bureaucrats that staff them—from creating federal law.
  4. Prohibit administrative agencies—and the unelected bureaucrats that staff them—from preempting state law.
  5. Allow a two-thirds majority of the States to override a U.S. Supreme Court decision.
  6. Require a seven-justice super-majority vote for U.S. Supreme Court decisions that invalidate a democratically enacted law.
  7. Restore the balance of power between the federal and state governments by limiting the former to the powers expressly delegated to it in the Constitution.
  8. Give state officials the power to sue in federal court when federal officials overstep their bounds.
  9. Allow a two-thirds majority of the States to override a federal law or regulation.

The standard method for making changes to the U.S. Constitution requires a two-thirds vote from both chambers of Congress. Each of the document’s 27 existing amendments was approved that way.

But the Constitution also permits a second, unrealized method for passing amendments. If 34 states ask for a constitutional convention, delegates may meet to consider changes to the Constitution — which could then become law if they had the support of at least 38 states. In 2015, the Texas House passed a bill calling for such a convention but it failed to pass out of the Senate.

Critics say this method would risk leading to a “runaway” convention, where states could radically alter the document that forms the backbone of U.S. governance. Abbott has said those concerns are without merit.

Even U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, a longtime Abbott ally who worked under Abbott when Abbott was attorney general, has suggested he may support a constitutional convention in the future but has not gone as far as Abbott on the issue. Campaigning last year in Iowa, Cruz, a Republican presidential candidate, predicted there would be “more and more movement” toward a convention if Congress did not act on constitutional amendments.

On this issue, Abbott may be more aligned with one of Cruz’s rivals for the GOP presidential nomination. Last week, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio from Florida called for a constitutional convention in an op-ed published in USA Today.

Oncor Airs Concerns with Ray Hunt Takeover Plan

Top officials at Oncor, Texas’ largest electric utility, have aired concerns about Dallas billionaire Ray L. Hunt’s $18 billion proposal to take over and reshape their company.

The testimony came as the Texas Public Utility Commission kicked off hearings on Hunt’s effort to transform Oncor into a “real estate investment trust,” which is the lynchpin of efforts by Oncor’s parent, Energy Future Holdings, to emerge from one of the largest bankruptcies in American history.

In the hearings, the commission’s three, governor-appointed members were charged with weighing the interests of the Hunts — who have deep roots in the Texas energy world — with those of Texas ratepayers and the electric grid.

Testifying in front on of state regulators, Oncor CEO Bob Shapard suggested that Hunt’s plan could leave the hulking utility without the flexibility to smoothly handle unplanned events, such as a drop in revenue or major storms.

Shapard also expressed concerns that the deal as written could jeopardize the utility’s credit rating. If Hunt does not address those misgivings, the CEO said he would not recommend that state regulators approve the sale.

A complicated plan

A Delaware bankruptcy court has already approved Energy Future Holdings’ plan to shed $42 billion in debt. But Texas regulators still need to sign off on the Oncor sale, the bankruptcy deal’s biggest piece.

With thick binders on hand for reference in the crowded hearing room, the regulators heard the intricate details of a complicated plan that the Hunts say fits the public interest — even though the business structure they are proposing has never been tried for a utility this big.

Consumer advocates call the plan risky. Other critics include big electricity users, staff experts at the Public Utility Commission and, in a surprise twist last week, former Gov. Rick Perry.

The Hunts have pushed back, calling the concerns “alarmist and misguided.” The family — with its respected name and business acumen — is well-positioned to run Oncor and help deliver Energy Future Holdings from its messy bankruptcy, it argues.

To save on federal income taxes, Hunt wants to reorganize Oncor into a real estate investment trust, essentially dividing it into two companies: one owning the assets (power lines, trucks and transformers, for instance) while the other rents the equipment, operates it and deals with customers.

Current plans call for Oncor’s “asset” company to hold some 97 percent of the utility’s net income, which would go largely untaxed. The “operating” company would hold the rest. The two sides would negotiate equipment leases every few years.

