Friday, July 24, 2020

Things have been pretty quiet on “The Covid” legal front lately, but seeing as how we had to postpone our summer vacation trip this week due to that wretched virus, we figured we might as well crank out some news for you. So, mask up, defog your eyeglasses, and read on for the details.

Budget outlook

Well, it could be worse. And that almost counts as good news in 2020, right?

When state legislators adjourned their previous session more than a year ago, they left Austin thinking they had passed a two-year budget that would finish $2.9 billion to the good based on projected tax revenues. That was before the double-whammy of the pandemic and the oil biz crunch started taking its toll, however. As a result, Comptroller Glenn Hegar informed the Legislative Budget Board (LBB) earlier this week that his latest budget projections show the state to be facing a net $4.6 billion shortfall during the current budget cycle (which runs through August 2021). If there is any good news, it’s that the actual gross revenue losses are expected to be closer to almost $12 billion, but the brunt of that blow is lessened by the $2.9 billion spending cushion originally baked into the budget, $1.2 billion of federal assistance, increased local property tax valuations (which increase local counties’ share of public education spending and thereby lessen the state’s tab for that expense by almost $2 billion), and greater-than-expected sales tax collections (thank you, stuck-at-home internet shoppers!). And of course, this is all still in flux; the final tally by this time next year could move in either direction by as much as $3 billion before all is said and done.

To help move that trend line in their preferred direction, state leaders have already instructed most state agencies to trim their current spending by five percent for the rest of this budget cycle, and deeper cuts could be ordered in the near future if the pandemic continues to depress revenue. State legislators also have the option of tapping the state’s rainy day fund next session to retroactively cover any shortfalls. The comptroller projects that account will have almost $8.8 billion on hand by the end of this current budget cycle, but spending that money is never popular with the more fiscally-conservative members of the legislature, especially in a session when some of it may also be needed to patch holes in the next budget. And indeed, it will be the next biennial budget (FYs 2022–23) over which the real political battle will take place. Therefore, expect the upcoming session to be one in which most wise advocates shelve their plans to ask for increased state funding for their pet issues and instead seek to hold onto to what they are currently getting from the state. Anyone who doesn’t come out of the next session worse off than they currently are should consider that a fiscal win in 2021.

Hemp regulations finalized

We have a final update on the regulation of smokable hemp, an issue we first brought to your attention about six weeks ago in Update No. 14.

The Department of State Health Services (DSHS), which is responsible for regulating consumable hemp products following the passage of House Bill 1325 last session, has issued its final rules to that effect. Among those regulations is new 25 TAC §300.104 to administratively prohibit the distribution or retail sale of smokable hemp products in Texas. That rule officially takes effect August 2, 2020. If your local officers see smokable hemp products on the shelves of your local bodegas, convenience stores, or CBD purveyors after that date, DSHS may want to have a word with the owners.

Mental health guide update

In 2019, the Court of Criminal Appeals produced the first edition of its Mental Health Resource Guide to gather in one place all the potential mental health resources available in individual counties. Now the Court has asked us to send out the guide and seek your additions and corrections to make sure the next edition is accurately updated. A PDF copy of the guide may be accessed HERE, and updates and corrections may be emailed to [email protected].

Yet more polling results

Want more polling data on the issues of the day? A recent Quinnipiac University Poll surveyed 880 registered Texas voters last week and the results can be found HERE. This one goes lighter on the issues of criminal justice and policing reform than the previous polls we shared, but those of you on the fall ballot this election cycle still might find some of the results interesting.

Second TDCAA webinar now available online

The second in our new series of multiple presenter online courses, Caseload Management features experienced prosecutors from all over the state discussing the methods they employ to stay afloat. The fee for this course is $25, and participants will receive 1.75 hours of MCLE credit upon completion. For more details or to access the webinar, click HERE.

And be sure to keep a lookout for the 2020 Annual Conference brochure, which should hit your mailbox before the end of the month. This year of firsts will see that training offered entirely online, but we’re still going to deliver over 16 hours of quality, relevant, and timely continuing legal education to attendees!

TDCAA coronavirus resources

Remember, all of our COVID-19 resources—including sample motions and orders, helpful information, and past updates like this one—are available at If you or someone in your office has something you would like to share with your peers, consider emailing it to Shannon for inclusion.

Quotes of the Week

“Every use of force case is different. They are not monolithic cases. Every one is different and has its own set of circumstances.”
            —Michael Belsky, defense counsel for one of the Baltimore police officers unsuccessfully prosecuted for the 2015 death of Freddie Gray, as quoted in a CNN article comparing that case to the charges pending against the Minneapolis police officers charged in the recent death of George Floyd.

“I’m not the policy maker … but reading the tea leaves, or the marijuana leaves, I just don’t think that’s going to happen.”
            —Comptroller Glenn Hegar (R-Katy), when asked if he thought the legislature would consider legalizing marijuana and taxing it to help balance future state budgets.

“Have any of you all seen that movie Groundhog Day? That’s what my life is like. Alarm goes off, get up, go deal with the pandemic, go to bed.”
            —Governor Greg Abbott, during his recent address to the latest graduating class of new DPS troopers.

“[It’s] going to be a very unpleasant session.”
            —State Rep. Charlie Geren (R-Fort Worth), Chairman of the House Administration Committee, addressing the Texas Restaurant Association about the next legislative session convening in January.

Until our next update, keep check our website and Twitter feed for the latest COVID-19 news.