FEATURED: Sen. Juan Hinojosa, D-McAllen, with his wife, Amanda Leticia Hinojosa. On Monday, April 4, 2022, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, asked committees of the Texas Senate to study issues during the remainder of 2022 that could affect Texas in general and the Rio Grande Valley in particular. Those topics gain increased visibility and are more likely to be on the policy agenda for the next regular session of the Texas Legislature, which returns to work in early January 2023. The District 20 senator serves on several of the committees which will consider major legislative proposals such as a state hospital for mental health in the Valley and border security.
Photograph By ABEL RIOJAS
Building a state hospital for mental health in the Valley, reviewing border security, and dozens of other legislative proposals will be considered in 2022 by committees which include Sen. Hinojosa
By DAVID A. DÍAZ
Building a state hospital for mental health in the Valley, reviewing border security measures, and dozens of other possible legislative proposals will be considered during the remainder of 2022 by Sen. Juan Hinojosa, D-McAllen, according to a list of Senate committee interim charges recently announced by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.
Interim charges are an opportunity for advocates and other stakeholders to influence the policy agenda. Of the hundreds of ideas submitted to legislators for consideration, only a select few are forwarded to the lieutenant governor and speaker.
Issues addressed during the interim gain increased visibility and are more likely to be on the policy agenda for the next session.
On Monday, April 4, 2022, Patrick asked committees of the Texas Senate to study 84 charges and come up with recommendations for legislation for consideration and action by the 88th Texas Legislature.
The next regular session is the 88th Texas Legislature, which is set to begin on Tuesday, January 10, 2023, and last 140 days until Monday, May 29, 2023.
“The interim charges I released today reflect my priorities, the priorities Texans shared with me as I traveled the state and those of the members of the Texas Senate. Senators submitted nearly 600 policy recommendations for the Senate to study before next session,” Patrick said. “My staff and I spent nearly a month reviewing these recommendations. Our final list of 84 charges continued to be revised through this weekend. The committees will begin work in the coming weeks.”
According the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health, which is part of the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement, The University of Texas at Austin:
The time period between Texas legislative sessions is referred to as “the interim.”
During this period, Senate and House of Representative committees are assigned, by the Lt. Governor and the Speaker of the House, respectively, certain topics to study, referred to as interim charges.
The committees develop comprehensive reports with recommendations to be considered during the following legislative session.
“Following completion of the hearings, committees will file reports with their recommendations before the end of the year so we can hit the ground running when we gavel in the 88th Legislative Session in January 2023,” said Patrick. “I have a deep appreciation for the leadership of our committee chairs and Senate members. I know the long hours they will pour into studying these issues, holding hearings and making recommendations. I thank the entire Texas Senate for their diligent work and I look forward to reviewing their recommendations.”
Hinojosa serves on several of the Senate committees which Patrick has chosen for the interim studies, including the Senate District 20 lawmaker’s membership as Vice Chair, Senate Committee on Finance, Member, Senate Committee on Border Security, Member, Senate Committee Natural Resources & Economic Development, and Member, Senate Committee on Transportation.
Among the many interim studies to be be acted upon in 2022 by Senate committees which feature Hinojosa as a member are:
• Monitor appropriations and spending supporting Operation Lone Star (Senate Finance Committee);
• Monitor the financial impact of federal decision-making affecting supplemental Medicaid funding for Texas hospitals and health care systems, including negotiations between the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Texas Medicaid agency regarding the state’s 1115 Medicaid waiver and other federal proposals reducing supplemental funding streams for Texas (Senate Finance Committee);
• Monitor the implementation of recent statewide pension reforms to the Employees Retirement System of Texas and the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (Senate Finance Committee);
• Review the availability of existing border barrier materials that remain unused by the Federal Government and report on whether Texas may make use of these materials to secure the border (Senate Finance Committee);
• Examine and recommend ways to reduce Texans’ property tax burden (Senate Finance Committee);
• Identify and report on resources needed to ensure support for the State National Guard, as well a overall resources necessary for border security for future legislative consideration (Senate Finance Committee);
• Review and report on the effect inflation is having on the business community and state government, including state salaries, retiree benefits, the state economy, and cost of state services (Senate Finance Committee).
• Make recommendations for improvements to Chapters 380 and 381 to increase transparency and accountability and the effectiveness of the programs (Natural Resources and Economic Development Committee).
Chapter 380 of the Local Government Code authorizes municipalities to offer incentives designed to promote economic development such as commercial and retail projects.
Chapter 380/381 Economic Development Agreements
• Chapter 381, Local Government Code authorizes loans and grants of county funds for economic development programs. Texas counties are receiving applications for such loans and grants for extended durations, exceeding the 10-year limitation on tax. abatement agreements.
