Attention at this week's Tuesday Morning Breakfast was focused on Senate Bill 175, the subject of a State Affairs Committee hearing on Monday. Filed by Sen. Mayes Middleton (R-Galveston), SB 175 would prohibit counties and other local governments from using public money to represent their interests at the Capitol, preventing local officials from effectively participating in the legislative process. Comal County Commissioner Jen Crownover, Hockley County Sheriff Ray Scifres, Schleicher County Treasurer Jennifer Henderson and several other county officials testified against the bill or registered their opposition to it on behalf of their county peers and county associations.
"The fun part's over. Bills are filed. And now the real work begins," Jim Allison, general counsel for the County Judges and Commissioners Association of Texas, said Tuesday. With SB 175's hearing in mind, Allison encouraged county officials to speak collectively through their associations to present a unified voice representing local taxpayers, and he advised those present to be vigilant when it comes to committee substitutes of bills. Trust but verify, he said, echoing Ronald Reagan.
A two-part video recording of Monday's State Affairs hearing is available for anyone who missed it. Testimony for and against SB 175 begins in Part I at about the 1:37:30 mark. It continues in Part II, ending about 90 minutes later.
Two other bills up for hearings on Wednesday raised red flags during this week's breakfast meeting. As it stood Tuesday, SB 351 by Sen. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock) represents an unfunded mandate, Allison said, that would require counties to cover the cost of caring for a child in Child Protective Services if a court orders the state to temporarily house the child in a hotel or other unlicensed location. The county in which the court is located would bear the costs.
House Bill 1372 by Rep. Cody Harris (R-Palestine) would further restrict counties' limited ability to deal with public nuisance claims. The bill's effect could be far-reaching, potentially affecting ongoing opioid litigation, said Russell Schaffner, the assistant county administrator for legislative affairs in Tarrant County. The Senate version of HB 1372 is SB 1034 by Middleton.
There are 72 days left in the 140-day regular session of the 88th Legislature. Come Sunday, the 2023 session will be halfway to sine die.
Almost 2,900 bills were filed last week before the 6 p.m. bill-filing deadline on March 10, bringing this session's total number of House and Senate bills to 7,861, a record that shatters the previous one of 7,419 set by the 81st Legislature in 2009.
More than 2,800 bills affect county government. TAC's Legislative Services team is tracking them all. Find them here.
Additional legislative resource materials can be found at www.county.org/legislative.
What happens at the Capitol affects counties. You can stay up to date by joining TAC's Tuesday Morning Breakfasts in person or online each week at 7 a.m.