A Legislative Update from the Texas Public Policy Foundation

Last Friday was the bill filing deadline for the regular session of the 81st Texas Legislature. According to the TELICON legislative tracking service, more than 7,100 bills were filed before the deadline, a 21% increase over last session’s all-time record. While those numbers would indicate that some of our legislators see a need for more intrusive and expansive government, the Texas Public Policy Foundation continues to raise the standard for a limited government, in our state’s grand tradition.

The Foundation is actively engaged in two of this session’s highest-profile debates: whether to accept the federal stimulus funds for unemployment insurance (and the attached strings), and whether to allow metropolitan regions to impose massive local transportation taxes. While these may seem esoteric on first read, they go to the core of our state’s commitment to fiscal responsibility and a vibrant private sector. But we are also involved on other important topics, ranging from educational quality and competition to consumer issues, energy policy, criminal justice, and health care.

We invite you to follow these efforts through these emails, and by visiting our website where you can visit our blog, request a speaker, and sign up to receive information about recently released publications and upcoming events via our e-newsletter, TPPN.

Yours in liberty, Justin KeenerVice President of Policy and Communications

Rejecting the Stimulus

Following Governor Perry’s fiscally responsible rejection of federal unemployment insurance stimulus funds, the House Committee on Federal Economic Stabilization Funding held a public hearing in Arlington, where a handful of legislators told a crowd of taxpayers that Texas should disregard the governor’s rejection and lower its unemployment eligibility standards in order to receive the money. However, what taxpayers should know is that the $555 million being offered to Texas doesn’t come close to the actual price tag. According to estimates from the Texas Workforce Commission, it will cost Texas employers and the state a minimum of $750 million over a ten year period. It’s no wonder the state’s two largest business associations support rejection of federal stimulus funding. Alternatives are available to the state that would not cede control of our unemployment eligibility standards to Washington, D.C.

Tax Increases

The Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee will hear at least two bills, SB 855 and SB 942, that would create a mechanism whereby local taxes and fees could be raised significantly by DFW and San Antonio communities in order to pay for transportation projects. Potential tax increases include up to a $250 new resident fee, up to a 10 cent per gallon tax increase, a $60 mobility fee, and more. We recently participated in a phone call with the author of SB 855, at his request, in which he shared his intent in carrying the legislation, and allowed the Foundation to respond with our concerns as outlined in this letter. Here is a link to our commentary published in the Dallas Morning News about this proposal.

Educational Accountability

The Senate and House education committees conducted hearings on Tuesday on the education accountability changes in SB 3/HB 3. This legislation seeks to completely revamp the public school accountability rating system, set postsecondary readiness as the goal, and include a measurement for student educational growth. However, the bill has several items that we believe need to be addressed in order to accomplish these goals, as outlined in our testimony.

Reforming Insurance Regulation

Bill Peacock, Director of the Foundation’s Center for Economic Freedom, testified on SB 1001 before the Senate Government Organization Committee this week. This bill would continue the Office of Public Insurance Counsel for another 12 years. OPIC is supposed to represent consumers in matters before the Texas Department of Insurance, but the Foundation has recommended its abolition. Our belief is that consumers don’t need a “representative” in the regulatory process. Instead, what we need to do is to change the regulatory process so that it is consumer friendly so that consumers can represent themselves-by switching to another insurance provider if they don’t like the prices or products.

Climate Change Bills

This session has multiple bills to address greenhouse gases (GHG). TPPF believes these bills-regulatory and non-regulatory-are premature, unnecessary, and harmful to Texas. The Senate Natural Resources Committee held a hearing this week on SB 184 and SB 608. These bills would create misguided Texas GHG-reduction programs. SB 608 would create a new entity to transition Texas business to a “carbon constrained” world-an inappropriate role for state government (see TPPF Commentary: Carbon Audacity). The U.S. Congress and Texas should support further refinement of this empirical global warming science before enacting GHG laws.

Health Care Mandates

This session, several new mandate bills have been filed to cover things like depression (HB 868), eating disorders (HB 2967 and HB 1418), and mandatory HIV/AIDS testing during regular checkups (SB 877 and HB 1379) that will continue to make Texas health insurance more expensive. What happened to the original Texas Consumer Choice Benefits Bill passed in 2003? The 78th Texas Legislature recognized the need for health plans that were more affordable and flexible than what the market offered at that time. The Texas Consumer Choice Plan allowed health insurance providers to offer customers plans that did not offer or provide state-mandated health benefits. Over the past few sessions, the Consumer Choice plan has been forced to add back on many of the mandates, making the plan a less viable option for many people. The legislature should instead remember the original goal of the Consumer Choice Bill and allow insurance companies to develop new and innovative products tailored to the individual and designed as valuable investments. This will encourage healthy competition among insurers that will inevitability drive prices down and will allow more Texans to gain access to affordable coverage.