The Texas Legislature adjourned sine die for the 86th Regular Session on Monday with hundreds of bills signed into law or on their way to the governor's desk, including legislation authored by Texas State Senator Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound.
"This session we set out to address three major priorities - property tax relief, teacher pay and public education, and that is exactly what we did. We passed a bold, responsible budget that meets our growing needs," Nelson said. "We took steps to secure our borders, keep our communities safe and combat human trafficking. We passed conservative reforms and several bills that originated from my SD 12 constituents. It was a successful session by all accounts."
Following are some highlights of Nelson's legislative package:
State Appropriations Bill: HB 1, the appropriations bill, was approved overwhelmingly in both chambers. It establishes the state's funding priorities for the next two years. "This budget makes targeted investments in education, including a well-deserved pay raise for Texas teachers, and continues our work on transportation, mental health and other key priorities," Nelson said. "We also ramp up our efforts to combat human trafficking, help survivors of sexual assault and protect our state against cyber attacks, which is a clear and present danger."
Teachers and Retired Teachers: SB 500, HB 1 and SB 12, co-authored by Nelson, together provide significant benefits to active and retired teachers, including the resources necessary to make the Teacher Retirement System sound and give retired teachers a 13th check of up to $2,000. SB 3 by Nelson would have given teachers an across-the-board pay raise, but that legislation did not advance in the House. Instead, the House and Senate agreed on a compensation package that -- including salary and benefits -- could average as much as $4,200 per teacher, with a priority given to veteran teachers with six years or more of service. This funding would also benefit librarians, counselors and nurses. "This was the session of the teacher, and as a former educator I am so proud we were able to show our teachers how much we value what they do. There is no more important investment we can make in education than in our teachers," Nelson said.
Senate District 12 Successes: The state budget written by Nelson includes $8 million for a new driver license facility in Denton, a $5 million grant for an arts center in Flower Mound, a $1.5 million grant to help restore the Gibson-Grant Historical Cabin. Lockheed-Martin is headquartered in Senate District 12, and the Legislature approved SB 240 by Nelson to create an F-35 "Sound of Freedom" license plate. The Legislature also approved SB 235 by Nelson to assist the Corinth Fire District and HB 4247 sponsored by Nelson to assist The Colony with a new convention center and hotel. "My legislative package is always constituent-driven, and we accomplished a lot for Senate District 12 this session," Nelson said.
Born-Alive: HB 16, co-sponsored by Nelson, bans the practice of "born-alive" abortions. "This is a barbaric practice akin to outright murder, and it has no place in our society," said Nelson.
Zero-Based Budgeting: SB 68 directs all state agencies to undergo a zero-based budget process on a schedule tied to their sunset review. This will require that each agency's budget start at zero rather than their current funding level. "Zero-based budgeting will allow us to take a deep dive into the budgets of every state agency without assuming current spending levels are justified. We should put each program under a microscope to ensure we are making the most efficient use of taxpayer dollars," Nelson said.
Cybersecurity: SB 64 strengthens the Department of Information Resource's oversight of agency cybersecurity, assists local entities in responding to cyber breaches, grows the cybersecurity workforce pipeline, and helps secure the electric grid. These measures will protect sensitive data and ensure that vital services are provided uninterrupted. "Data is the new oil, and the state possesses highly sensitive, highly sought-after information that must be protected," Nelson said. "We are working on several fronts to ensure that Texas is well positioned to defend against cyber threats. With billions of attempted hacks each month, we must remain vigilant. As threats evolve, so must our responses."
Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT): HJR 12, sponsored by Nelson proposes a constitutional amendment to voters to reauthorize the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) for another 10 years. "I was proud to pass legislation creating CPRIT over a decade ago, and I continue to support its important mission to prevent and find cures for cancer which impacts all Texans directly or indirectly," said Nelson.
Human Trafficking Council and Strategic Plan: SB 72 creates the Statewide Human Trafficking Coordinating Council whose members include all state agencies that receive an appropriation to address human trafficking. SB 72 directs the council to develop a strategic plan and ensure cross-agency coordination in the effort to combat human trafficking -- an illegal enterprise that victimizes over 300,000 people in Texas every year. "Human trafficking is a scourge on our society, and we have to end this epidemic once and for all. This bill will ensure that state resources are being maximized and that agencies are working together to root out traffickers and help victims," Nelson said.
Contracting Reform: SB 65 responds to the continued failure of state agencies to follow laws and procedures on state contracting. It increases conflict-of-interest oversight, enhances oversight of risky procurements, strengthens scoring guidelines and bolsters vendor performance tracking. "Despite repeated legislative intervention, we continue to see breakdowns in contracting across state government. This cannot continue. My reform bill will ensure agencies are held accountable and that the state is receiving the best possible services at the appropriate cost to taxpayers," Nelson said.
Sexual Assault Nursing: SB 71 establishes a telemedicine program that will deliver high-quality medical forensic care to sexual assault survivors throughout Texas. This bill allows local medical providers to consult via telemedicine with Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE) who are trained to collect evidence and provide expert testimony in court proceedings. With only 357 certified SANE practitioners in Texas, the program will dramatically expand the number of locations where survivors can obtain care. "Every survivor of sexual assault deserves compassionate care and justice - regardless of where they live. This legislation will ensure that we are providing expert care and collecting forensic evidence in a manner that will stand up in court," Nelson said.
Lemonade s: HB 234, sponsored by Nelson, which passed unanimously, exempts lemonade stands from burdensome regulations. "Lemonade stands are a fun way for young people to experience the building blocks of entrepreneurship," said Nelson. "Students should have the opportunity to try their hand at entrepreneurship without government interference."
Economic Stabilization Fund (ESF) Reform: SB 69 reforms the Economic Stabilization Fund (ESF) and extends a dedicated funding stream to transportation. Specifically, it abolishes the Sufficient Balance Committee, sets the sufficient balance at 7 percent of the available certified general revenue and allows up to 75 percent of the ESF to be invested using the prudent investor standard. "This bill maximizes our potential interest earnings while ensuring we maintain healthy reserves to address emergencies and make smart investments in our future," Nelson said. "It also continues our commitment to dedicate funding to transportation, which is much more than a quality-of-life issue. Transportation impacts economic development, commerce and public safety and must remain a top priority for Texas."
Judicial safety: SB 73 protects judges and their families by closing a loophole to keep personal information private from the public. The bill builds on the 85th Legislature's Judge Julie Kocurek Judicial and Courthouse Security Act by expanding the list of documents county clerks may conceal to include mineral leases, mechanic's liens and any other document with a judge's address. "Given the nature of their work, judges often become targets of individuals who wish to do them harm. It is important that we take these extra measures to ensure the safety of our judges and their families," Nelson said.
Domestic violence lease termination: SB 234 makes it easier for victims of domestic violence to move out of an unsafe environment. It expands the types of documents a victim may use to break a lease to include a certification letter provided by a family violence center advocate, a licensed health care provider who examined the victim, or a mental health provider who examined the victim. "Ending the cycle of domestic violence begins with giving victims the resources they need to get out of harm's way and start over," Nelson said. "There is still work to be done to address of domestic violence in our state, but SB 234 will give victims more freedom to set themselves on a path to recovery."
Mental Health Consortium: Language from Nelson's SB 10, establishing the Texas Mental Health Care Consortium, was added to SB 11 (Sen. Taylor), addressing policies and measures to strengthen school safety and promote mental health among students. "In the wake of the Santa Fe tragedy, school safety was a top priority this session," said Nelson. "This bill will help young people at risk of suicide, substance abuse or becoming a danger to themselves or others."