The trust would be required to pay out at least 90 percent of its taxable income to shareholders thorough dividends.

That financial structure has long served the real estate world. Shopping malls, for instance, commonly use it, as investors back a broad entity that rents space and other assets to individual stores.

The structure would initially help Oncor borrow money at lower rates, which the Hunt family says would help keep the utility financially healthy and potentially lead to lower rates in the long run.

But it’s nearly unprecedented in the energy world. Hunt owns the only other U.S. utility organized in such a trust: Sharyland Utilities, which serves just 50,000 customers in small patches of rural West and North Texas and has the highest rates in the state.

Hunt calls that experiment a success. Critics aren’t so sure.

Several other aspects of the idea have prompted questions, including whether Oncor will be protected from the debt of its new parent, as it was when Energy Future Holdings sank.

The Hunts promise that Oncor’s rates — which are among the lowest in the state — would not go up under the deal.

Opponents, however, say the more pressing question is whether the Hunts would pass Oncor’s tax savings onto consumers directly, by cutting rates accordingly. The current proposal does not call for such a rate cut.

Oncor’s concerns

Oncor has a solid relationship with the Hunts — their respective Dallas headquarters are across the street from each other — and the Hunts have alleviated some of Oncor’s concerns in recent months, Shapard, the CEO, testified.

They have tentatively agreed to ensure that Oncor can cover more than $2 billion in employee pension liabilities, which had previously been in doubt. The Hunts have also agreed to set aside $500 million that Oncor operators could tap if they ran into unexpected expenses — like costly storms — in between their lease negotiations.

But Shapard said the Hunts have provided few details on how that fund would work, and much of the relationship between Oncor’s “asset “and “operating” companies remains “fairly undefined.”

If the regulators reject Hunt’s plan or add major stipulations, Energy Future Holdings could be thrust back into bankruptcy negotiations that cost it an estimated $1 million a day in legal fees.

Environmentalists Ask EPA to Strip Texas’ Authority

Alleging that Texas has dramatically eroded its safeguards against air and water pollution, two environmental groups are asking the federal government to step in.

The Environmental Defense Fund and the Caddo Lake Institute are petitioning the Environmental Protection Agency to strip Texas of some of its authority under the federal Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act.

The nonprofits asked the agency to “review and withdraw its delegations of permitting authority to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality” — the TCEQ — arguing that Texas lawmakers, by gradually cutting funding and passing more industry-friendly laws, have effectively rendered the agency toothless.

The commission panned the petition. “Texas law has and continues to meet federal requirements – to suggest otherwise is misleading to the public,” spokesman Terry Clawson said in an email. “We expect EPA to reject this frivolous petition.”

And the EPA said it was “not aware of significant deficiencies in TCEQ-delegated environmental programs at this time.”

The nonprofits’ request comes months after a particularly rough legislative session for environmental advocates. A wide range of industries scored key victories, including one bill that EPA officials have already questioned.

Senate Bill 709, signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott, aimed to quicken regulators’ pace of cranking out permits for major industrial projects by limiting public scrutiny.

The bill sought to scale back “contested case hearings,” which allow the public to challenge industrial applications for permits Texas environmental regulators handle, such as those allowing wastewater discharges or air pollution emissions.

Proponents argued the change was needed to keep businesses from fleeing to neighboring states.

In May, a spokesman for the EPA’s Dallas-based regional office wrote that the federal agency was “concerned” that the legislation could affect Texas’ ability to carry out certain federal requirements. That letter was in response to Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, who had asked for input on the matter.

The nonprofits’ request of the feds also named House Bill 1794 as problematic. That legislation, which Abbott signed in June, arguably made it tougher for local governments to sue big-time polluters — capping their payouts and setting a statute of limitations. The law largely targeted Harris County’s attorneys.

Abbott’s office declined a request for comment on Tuesday.

