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"Topics for the 87th Legislature” provides an easy-to-understand, trustworthy guide of hottest issues facing Texans in 2021, says attorney Omar Ochoa - Titans of the Texas Legislature

Featured: Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, with Sister Norma Pimentel, Executive Director, Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, on Sunday, June 9, 2019, following Mass at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Mission. On Tuesday, September 22, 2020, Sister Pimentel was selected by Time magazine to its list of “The Most 100 Influential People of 2020”.  Writing for Time, Julián Castro, former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, said, “Sister Pimentel has been on the front lines of mercy for three decades, supporting migrants who are seeking refuge in the U.S. along Texas’ border with Mexico. As executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, she directs efforts to provide shelter, food, sanctuary, and comfort to people often treated as less than human. Her organization has housed and assisted well over 100,000 people at the border.”

Photograph Courtesy SEN. JUAN HINOJOSA FACEBOOK

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“Topics for the 87th Legislature” provides an easy-to-understand, trustworthy guide of hottest issues facing Texans in 2021, says attorney Omar Ochoa

By DAVID A. DÍAZ
[email protected]

“Topics for the 87th Legislature”, recently published by the House Research Organization, provides an easy-to-understand, trustworthy guide of the hottest state issues facing Texans in 2021, says attorney Omar Ochoa.

The House Research Organization is a nonpartisan independent department of the Texas House of Representatives. It provides impartial information on legislation and issues before the Texas Legislature.

“This report, which is available online at no charge, does an excellent job of educating anyone about a variety of major subject matters, including legislation responding to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on public health, education, and the economy,’” Ochoa cited the introduction to the 16-page document. “The steering committee which governs the House Research Organization is made up of Democrats and Republicans, including Rep. Eddie Lucio, III, D-Brownsville.”

The Texas Legislature began its 140-day regular session on Tuesday, January 12, 2021.

The House Research Organization legislative preview also notes: 

“In addition, lawmakers in 2021 are expected to consider a once-a-decade redistricting process for congressional, state House and Senate, and State Board of Education districts. The pandemic also could impact how legislative business is conducted and the volume of legislation considered. This report highlights many, although by no means all, of the issues the 87th Legislature could consider during its upcoming session.”

Ochoa encouraged South Texans to download, review, and share “Topics for the 87th Legislature”.

“Everyone in Texas will be affected one way or another by the legislative issues to be introduced, debated, and voted upon by our state leaders at the Capitol in Austin,” Ochoa said. “‘Topics for the 87th Legislature’ will help anyone who reads it to become more directly involved in helping shape the laws and policies that will come out of the Texas Legislature.”

In alphabetical order, some of the pressing issues facing the Texas Legislature and Texans, according to the House Research Organization report, are:

Appraisals 

The Legislature could consider legislation to amend the appraisal process, including the process to appeal an appraisal not considered equal and uniform with comparable properties. Other proposals could be considered to require virtual appraisal review board meetings in times of disaster, such as during the COVID-19 pandemic, or to allow for alternatives to in-person hearings.

Certificates of obligation 

Legislators could explore proposals to include local debt obligations not approved by voters, known as certificates of obligation, in the limitation on property tax revenue growth.

Civil unrest

Legislators could consider proposals to increase criminal penalties for offenses related to riots. Penal Code sec. 42.02 makes it a crime to participate in a riot, which is defined as an assembly of seven or more resulting in conduct that creates an immediate danger of damage to property or injury to persons, substantially obstructs law enforcement or other government functions or services, or by force, the threat of force, or physical action deprives anyone of a legal right or disturbs anyone in the enjoyment of a legal right. There is a defense to prosecution if a person left a gathering that began lawfully before someone manifested an intent to engage in the prohibited actions.

Ch. 380 agreements 

Local Government Code ch. 380 and ch. 381 allow cities and counties to offer loans and grants of public funds or services to commercial and retail projects to promote economic development and stimulate business activity. Legislators may consider proposals to amend or abolish the program.

Data and information collection, transparency

Proposals to expand Texas law requiring law enforcement agencies to collect information about some uses of force could be considered. Currently, CCP art. 2.132 requires law enforcement agencies to collect certain information about motor vehicle stops in which tickets, citations, or warnings are issued, including whether a peace officer used physical force that resulted in bodily injury. In addition, CCP art. 2.139 requires data to be collected in all officer-involved shooting incidents.

Legislators could discuss policies on body and dash cameras, including proposals on privacy, evidence, and the circumstances under which a body or dash camera could or should be turned off. Other proposals could address the public disclosure of body camera videos.

Proposals could be made to revise Government Code sec. 552.108 provisions that allow law enforcement agencies to withhold from public release certain information if a case did not result in a conviction. One proposal could be to make information public if the person who was the subject of the information consented or was deceased.

Disaster exemption 

Lawmakers could discuss proposals to specify that a provision of law exempting local entities from being required to hold an election before increasing property tax revenues more than 3.5 percent in cases of a disaster declaration by the governor applied only to disasters inflicting physical damage on a property, such as hurricanes, and not to those caused by a public health emergency.

Eminent domain 

The 87th Legislature could weigh proposals on eminent domain, the process by which a public or private entity may condemn private land for oil and gas pipelines, transmission lines, railroads, or other infrastructure. Proposals could include amending the Landowner Bill of Rights, requiring condemners to pay a financial penalty for making an offer to the landowner that is significantly lower than the property’s actual value, and expanding public notice and meeting requirements.