RQ-0266-KP – Attorney General of Texas
Highlights of the interim charges to be reviewed, discussed, and acted upon by the committees of which Hinojosa is a member follow:
SENATE FINANCE COMMITTEE
On Wednesday, March 23, 2022, the lieutenant governor named Hinojosa as Vice Chair of Senate Finance Committee.
“I am honored that Lt. Governor Patrick has entrusted me with the important responsibility of serving on the Senate Finance Committee as Vice Chair. I look forward to re-joining this committee and working with Chair Joan Huffman, R-Houston, and the committee members to meet the financial needs of our state while keeping taxes low to benefit our Texas families and ensure our state’s continued prosperity.”
Hinojosa noted that Texas has the ninth-largest economy in the world.
“Despite the ongoing COVID challenges, our revenues have continued to outperform expectations. That said, we will continue monitoring situations around the world, inflation, and supply chain issues that can change our budget outlook at any time,” Hinojosa said. “I am fully committed to using my experience and knowledge of the budget process to continue prioritizing funding for education, health care, infrastructure, public safety, growing our economy and creating jobs. I will also continue advocating for and ensuring the needs of South Texas are put at the forefront of critical discussions and negotiations.”
Mental Health Delivery
• Explore and report on options for additional mental health service capacity, including building state hospitals in the Panhandle and Rio Grande Valley areas.
The Texas Health and Human Services, a state agency, operates 11 state hospitals for individuals with mental health issues. These hospitals are located across the state. Each serves a different population, which may include: adults, children, and people involved with the justice system.
Services include psychiatric assessment and diagnostic services, physician services, professional nursing services, and monitoring for patient safety provided in a restricted environment.
On Friday, April 15, 2022, a new academic psychiatric hospital, part of the John S. Dunn Behavioral Sciences Center, held a ribbon-cutting for the 253,000 square-foot facility, which includes 264 new inpatient beds. It was funded by the 85th Texas Legislative Session in 2017. The first years of the hospital’s operational funding were approved by the 87th Legislature in 2021.
The John S. Dunn Behavioral Sciences Center combines most advanced patient care, research, and education when it opened at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth Houston) in partnership with the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) and the Texas Medical Center.
The John S. Dunn Behavioral Sciences Center is part of more than $1 billion that the Texas Legislature and Gov. Greg Abbott have dedicated to the revitalization of the state psychiatric hospital system.
The funding is being used for the construction and renovation of state hospitals in Austin, Kerrville, Rusk and San Antonio, as well as the construction of new hospitals in Houston and Dallas.
• Examine the state mental health service delivery system.
• Study the state’s Comprehensive Plan for State-Funded Inpatient Mental Health Services and the Statewide Behavioral Health Strategic Plan and evaluate the existing state investments in mental health services and state hospital capacity.
• Review current forensic and civil mental health service waitlists, and recommend ways to improve coordination and outcomes to reduce waitlists.
Operation Lone Star
• Monitor appropriations and spending supporting Operation Lone Star.
According to Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia:
Operation Lone Star is a joint mission between theTexas Department of Public Safety and theTexas Military Department along the southern border between Texas and Mexico.
Launched in March 2021, the stated purpose according toTexas GovernorGreg Abbott is to counterillegal immigration and theillegal drug trade. The effort has involved as many as 10,000 military personnel, and resulted in some 160,000 apprehensions.
It is a distinct state led initiative separate from other federal forces operating in support of a similar mission in the area.As of December 2021, there was no projected end date.
The mission faced public criticism, including from state officials, following reports of pay delays, poor working and living conditions, a lack of proper equipment and facilities, and multiple suicides and suicide attempts among service members.
According to reporting in the Army Times, soldiers were being housed in what it describes as cramped quarters, in converted recreational vehicles and semi-truck trailers, and also faced shortages in cold weather uniforms, medical equipment, and portable toilets.
According to the Houston Chronicle, this was further compounded when it coincided with state cuts in educational benefits for service members to address budget shortfalls, reducing available tuition assistance by more than half.
On January 13, 2022, a state district court judge in Travis County, Texas, granted Jesus Alberto Guzman Curipoma, of Ecuador, a writ ofhabeas corpus, ruling that the state program violated thesupremacy clause of the United States Constitution.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has stated that he would appeal the judge’s ruling. On February 25, 2022, the Third Court of Appeals in Austin affirmed the decision of the lower court.
• Evaluate and report on the effectiveness of spending to secure the southern border.
• Identify and report on resources needed to ensure support for the State National Guard, as well as overall resources necessary for border security for future legislative consideration.
Bail Bond Reform
• Monitor the implementation of recent bail bond reform legislation along with its economic impact on the judicial and correctional system.
• Assess any barriers to implementation, the law’s effect on pretrial release and jail populations, and ways to further promote public safety and efficiency.
