In January, lawmakers convened to take up the people’s work consisting of both challenges and opportunities facing our great state. We began with a budget shortfall and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. By February, Winter Storm Uri brought additional devastation across all 254 counties.
Despite an uphill climb, legislators adjourned May 31 with much accomplished to keep Texas a National leader and the 9th largest economy in the world. The success achieved was powered by the voices of Texans and their resiliency, grit and determination that has always made Texas a special place.
The 87th Legislative Session addressed many critical issues, starting with passing the state’s budget for the next biennium. The prosperity of Texas depends upon a conservative and balanced state budget that funds our critical priorities while honoring the taxpayers who shoulder the burden every day. The new $248.5 billion budget is 5.2% leaner than the previous one.
Lawmakers enhanced the Public Utility Commission and ERCOT with additional reforms to strengthen the Texas grid. Senate Bill 3 creates rules preventing lengthy rolling blackouts, issues fines to utilities not prepared for severe weather, provides for a statewide power outage alert system, and brings greater PUC oversight. It also ensures the services needed to power homes and businesses are both budgeted and protected from weather emergencies. Senate Bill 2 addresses the governance of ERCOT requiring Texas residency, industry-specific expertise, and creates a board member selection committee with representation appointed by the Governor and Legislature.
Other bills passed include House Bill 16 that protects residential consumers from sky-high electric bills by banning the sale of wholesale indexed products; HB 17 preserves customer choice and access to energy sources in Texas; HB 1510 funds winterization of our power grid; and HB 1520 provides securitization financing for gas utilities to recover excessive costs from Uri and requires a study to mitigate similar future costs.
Additional investments include $34.2 billion in healthcare with a significant focus on improving women’s health programs, increasing mental/behavioral health, and allocating more funding for Texans with intellectual and physical disabilities on community waiver interest lists. We also ensured more Texans have access to healthcare, passed laws to clarify pricing guidelines that hospitals charge and lowered prescription costs for those who are uninsured and under-insured by establishing a fund for prescription rebates. We were also successful in capping the co-pay for insulin to $25. Other new laws include cost coverage assistance related to ovarian cancer, expanding telemedicine, and prohibiting the denial of organ transplants because of a disability.
The budget includes $46.5 billion for public education – a 5.6% increase from the previous fiscal year and up 20.9% from 2018-2019. Key areas are targeted programs to help students and schools impacted by the pandemic, supplemental special education services and increases to the Foundation School Program formula funds and various student allotments. Increases were made to the Teacher Retirement System as well as funding for higher education access programs.
From my own bill package, I passed greater transparency and cost-savings for college students, reforms to end surprise assessments for Public Improvement District homeowners, protected victims of human trafficking, and allowed reinstatement of parental rights with strict guidelines. I also passed innovative legislation to open the door for Texas to be America’s leader in blockchain technology and digital currency.
Another one of my bills provides education and training to incarcerated non-violent offenders to stop the cycle of imprisonment. I also championed the Texas Reskilling & Upskilling through Education (TRUE) Initiative to help our workforce through post-secondary technical and vocational education. Also passed was assisting restaurants and consumers by allowing the sale of bulk food retail, a lifeline during the pandemic.
I was grateful to work with a local mom to establish guidelines surrounding technology use in schools to better protect our children’s health and safety. Finally, the Lone Star Infrastructure Protection Act protects our critical infrastructure from foreign adversaries, and The 1836 Project preserves the lessons from our past so that every Texan can understand what makes Texas “Texas.”
We accomplished much, and passed legislation that will benefit all Texans, but our work is not complete. On July 8, Governor Greg Abbott has called lawmakers back for a special session, and I am ready to return to keep fighting for you!
This is only a highlight of some of the bills passed. All are available at https://capitol.texas.gov/.