Funding for local departments 

Legislators could debate prohibiting cities or counties from reducing their public safety budgets or establishing penalties for local governments that do so. Proposals could include freezing property tax revenues for such cities, removing these cities’ annexation powers,
or having local police forces consolidated within the Texas Department of Public Safety and placed under its authority.

Officer duties

Proposals to amend the statutory duties of police officers could include establishing a duty for officers to intervene when another officer is breaking the law or harming another person, a duty for officers to identify themselves, and a duty to render aid when people in their custody are injured. The Legislature also could consider whether to preserve the requirement under CCP art. 2.13 for officers to make arrests in every case where authorized.

Officer use of force 

Several proposals on police use of force could be considered, including revising the criteria found in the Code of Criminal Procedure (CCP) art. 6.06 and art. 6.07 and Penal Code sec. 9.51 for when deadly force may be used. Proposals could include banning the use of chokeholds or other specific techniques and requiring law enforcement officers to use de-escalation techniques and responses that
are proportionate to the seriousness of the offense and circumstances that the officers encounter.

Policing

Legislators may consider several proposals relating to policing, including the use of force, officers’ duties, and data collection.

Property taxes

The 87th Legislature could monitor changes made to the property tax system in the previous legislative session and consider additional changes.

Public information

The Legislature could consider proposals to amend the Texas Public Information Act, including proposals to expedite agency responses to public information requests, to address whether dates of birth should be available in certain public records, and to award attorneys’ fees to a requester under certain circumstances in a civil lawsuit. Other proposals could address access to public information during states of disaster and the disclosure of certain data and health care information during public health emergencies. Lawmakers could discuss proposals to limit the number of catastrophe notices that may be filed under SB 494 by Huffman, enacted in 2019 by the 86th Legislature, which allows governmental entities to temporarily suspend Texas Public Information Act requirements during certain emergencies.

Publicly funded lobbying 

The 87th Legislature may debate proposals to prohibit local governments from using public money for certain lobbying activities, such as attempting to influence legislation related to taxation, financing, or government ethics and transparency.

Sourcing local sales taxes

Lawmakers could examine proposals to shift from origin-based sales tax sourcing, or collecting local taxes where an order was placed, to destination-based sourcing, or collecting where the order was taken possession of by the purchaser. Such changes may be considered specifically for items purchased on the internet.

Training

Lawmakers could discuss revising the current curriculum used to train police officers. Proposals could include requiring more training, incorporating new training models, and adding instruction for both new and existing officers on tactical communication, de-escalation, and use of force.

Other issues, in alphabetical order, which are contained in the full text of “Topics for the 87th Legislature”, are:

Abortion;
Aggregate production and processing operations;
Alternatively fueled vehicle fees;
Arrests for misdemeanors;
Autonomous vehicles;
Bail and pre-trial detention;
Balance billing;
Castle Doctrine;
Charter schools;
Civil asset forfeiture;
Codifying certain emergency licensing provisions;
Corroborating testimony;
Death penalty;
Disciplinary process, civil service, legal immunity, incident investigation;
Distributed energy resources;
Drug offenses;
Employer liability protections;
Foster care system;
Health care costs and price transparency;
Health care costs;
Higher education funding;
High-speed rail;
Juvenile justice;
Long-term care facilities;
Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act;
Medical residency;
Mental health;
Minimum wage;
Online learning/virtual schools;
Price transparency;
River Authorities Sunset Review;
Sea and land port infrastructure;
School choice;
School finance;
Shared mobility;
Special education;
Student financial aid;
Sunset review of health-related agencies;
Teacher retirement;
Telehealth;
Testing and accountability;
Texas Department of Agriculture Sunset Review;
Toll roads;
Texas Parks and Wildlife Sunset Review;
Traffic safety;
Transportation project financing;
Water;
Workforce barriers for military veterans;
Women’s health;
Workforce development; and
Vaccines.

The complete text of “Topics for the 87th Legislature” is available online at:

https://hro.house.texas.gov/pdf/focus/topics87-1.pdf

About the House Research Organization

The House Research Organization is a nonpartisan independent department of the Texas House of Representatives. It provides impartial information on legislation and issues before the Texas Legislature. 

The House Research Organization is governed by a broadly representative steering committee of 15 House members elected by the House membership to set policy for the organization, approve its budget, and ensure that its reports are objective.

During legislative sessions, the House Research Organization publishes the Daily Floor Report, which includes analyses of all legislation, except local and consent bills, scheduled for floor debate on the daily House calendar. Each bill analysis consists of a digest of the bill’s provisions, background, arguments for and against the bill, and additional pertinent information.

Year-round, the House Research Organization produces research reports on a wide range of issues affecting state government. These reports include:

• Policy Reports, including Interim News articles and more in-depth Focus reports, provide an analysis of issues of current interest in the state of Texas;

• State Finance Reports take an in-depth look at the state budget process;

• Legislative Session Reports include a summary of significant legislation considered during each regular session, a report on the governor’s vetoes, a preview of major topics likely to arise during an upcoming session, and reports on legislative procedures for committees and how a bill becomes law;

• Constitutional Amendments reports summarize major ballot propositions submitted for voter approval and arguments for and against each proposition; and

• Legislative Staff Lists provide a comprehensive list of the staff of members and committees of the Texas House and Senate for each regular legislative session.

The House Research Organization publications are not an official part of the legislative process nor an official expression of the views of the Texas House of Representatives. The information included in the supporting or opposing arguments does not reflect the opinions of the House Research Organization or its researchers but represents information gathered from a broad range of sources.

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