• Report on the state use of federal COVID-19 relief funds provided under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, the American Rescue Plan Act, Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Acts, and similar federal legislation.
• Review and report on the effect inflation is having on the business community and state government, including state salaries, retiree benefits, the state economy, and cost of state services.
• Review and report on the impact of inflation on units of local governments’ revenue collections and property taxpayers’ tax bills, including the homestead exemption.
Long-term Care Funding
• Examine state investments in the long-term care system.
• Study nursing facility funding issues and the impact of the pandemic on capacity and delivery of care.
• Explore nursing facility quality metrics and recommend strategies to improve the sustainability of the long- term care workforce.
• Monitor the financial impact of federal decision-making affecting supplemental Medicaid funding for Texas hospitals and health care systems, including negotiations between the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Texas Medicaid agency regarding the state’s 1115 Medicaid waiver and other federal proposals reducing supplemental funding streams for Texas.
Property Tax Relief
• Examine and recommend ways to reduce Texans’ property tax burden.
• Review and report on proposals to use or dedicate state revenues in excess of the state spending limit to eliminate the school district maintenance and operations property tax.
• Examine and report on the impact on members of the Texas National Guard and essential professions that have employees actively serving on state active duty.
• Review the availability of existing border barrier materials that remain unused by the Federal Government and report on whether Texas may make use of these materials to secure the border.
• Examine local use of federal relief funding, including funding provided to school districts through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund.
• Evaluate the overall fiscal impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on state agencies, including costs incurred due to federal mandates.
• Examine and report on options for state asset owners to divest their positions in companies that invest in the Russian Federation.
State Pension Reforms
• Monitor the implementation of recent statewide pension reforms to the Employees Retirement System of Texas and the Teacher Retirement System of Texas.
• Examine Texans’ current tax exemptions and report on whether adjustments are merited because of inflation or any other factors.
BORDER SECURITY COMMITTEE
On Thursday, January 27, 2022, before Patrick announced the interim charges, the lieutenant governor named Hinojosa as a member of the Senate Border Security Committee.
The members of the committee will work closely with Governor Greg Abbott’s office, the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS), the Texas National Guard and other state agencies.
“It is important to have someone on the committee from the border who understands the challenges we are facing. As a lifelong border resident, I am proud of our border communities, culture, thriving economy, and proximity to Texas’ number one trading partner, Mexico,” Hinojosa said. “However, we cannot ignore the challenges we face along the border such as human trafficking, stash houses, drug smuggling, damages done to fences along our ranches and farms by smugglers, and the large number of immigrants seeking asylum in our border cities that stretch public, private, and non-profit resources to the limit. Responding to these challenges requires cooperation, coordination, and consultation between our local, state, and federal partners to work together to keep our communities safe.”
For these reasons, Hinojosa said he has supported funding and legislation that strengthens Texas’ border security efforts without harming businesses, Texas’ relations with Mexico, and that allows deep South Texas to continue to thrive.
“While this is a federal issue, we the state, cannot turn a blind eye to the federal government’s inadequate response. As a state, we cannot just throw up our hands and give up and ignore the problem. It is also our responsibility to protect our communities,” Hinojosa emphasized.
“I do not support open borders. As a nation we have the right to define and defend our border. A country that fails to secure its border ceases to be a nation,” he added. “We also have the right to know who comes into our country to keep our communities safe.”
Funding Impact on Safety
• Monitor the agencies receiving border security funding and report on their success in providing safety along the state’s international border as well as curtailing the proliferation of transnational crime that spreads across the state.
• Study and report on the impact of Operation Lone Star on border, rural, and urban communities throughout Texas.
NATURAL RESOURCES AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT COMMITTEE
In addition to Hinojosa, Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, whose Senatorial District 21 includes all of Starr County, serves as Vice Chair of the Senate Natural Resources and Economic Development Committee, and Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. D-Brownsville, is a member of this committee.
Economic Development Programs
• Review the programs in Chapters 380 and 381 of the Local Government Code.
• Consider the benefits of each program in generating economic development.
• Make recommendations for improvements to Chapters 380 and 381 to increase transparency and accountability and the effectiveness of the programs.
Hotel Occupancy Taxes
• Study the collection and use of hotel occupancy taxes.
• Evaluate and make recommendations related to the effectiveness, costs of rebates, incentives, and other taxes applied to qualified hotel and convention center projects.
• Investigate and determine whether the creation of a standard Hotel Occupancy Tax legislative template is feasible, and whether it would enable the legislature to more efficiently evaluate proposed Hotel Occupancy Tax bills during the legislative session.
Natural Gas Storage
• Study the economic benefits of expanding the state’s underground natural gas storage capacity and infrastructure.
• Investigate and make recommendations for additional natural gas transportation opportunities.
Wildfires and Prescribed Burns
• Examine ways to reduce the risk of and destructive impact of wildfires.
