State legislators have put in their 140 days in their every-other-year Regular Session. They also have completed two Special Sessions with the Governor’s promise of at least one more to come, likely in October.
Let’s take a glance at the status of a few of the issues that the Abilene Chamber of Commerce has on its Legislative Agenda.
- First, two local issues:
Texas Forest Service Permanent Base – The Legislature approved a budget and a supplemental spending bill that includes funding to construct a base at Abilene Regional Airport that would give an expanded permanent location for wildfire-fighting crews, aircraft and other equipment.
This is a big win.
Currently, the norm is to have only three aircraft based in Abilene, supporting firefighting efforts statewide. Operations there are conducted out of mobile trailers.
The project would add significant ramp space and an operations center, located near the airport fire station.
Abilene Christian University NEXTLab Facility – The school asked for funds to help construct and operate an advanced nuclear reactor in Abilene for the development of safe, reliable, and commercial electricity generation in Texas. The funding rider cleared the House and had strong signs of support in both chambers of the Legislature. However, in the final days of the Session, due to what appears to be a clerical error, funds were diverted elsewhere. ACU continues to work with legislative champions in Austin and in Washington to seek additional funding for this project.
- Here are some statewide issues that rise to the top of our Legislative Agenda:
Economic Development Toolbox – One of our goals is to support legislation that would give economic developers a wide range of tools to use to enhance efforts to attract new businesses and industries and to encourage retention and expansion of existing firms.
A significant tool was not renewed in the previous Session, but an improved system to provide businesses with school tax relief was approved and signed by the Governor this year. It provides more transparency, more review and oversight and limits the industries which are eligible for funding.
This was our No. 1 statewide priority for the Session.
Workforce/Childcare – It’s only common sense that you need adequate childcare to maximize your workforce potential. Texas does not have enough facilities to handle childcare needs. Our Legislative Agenda called for access to quality and affordable childcare.
There were several bills addressing this that received approval, but a significant request for $2 billion in funding failed to gain passage.
Workforce/CTE – We advocated for support of innovative and flexible career and technology education pathways in conjunction with public schools and community colleges, where appropriate, to meet the needs of Texas employers.
According to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, House Bill 8 was the game-changer for community colleges. It created an innovative new model to fund community colleges in Texas that moves to an outcomes-based approach and rewards colleges for awarding degrees, certificates, and other “credentials of value.”
With the passage of HB 8, Texas will reform its community college finance system to align policy and funding incentives with the rapidly changing needs of the workforce. It also puts dual credit students in high schools on pathways toward meaningful credentials and expands opportunities for adult learners.
Workforce/TSTC – We supported continued operational funding for TSTC, the expansion of the Commercial Drivers License training program here and statewide and growing TSTC programming and campuses, generally, to meet the burgeoning workforce needs of Texas. All were approved.
One issue, the establishment of sustainable capital funding for TSTC, passed, but its separate enabling legislation failed at the last moment in the Session.
Defense – The Legislative Agenda supported legislation to limit unwanted commerce and activities near a military installation. A bill that dealt with ownership that was associated with it passed the Senate, but did not get out of the House committee.
Next Special Session – Gov. Greg Abbott’s staff has indicated the next Special Session should be in October and will deal with school vouchers. The Governor, who sets the agenda for Special Sessions, can add items at any time.
The Senate will convene Sept. 5th, for the impeachment trial of Attorney General Ken Paxton.
We want to thank our elected officials and their staff who have dedicated many hours to bettering our community over the last 140 days. The success of the Chamber’s pro-business legislative agenda would not have been possible without their support.