Legislators are already calling each other out in public and retaliating against each other and it’s only their third week in Austin. So much for this being the “Kumbaya Session”!
Senate budget writers go “all in” on human trafficking
This week the Senate Finance Committee began hearing testimony on the Senate’s version of the General Appropriations Act. Once again, hundreds of millions of state dollars will be spent on border security, which should come as no surprise if you follow public polls that show that issue to be a high priority for many Texas voters. However, Chairwoman Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) also highlighted a significant new proposed state investment in one of the rare bi-partisan policy areas lauded by members of both parties: the fight against human trafficking.
The Senate’s proposed budget includes $89 million for human trafficking prevention and enforcement over the biennium, which is a $64 million dollar (256%) increase over the current budget. The money is spread among seven state agencies: The Office of the Governor, Department of Family and Protective Service, Department of State Health Services, Alcoholic Beverage Commission, Department of Public Safety, Department of Licensing and Regulation, and the Office of the Attorney General.
In fact, the committee chairwoman announced that they had granted every agency request for new funding for human trafficking-related initiatives, including funding for an additional 13 employees (five lawyers and eight support personnel) for the AG’s human trafficking section, as well as the creation of a new Human Trafficking Prevention Coordinating Council to be chaired by the AG and composed of representatives from the seven agencies getting these appropriations. The council’s job will be to develop strategic five-year plans for the prevention of human trafficking and to report back to the legislature with the results of these expenditures—because make no mistake, the legislature expects those various state agencies to show some good results when they appropriate this much money on a specific issue.
That can also result in state agencies feeling that they must take greater ownership and control over those issues in order to show those results. We’ll have more information for you in the coming weeks on what that might look like in the area of human trafficking investigations and prosecutions, but for now, just note that if you were wondering whether policymaker’s attention on this issue was wavering over the years, we think the senate’s proposed budget provides your answer; now go make good use of that information.
House committee assignments
The speaker has released his committee assignments, and—as to be expected in the wake of the first change in House leadership in a decade—there could be some shake-ups in how that chamber conducts its business this session.
We spend most of our time in the House working with the following committees, so read on to see who will be making the important decisions affecting your business this session:
Appropriations: John Zerwas (R-Fulshear), chair; Oscar Longoria (D-Mission), vice-chair; Cecil Bell (R-Magnolia), Greg Bonnen (R-Friendswood), Brad Buckley (R-Killeen), Giovanni Capriglione (R-Southlake), Philip Cortez (D-San Antonio), Sarah Davis (R-Houston), Mary Gonzalez (D-Clint), Cole Hefner (R-Mt. Pleasant), Donna Howard (D-Austin), Jarvis Johnson (D-Houston), Rick Miller (R-Sugar Land), Ina Minjarez (D-San Antonio), Sergio Munoz (D-Mission), Toni Rose (D-Dallas), Matt Schaefer (R-Tyler), J.D. Sheffield (R-Gatesville), Carl Sherman (D-DeSoto), Reggie Smith (R-Sherman), Lynn Stucky (R-Sanger), Steve Toth (R-Conroe), John Turner (D-Dallas), Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston), Armando Walle (D-Houston), Terry Wilson (R- ), Gene Wu (D-Houston) (Note: the smaller subcommittee for our relevant budget articles will be announced soon).
Calendars (decides what bills get debated on the House floor):Four Price (R-Amarillo), chair; Joe Moody (D-El Paso), vice-chair; Joe Deshotel (D-Beaumont), John Frullo (R-Lubbock), Craig Goldman (R-Fort Worth), Oscar Longoria (D-Mission), Will Metcalf (R-Conroe), Tom Oliverson (R-Houston), Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin), Toni Rose (D-Dallas), John Wray (R-Waxahachie).
Corrections: James White (R-Hillister), chair; Alma Allen (D-Houston), vice-chair; Ernest Bailes (R-Bailes), Rhetta Andrews Bowers (D-Rowlett), Jay Dean (R-Longview), Victoria Neave (D-Dallas), Carl Sherman (D-DeSoto), Phil Stephenson (R-Wharton).
Criminal Jurisprudence: Nicole Collier (D-Fort Worth), chair; Bill Zedler (R-Arlington), vice-chair; Keith Bell (R-Forney), Jessica Gonzalez (D-Dallas), Todd Hunter (R-Corpus Christi), Phil King (R-Weatherford), Joe Moody (D-El Paso), Andrew Murr (R-Junction), Leo Pacheco (D-San Antonio).
Homeland Security & Public Safety: Poncho Nevarez (D-Eagle Pass), chair; Dennis Paul (R-Webster), vice-chair; DeWayne Burns (R-Cleburne), Gina Calanni (D-Katy), Travis Clardy (R-Nacogdoches), Vikki Goodwin (D-Austin), Celia Israel (D-Austin), Mike Lang (R-Granbury), Tony Tinderholt (R-Arlington).
Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence: Jeff Leach (R-Plano), chair; Jessica Farrar (D-Houston), vice-chair; Yvonne Davis (D-Dallas), Julie Johnson (D-Carrollton), Matt Krause (R-Fort Worth), Morgan Meyer (R-Dallas), Victoria Neave (D-Dallas), Reggie Smith (R-Sherman), James White (R-Hillister).
Juvenile Justice & Family Issues: Harold Dutton (D-Houston), chair; Andrew Murr (R-Junction), vice-chair; Rhetta Andrews Bowers (D-Rowlett), Gina Calanni (D-Katy), John Cyrier (R-Lockhart), Jay Dean (R-Longview), Hugh Shine (R-Temple), James Talarico (D-Round Rock), plus one vacancy TBD.
Committee assignment observations
These House committee assignments have come a full two weeks earlier in the session than last time, which most outside observers take to be an indication of the new speaker’s eagerness to get to work on his primary goals: fixing school finance and property taxes. Earlier assignments theoretically also allow for more bills to be heard and debated in those committees, which can start that work in a few weeks. That’s good news if you’re trying to pass something, but less-good news if you’re trying to stop something.
As for the actual assignments, those who recall the line-ups from last session will note that four of the seven House committees listed above have new chairpersons, so changes to the process are coming—but at this point there is no telling what those changes will look like. For instance, Joe Moody (D-El Paso), the former chairman of the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, was promoted to Speaker Pro Tem, a minister-without-portfolio leadership position most recently held by current Speaker Bonnen. He remains on his old committee, but he will no longer serve as chairman, as that job was assigned to Rep. Nicole Collier (D-Fort Worth), who (for trivia buffs out there) will be the first woman and first African-American to ever hold that position. She is a lawyer—in fact, six of the nine members of that committee are now lawyers, by far the highest percentage in recent history—but only one of them (Moody) regularly practices criminal law.
We point this out only to serve as a good example of the primary effect of new committee assignments: namely, the need to educate members about your issues all over again. Even if you have been working on your pet issue at the Capitol for multiple sessions, new committee assignments mean starting over again at the beginning and building up from there, never assuming that the new committee members share your subject matter knowledge or your mastery of the legislative history on that issue. In other words, it means work. Prepare accordingly.
New bills to watch
Here is another entry highlighting some of the recent filings of interest:
- HB 949 by Minjarez, increasing aggravated assault w/ a deadly weapon resulting in quadriplegia to a first-degree felony
- HB 979 by A. Hernandez, authorizing the collection of DNA samples from certain defendants
- HB 1020 by Moody, requiring law enforcement agencies to adopt model cite-and-release policies
- HB 1029 by Moody, removing certain discovery exemptions for CAC forensic videos
- HB 1030 by Moody, requiring unanimity in death penalty special issues
- SB 387 by Huffman, revising various statutes relating to judicial compensation and retirement
- SB 400 by West, expanding Texas’ Compassionate Use Act to more conditions and more substances
- SB 405 by Birdwell, criminalizing a false report to a jailer or correctional officer
- SB 418 by Miles, prohibiting the death penalty for persons with an intellectual disability
- SB 433 by Hinojosa, recategorizing certain peace officer disciplinary records as public records
To read any bill, go to https://capitol.texas.gov/, enter the bill number in the appropriate field, and click “go”—then on the subsequent webpage, select the tab at the top of the page for the information (history, bill text, actions, authors, etc.) you want. And as always, you can contact Shannon or Rob if you are having trouble finding the information you seek.
The Senate Finance Committee will review the budget provisions that include assistant prosecutor longevity pay; House committees will hire staff and (hopefully) release the weekly committee schedules so we know when we have to be where each week; and everyone will be speculating about what the governor will proclaim to be emergency issues so that the legislature can start tackling them ahead of the usual 60-day threshold for floor debates.
Legislative rotation sign-up
Contact Shannon for details on how to get involved in the legislative process—even if it is only to get an up-close-and-personal view of the sausage-making for the first time. We still have several slots available for prosecutors to come to Austin and help craft the laws that you must enforce, so check your calendar and find a good time to come to Austin.
Quotes of the Month
“I don’t care what the narrative is out in the blogosphere after these are announced.”New House Speaker Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton), prior to the new House committee assignments being read on the House floor earlier this week.
“There’s a stronger control element with him than there was with Straus, and that’s not a criticism. He wants a tight operation and a strong operation.”Bill Miller, Austin lobbyist and political consultant, comparing the new speaker’s leadership style to that of his predecessor.
“This is a warning to other Republicans, that if you stray from the lieutenant governor’s agenda, there will be a price to pay. And I always knew that, but the other Republicans do now, too.”State Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo), on why he thinks he was given less desirable committee assignments this session.
“I could count on one hand how many times people said they have firearms. They could say ‘no’ and feel secure in the fact no one is coming to their house to look.”Jerry Varney, Dallas County Asst. Criminal DA, on why that county’s practice of asking offenders banned from possessing firearms whether they have any that should be relinquished has failed to yield many positive results.