Friday, January 6, 2017

Catching up with the 85th Session of the Legislature - 1/6/17

A handful of items to discuss:

- Texas Tribune: House panel warns of "peril" in Texas mental health system.
If Texas doesn't take bolder steps to fix its mental health system, the consequences could be perilous for the state, a House committee report warned Thursday.
The 109-page report by the Texas House Select Committee on Mental Health, released just days before the start of this year's legislative session, outlines challenges and opportunities for the state in tackling issues troubling the system such as patient access to mental and behavioral health services; increasing the number of beds available in state hospitals; early intervention for schoolchildren with behavioral health issues; investing in jail diversion programs; and beefing up the state's mental health workforce 

- Click here for the report.

- Texas Tribune: Following North Carolina's lead, Texas GOP unveils so-called “bathroom bill"

After months of sparring over whether transgender Texans should be allowed to use bathrooms that align with their gender identity, Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick on Thursday officially set the legislative stage for the debate.
Following North Carolina’s lead, Texas Republicans announced Senate Bill 6, which would require transgender people to use bathrooms in public schools, government buildings and public universities based on “biological sex” and would pre-empt local nondiscrimination ordinances that allow transgender Texans to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity.

- Click here to follow SB 6

- Texas Tribune: Texas loses tax lawsuit, but not the way officials feared.


As gloomy government budget news stacks up in Austin, a state appeals court ruling issued Friday appears to erase a huge worry about the state’s business franchise tax.
The parent company of AMC movie theaters sued the state over what it is allowed to include in non-taxable cost of goods sold. An initial ruling in the company’s favor in May 2015 contained what the state thought was an overly broad definition of “costs” — one that Comptroller Glenn Hegar feared could require $6 billion in tax refunds to various businesses and a $1.5 billion annual reduction in state franchise taxes.
Friday’s ruling from the 3rd Court of Appeals leaves the company’s victory in place, but uses a narrower definition of costs of goods that apparently won’t apply to most other taxpayers.
The difference could be worth billions to the state, allowing it to continue to collect franchise taxes much the way it does now.

- Click here for the court decision

- Texas Tribune: Whitmire says he may abstain from some pension votes.

Whether — and how — one of the Texas Legislature’s chief champions of police officers and firefighters gets involved with legislation addressing mounting financial crises with first responders’ pension funds could depend on which cities are impacted by potential bills.
State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, works for Locke Lord, a law firm whose clients include pension fund boards in Dallas and Houston — cities currently beset by multibillion-dollar pension shortfalls. Because municipal workers’ retirement funds are largely governed by the state, both cities are expected to seek legislative approval of their respective plans to shore up the beleaguered funds.
Whitmire said that while his firm represents pension funds in the cities, he does not work on those accounts and he never talks to professional colleagues about government clients. But after some Dallas City Council members voiced concerns this week over Whitmire’s political role in Austin and his professional position inside the pension funds’ federal lobbying firm, the Democrat said he would likely abstain from voting on Dallas-specific bills “out of an abundance of caution.”
“I go out of my way to avoid the conflicts,” he told The Texas Tribune on Thursday.
- Click here for the website of Locke Lord

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