As it has in other states over the past four decades, the EPA has given Texas the authority to permit and enforce a variety of air, waste, water and mining programs after lengthy and complex negotiations.

The federal agency rarely — if ever — has completely revoked a state’s permitting authority. But there have been close calls.

In 2013, for instance, Arkansas lost some of its Clean Water Act authority after its legislature passed a bill changing requirements for discharging minerals into streams. Lawmakers fixed the legislation after several permits were routed to the EPA.

Experts can’t recall an example where the agency took away Texas’ authority, but the state has faced similar issues.

About five years ago, the state refused to follow regulations involving greenhouse gas permits, delaying dozens of energy projects and prompting a major outcry from the industry. The Legislature relented in 2013 and directed TCEQ to begin issuing the permits.

Elections Update

Special Elections –

  • HD 118 (Joe Farias): January 26, John Lujan defeated Tomas Uresti (52-48%)
    • Lujan will face Robert Casias in the March 1 Republican primary
    • Uresti will have a rematch with Gabe Farias in the March 1 Democrat primary
  • HB 139 (Sylvester Turner): Special election will be held on May 7, 2016
  • HD 120 (Ruth Jones McClendon): Announced her retirement effective Sunday January 31 – It has not been determined when the special election will be held.

Candidates seeking office during this election cycle were required to submit campaign finance reports on January 15th. To compare each candidate’s cash on hand, contributions raised, and expenditures made, please see the following attachments:

Texas House of Representatives

Texas Senate

Public Hearing/Formal Meeting Notices

House Committee on Natural Resources (Invited and Public Testimony)

Chair Rep Keffer                              Time/Date: 10:00 am Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Location: Capitol Extension, E2.010

  • Evaluate the status of water markets in Texas and the potential benefits and challenges of expanded markets for water. Include an evaluation of greater interconnections between water systems through both engineered and natural infrastructure. Examine opportunities for incentives from areas receiving water supplies to areas providing those supplies that could benefit each area and the state as a whole.
  • Examine the regional and state water planning processes, with emphasis on the following:
    • the integration of HB 4 (83R);
    • the appropriate role of the state in ensuring that the process both supports regional goals and priorities and the water needs of the state as a whole, and how the state might encourage strategies to benefit multiple regions;
    • the structure and operation of the regional planning groups;
    • the interaction between the planning process and groundwater management;
    • whether the “drought of record” remains the appropriate benchmark for planning; and
    • any impediments to meeting the conservation, agricultural, and rural project goals set by HB 4 (83R), and possible new approaches to help meet these goals.
  • Conduct legislative oversight and monitoring of the agencies and programs under the committee’s jurisdiction and the implementation of relevant legislation passed by the 84th Legislature. In conducting this oversight, the committee should:
    • consider any reforms to state agencies to make them more responsive to Texas taxpayers and citizens;
    • identify issues regarding the agency or its governance that may be appropriate to investigate, improve, remedy, or eliminate;
    • determine whether an agency is operating in a transparent and efficient manner;
    • identify opportunities to streamline programs and services while maintaining the mission of the agency and its programs; and
    • review the surface water permitting process in Texas, including previous legislative attempts to modify the process, and assess the potential effects of these and other changes.

House Committee on Energy Resources

Chair Rep. Darby             Time/Date: 11:00 am Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Location: The Petroleum Museum (1500 I-20 West, Midland TX)

