Since the last day of the 87th Regular Session falls on Memorial Day, we wanted to provide you a snapshot of where we are before the holiday weekend. Across our six legislative agenda policy areas, Texas legislators are on the brink of making real progress that will provide long-term benefits for the state. Here are just a few of the bills we’re excited to see moving forward:
Texas has the highest percentage and number of people without health coverage. For new mothers, especially, that can be devastating. For years, Representative Toni Rose has been working to make sure Texas mothers have access to health care at the critical period after they’ve given birth. And this year, her hard work has paid off with the bipartisan support and expected passage of House Bill 133.
Prioritized early in the session by Speaker Phelan and championed by Senator Lois Kolkhorst in the Senate, HB 133 extends Medicaid coverage for new mothers from two months to six months after birth. Texas 2036’s Health Coverage Policy Explorer anticipates this bill would result in the equivalent of 140,000 additional covered Texas mothers.
The Texas Permanent School Fund (PSF) is a $48.3 billion endowment designated for the benefit of public schools, funding classrooms on a per-student basis, as well as technology and instructional materials. The fund is run by two separate entities that invest independently of each other: The State Board of Education (SBOE), which oversees the $35.8 billion of the assets with broad investment authority, and the General Land Office’s School Land Board (SLB), which manages $12.5 billion with limited investment authority.
Senate Bill 1232, by Senator Larry Taylor and Representative Greg Bonnen, merges the two investment pools into one under a new entity: The Texas Permanent School Fund Corporation (TPSFCO) with a new board that includes leadership from the State Board of Education leadership and General Land Office, as well as investment professionals. SB 1232 will reduce investment risk and is anticipated to bring in another estimated $100 million per year in annual investment returns for Texas schools.
The Texas Workforce Commission reported statewide unemployment at 6.7% – down significantly from the peak a year ago, but still nearly double what it was before the pandemic. Employment is growing in Texas at a better clip than the rest of the country, but so is our population. Between July 2019 and 2020, Texas added nearly 374,000 new residents according to U.S. Census estimates – the largest population growth of any state in the nation.
House Bill 3767, by Representative Jim Murphy and Senator Paul Bettencourt, makes permanent the collaborative work of the Texas Education Agency, Texas Workforce Commission, and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and modernizes their data systems to better align our education and workforce goals and ensure all Texans have an opportunity to succeed.
More than 146,000 active state employees take care of critical government services — from law enforcement and corrections to health care and wildlife management — and more than 117,000 former state employees receive retirement benefits through the Employee Retirement System of Texas (ERS). However, the state has not always contributed enough over the past two decades. And today, ERS has a $14.7 billion unfunded liability.
Senate Bill 321, by Senator Joan Huffman and Representative Greg Bonnen, will start paying down the liability, similar to paying off a loan, signaling to credit rating agencies that Texas pays its debts and guarantee that all benefits that current employees and retirees have earned will be paid in full. It will also provide new state employees, effective September 2022, a “cash balance” defined benefit plan that is similar to the one currently afforded to Texas county and city employees, help ensure our state employees have a future as bright as Texas.
Neglected IT infrastructure is keeping Texas from functioning at its best capacity. Cybersecurity, in particular, is a huge concern for state agencies, as they block 2.46 billion communication attempts from known bad actors every two months.
House Bill 4018, by Representative Giovanni Capriglione and Senator Jane Nelson, will improve and modernize state agency information resources, including legacy system projects and cybersecurity projects. HB 4018 will also leverage federal funds that could be used in emergency situations in between sessions so our state can respond to emerging needs and crises in a decisive manner.
These bills are substantive and impactful and represent what we can accomplish when we come together and follow the data to find solutions that strengthen and secure Texas now, and for the future. We are excited to see this progress and look forward to more positive news as session wraps up this weekend.