POST SESSION REPORT | November 2021
SPECIAL SESSION RECAP
After numerous Special Sessions this summer the final session (3rd called) came to an end on October 20th. As a reminder, the Governor is the only official that can call a Special Session and also determines the content. For this 3rd session the main areas of interest were redistricting and spending additional Federal Covid 19 or ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) money that was allocated to Texas but had not yet been budgeted or spent.
Every 10 years at the conclusion of the decennial census (required by the US constitution) the state must re-apportion all US Congressional seats, state Senate seats and state House seats. They completed the process during this special session. Because of the increase in population during the past 10 years Texas was allocated 2 new congressional seats. The number of state Senate and House seats remains constant but the population size for each district changes to reflect the population increase.
This increase in population requires that the district lines be altered to reflect those changes as well. In Texas, as in many other states, this is a purely political exercise with the party in power doing everything possible to create seats that protect its majority. The results are the creation of districts that are often very unusual in shape.
There are a set of rules governing this arcane process but of course they are open to interpretation. This “interpretation” opens the door to lawsuits, lots of lawsuits. In fact, lawsuits were filed even before the bills were signed into law at the conclusion of the special session.
How this might impact you? The district lines as they are currently envisioned at this moment may not be the district configuration a year from now. Should any of the various lawsuits challenging these maps be successful then the district or districts in question will have to be altered to reflect the outcome of the lawsuit. If you change 1 piece of the puzzle then you impact the pieces of the puzzle next to it which can impact the pieces next to those pieces and so on…
Bottom line, finalizing this process can take quite some time. All we can do is react to the maps as they are currently configured, passed by the legislature and signed by the Governor and allow the legal process to move forward.
ARPA (AMERICAN RESCUE PLAN ACT)
This was the other major issue considered during the past special session. Money allocated by the federal government in response to the COVID pandemic. The funds ($16 billion) allocated under the ARPA act were released to Texas earlier this year. For a variety of reasons these funds were not included during the normal budget process that was undertaken during the past regular legislative session, instead it was determined that the allocation of these funds would be withheld until this fall and considered while the redistricting process was also addressed.
How these funds could be utilized was limited in scope and determined by the federal government. 6 basic categories were outlined and all expenditures must fall within those categories. (more on this)
The final bill, SB 8 made several specific allocations of money corresponding to the categories as laid out in the ARPA rules. A basic review of the allocations is below:
- Replenishment of the Texas Unemployment Compensation trust fund. This is the fund that all Texas employers must pay into that underwrites and pays unemployment benefits. The fund was completely exhausted during the Covid pandemic shut down. SB 8 allocated $7.2 billion into the fund and reestablished its solvency. If this had not been done, Texas employers would have had to foot the bill with increased unemployment taxes.
- Tourism, travel and hospitality grants $180 million. Hospitality industry members can apply for one time recovery grants up to $20,000.
- Children’s advocacy center information technology system improvements $1,200,000.
- Department of State Health Services to be used for surge staffing and drug purchases $2 billion.
- Broadband infrastructure $500,000,000.
- Department of Criminal Justice $360,000,000.
- Texas Department of Agriculture Food Banks $95,000,000.
- Higher Education Coordinating Board Child Mental Health Care Consortium, $113,000,000.
- Texas division of emergency management $300,000,000.
- Higher Education Coordinating Board, University Construction $325,000,000.
- Health and Human Services Commission, Dallas State Hospital, $237,000,000.
- Health and Human Services Commission, Rural Hospitals, $75,000,000.
- Health and Human Services Commission, Internet Portal, $20,000,000.
- Health and Human Services Commission, Technology updates, $5,000,000.
- Health and Human Services Commission, Texas Civil Commitment Office, $14,250.
- Department of State Health Services, Rio Grande Valley, $16,700,000.
- UT Health Science Center Houston, Texas Epidemic Public Health Institute, $40,000,000.
- Higher Education Coordinating Brd, Texas Reskilling and Upskilling through Education Program, $15,000,000.
- Higher Education Coordinating Brd, Performance Based Funding for At-Risk students
- Texas Department of Agriculture, Home Delivered Meals, $5,000,000.
- General Land Office, State Veteran Homes, $35,000,000.
- Health and Human Services, Sunrise Canyon Hospital, $15,000,000.
- Historical Commission Washington on the Brazos improvement project $20,000.
- Office of the Governor Crime Victims Fund $160,000,000.
- Depart of Information Resources $200,000,000
- Permian Basin Behavioral Heath Center $40,000,000
- Sexual Assault Program $52,000,000
- AG Crime Victims Fund $54,000,000
- Court Fees $7,000,000
- State Emergency Communication Fund $150,000,000
- Presidio Custom Station $15,000,000
- TRS Care $286,000,000
- Health and Human Services Surge staffing $378,000,000
- DSHS $20,000,000
- DSHS Emergency Services $21,000,000
- Parks and Wildlife $40,000,000
- Brazoria Co Beach and Dune Maintenance $5,000,000
- GLO Coastal design study $300,000
- A&M Institute for disaster study $1,000,000
- Texas Tech & U of H $100,000,000
- Comptroller Safe Keeping Trust $100,000,000
- Parks and Wildlife Aquarium $3,000,000
- UT Marine Sciences $3,000,000
- TEA $3,000,000
- UT Briscoe Museum $235,000
- Higher Education Coordinator Board Rural Vet Program $1,000,000
- State Preservation Board $25,000,000
The Governor signed the bill on November 8th and goes into immediate effect.