  • Charge #1: Study the impacts of the declining price of oil and the continuously depressed price of natural gas on the Texas economy and the fiscal implications for the Texas budget. Consider impacts on local communities most dependent on oil and gas activity, including impacts on supporting economies such as retail, manufacturing, housing industries, etc. Recommend strategies for sustained energy development and workforce growth during times of depressed energy prices.
  • Charge #2: Examine whether current statutes are adequate for the successful prosecution of oilfield theft. Consider the potential economic impact on increasing penalties for oil and gas theft and make recommendations establishing an effective law enforcement response.
  • Charge #7: Conduct legislative oversight and monitoring of the agencies and programs under the committee’s jurisdiction and the implementation of relevant legislation passed by the 84th Legislature. In conducting this oversight, the committee should:
    • consider any reforms to state agencies to make them more responsive to Texas taxpayers and citizens;
    • identify issues regarding the agency or its governance that may be appropriate to investigate, improve, remedy, or eliminate;
    • determine whether an agency is operating in a transparent and efficient manner;
    • identify opportunities to streamline programs and services while maintaining the mission of the agency and its programs;
    • monitor the impact of major energy legislation passed by the 84th Legislature including the implementation of regulated surface activity on oil and gas sites; and
    • review seismic research needs for the University of Texas Bureau of Economic Geology and any response to research findings by the Railroad Commission of Texas.

House Committee on Corrections (Invited and Public Testimony)

Chair Rep. Murphy         Time/Date: 9:30 am Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Location: Capitol Extension, E2.028

  • Study incarceration rates for non-violent drug offenses and the cost to the state associated with those offenses. Identify alternatives to incarceration, including community supervision, that could be used to reduce incarceration rates of non-violent drug offenders.
  • Study inmate release policies of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, including the release of inmates directly from administrative segregation. Identify best practices and policies for the transitioning of these various inmate populations from the prison to appropriate supervision in the community. Identify any needed legislative changes necessary to accomplish these goals.

House Committee on Natural Resources, Subcommittee on Private Property Rights in Water (Invited Testimony)

Chair Rep. Burns              Time/Date: 9:30 am Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Location: Burleson ISD, 1160 S. W. Wilshire Blvd, Burleson, TX 76028

  • The subcommittee will meet to examine how to supply water while respecting private property rights of individual owners.


House Committee on Corrections (Invited and Public Testimony)

Chair Rep. Murphy         Time/Date: 9:00 am Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Location: Capitol Extension, E2.028

  • Study recidivism, its major causes, and existing programs designed to reduce recidivism, including a review of current programs utilized by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) and the Windham School District for incarcerated persons. Examine re-entry programs and opportunities for offenders upon release. Identify successful programs in other jurisdictions and consider how they might be implemented in Texas.


Senate Committee on State Affairs

Chair Sen. Huffman                        Time/Date: 9:00 am Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Location: Senate Chamber

  • Examine measures to affirm 1st Amendment religious liberty protections in Texas, along with the relationship between local ordinances and state and federal law. Make recommendations to ensure that the government does not force individuals, organizations or businesses to violate their sincerely held religious beliefs.

Senate Committee on Health and Human Services

Chair Sen. Schwertner                  Time/Date: 9:00 am Thursday, February 18, 2016

Location: Senate Chamber

  • Study and make recommendations on innovative methods and best practices to promote healthy aging for the state’s population and reduce chronic medical and behavioral health conditions. Identify opportunities for improved collaboration to promote healthy aging in the health and human services system at the state, regional and local levels;
  • Examine and recommend ways to improve quality and oversight in long-term care settings, including nursing homes and ICF/HCS programs. Monitor the implementation of legislation addressed by the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services during the 84th Regular Session related to the revocation of nursing home licenses for repeated serious violations; and
  • Examine the cause of action known as “wrongful birth.” The study should examine (1) its history in Texas, (2) its effect on the practice of medicine, and (3) its effect on children with disabilities and their families. Examine related measures proposed or passed in other states.

Senate Committee on State Affairs

Chair Sen. Huffman                        Time/Date: 9:00 am Thursday February 18, 2016

Location: E1.016

  • Examine the need to adjust Texas judicial salaries to attract, maintain, and support a qualified judiciary capable of meeting the current and future needs of Texas and its citizens. Study and recommend whether Texas should delink legislators’ standard service retirement annuities from district judge salaries. Examine the effect of eliminating straight-party voting for candidates for judicial office and make recommendations to ensure candidates are given individual consideration by voters.