• Monitor the role the Prescribed Burning Board plays in controlled burns.
• Recommend practices and improvements that public and private landowners may use to reduce fire risks.
• Monitor the implementation of legislation addressed by the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Economic Development passed by the 87th Legislature, as well as relevant agencies and programs under the committee’s jurisdiction.
Specifically, make recommendations for any legislation needed to improve, enhance, or complete implementation of the following:
•• Senate Bill 13, Relating to state contracts with and investments in certain companies that boycott energy companies.
Senate Bill 13 amends the Government Code to prohibit a state agency or political subdivision from entering into a qualifying contract with a value of $100,000 or more for goods and services unless the contract contains a written verification from the contracted company that it does not and will not during the contract term boycott energy companies. That prohibition does not apply to a governmental entity that determines that the prohibition is inconsistent with its constitutional or statutory duties related to the issuance, incurrence, or management of debt obligations or the deposit, custody, management, borrowing, or investment of funds.
Senate Bill 13 also requires the comptroller of public accounts to prepare, maintain, and provide to the permanent school fund (PSF) and each statewide retirement system a list of all financial companies that boycott energy companies. The bill provides for the divestment of certain assets the PSF or any such retirement system holds in a listed company that does not cease boycotting energy companies within a specified time frame, exempts certain investments from divestment, prohibits the PSF or an applicable retirement system from acquiring securities of a listed company, and establishes certain reporting requirements for the PSF and the retirement systems. The bill authorizes the attorney general to bring any action necessary to enforce the prohibition on investment in companies that boycott energy companies.
•• House Bill 1247, Relating to the development of and report on a tri-agency work-based learning strategic framework by the Texas Workforce Commission, the Texas Education Agency, and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.
•• House Bill 1284, Relating to the regulation of the injection and geologic storage of carbon dioxide in this state.
House Bill 1284 amends the Injection Well Act, Water Code, and the Texas Clean Air Act, Health and Safety Code, to expand the jurisdiction of the Railroad Commission of Texas (RRC) over the geologic storage and associated injection of anthropogenic carbon dioxide to include jurisdiction over any onshore and offshore injection and geologic storage of carbon dioxide in Texas.
The bill prohibits the RRC from issuing a related permit for the conversion of a previously plugged and abandoned Class I injection well to a Class VI injection well and requires a permit applicant to submit with the application a letter of determination from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) concluding that drilling and operating an anthropogenic carbon dioxide injection well for geologic storage or constructing or operating a geologic storage facility will not impact or interfere with any previous or existing Class I injection well or any other injection well authorized or permitted by TCEQ.
House Bill 1284, among other provisions, also amends the Natural Resources Code to authorize the use of the anthropogenic carbon dioxide storage trust fund by the RRC for the permitting of geologic storage facilities and associated anthropogenic carbon dioxide injection wells, provides for applicable funds and penalties to be deposited to the fund’s credit, and amends the Tax Code to make conforming changes.
•• House Bill 3973, Relating to a study on abandoned oil and gas wells in this state and the use of the oil and gas regulation and cleanup fund.
House Bill 3973 creates a joint interim committee to study matters related to abandoned oil and gas wells in Texas, identify potential solutions to reduce the need for general revenue spending to plug abandoned wells, conduct a review of the oil and gas regulation and cleanup fund, and evaluate and identify other sources of potential revenue. The bill requires the Railroad Commission of Texas to provide information to the committee necessary to conduct the study and requires the committee to report its findings and recommendations to the legislature.
•• House Bill 4110, Relating to the registration of metal recycling.
House Bill 4110 amends the Occupations Code to establish additional requirements regarding the purchase of a catalytic converter for metal recycling entities and sellers, including those relating to documentation and record?keeping. The bill establishes a state jail felony for buying a stolen catalytic converter or providing certain false or invalid information in connection with the sale of a catalytic converter and enhances the penalty for a subsequent conviction of those offense to a third degree felony.
SENATE TRANSPORTATION COMMITTEE
• Study the contributing factors leading to fatal crashes and make recommendations to prevent and reduce traffic fatalities and serious injuries.
Driver’s License Efficiency
• Study the Department of Public Safety’s driver license program operations and make recommendations to improve the efficiency of services while maintaining individual privacy and security for Texans.
Alternatively Fueled Vehicles
• Review the Texas Department of Transportation’s plan for federal funding related to alternatively fueled vehicle infrastructure development.
• Examine the increase of private and public owned alternatively fueled vehicles registered in the state and make recommendations for road user fee fairness between alternatively fueled vehicles and gasoline and diesel vehicles.
All of Patrick’s 2022 interim charges are postedhere.
For more on this and other Texas legislative news stories that affect the Rio Grande Valley metropolitan region, please log on to Titans of the Texas Legislature (TitansoftheTexasLegislature.com).