Senate Committee on Veteran Affairs & Military Installations

Chair Sen. Campbell                       Time/Date:  9:00 am Thursday, March 10, 2016

Location: Capitol Extension, E1.012

  • Study the state of veteran health and mental health in Texas. Review the progress made by state strike force teams to reduce the claims backlog and decrease wait times at VA hospitals. Evaluate if the passage of the federal Veterans’ Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act of 2014 and other state initiatives have improved access and outcomes. Determine if state strike force teams should continue as established and make recommendations on necessary changes.
  • Study current veteran hiring policies among state agencies and consider the effectiveness of a percentage-based system. Make recommendations if there are other ways to equitably measure the success of veteran employment within an agency.
  • Study success and challenges of veteran’s courts in Texas, including evidence of rehabilitation or recidivism. Consider alternative means of funding, such as voluntary donations at points of contact with state services, and make recommendations.


House Committee on Defense & Veterans’ Affairs (Invited Testimony Only)

Chair Rep. King                 Time/Date:  1:00 pm Thursday, March 17, 2016

Location: Capitol Extension, E2.028

  • The committee will meet for organizational purposes to hear testimony from state agencies under the committee’s jurisdiction, invited testimony related to veteran issues of statewide concern, and updates concerning legislation passed by the committee in the 84th Legislative session.

Senate Committee on State Affairs

Chair Sen. Huffman                        Time/Date: 9:00 am Tuesday March 29, 2016

Location: Senate Chamber

  • Examine whether there are chief law enforcement officers within the state who deny NFA applications without any cause. Examine the application and certification process and recommend ways to eliminate no-cause denials.
  • Gather and review data on the compensation provided to private property owners for property purchased or taken by entities with eminent domain authority. Examine the variance, if any, between the offers and the fair market values of properties taken through eminent domain. Make recommendations to ensure property owners are fairly compensated.

Senate Committee on Finance

Chair Sen. Nelson                            Time/Date: 9:30 am Wednesday March 30, 2016

Location: Capitol Extension, E1.036

  • Study the benefits, including the dynamic effects, of continuing to phase out the franchise tax. Consider alternate approaches to funding the Property Tax Relief Fund.
  • Review the state’s current sales tax holiday structure and determine its economic benefit to the state. Evaluate and consider the merits of any potential expansion of the tax holiday either in the application of the sales tax exemption or the timing of the holiday.

Senate Committee on Business & Commerce (Invited Testimony Only)

Chair Sen. Nelson                            Time/Date: 1:00 pm Wednesday March 30, 2016

Location: Capitol Extension, E1.016

  • Examine cyber-security efforts undertaken by state entities and study the legal, policy, and privacy implications of the trend toward storage of personal, private, and business confidential information in network attached storage, cloud storage, and other developing data storage options rather than on local devices. Make recommendations on how to best protect Texans’ financial and personal information.
  • Monitor the implementation of legislation addressed by the Senate Committee on Business and Commerce during the 84th Legislature, Regular Session and make recommendations for any legislation needed to improve, enhance, and/or complete implementation. Specifically, monitor the following:
    • State agency participation in the federal electronic verification of employment authorization program;
    • The current consent policy for state disclosure of personal data.
  • Receive updates from the Public Utility Commission of Texas and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas.

Senate Committee on Agriculture, Water and Rural Affairs (Invited Testimony Only)

Chair Sen. Perry               Time/Date: 9:00 am Monday May 23, 2016

Location: Capitol Extension, E1.012

  • Study and make recommendations regarding the ownership, production, and transfer of surface water and groundwater in the state of Texas.

Senate Committee on Agriculture, Water and Rural Affairs (Invited Testimony Only)

Chair Sen. Perry               Time/Date: 9:00 am Monday June 20, 2016

Location: Capitol Extension, E1.012

  • Study and make recommendations on improving the process of developing and executing the State Water Plan.