Monday, June 22, 2015

84th Texas Legislature Wrap Up

Update Monday, June 22, 2015 at 11:00 PM - Any bills that passed the Texas House and Senate this year and escaped Gov. Greg Abbott's veto pen are now law. (Bills vetoed by Gov. Abbott)

Lawmakers this year filed 11,332 bills and resolutions and managed to pass 5,535 of those submissions. Many of those 11,332 filings were duplicate bills and language of some of the filed bills that did not advance was added into related bills as amendments.

Under Texas law, the governor can sign or veto bills passed by the legislature, or let them become law after 20 days without his signature. The governor has until June 21st to act to veto bills passed in the last 10 days of the session. After that date bills automatically become law.

Highlights of the 2015 84th Texas Legislature
Other bills passed:

HB 1626  Author: Eric Johnson
Purpose: Banking and Credit Union Development Districts - Texas has one of the largest un-banked and under-banked populations in the country. Among the reasons for this is that mainstream financial institutions have closed their doors at a greater rate in poorer communities while sub-prime lenders, such as payday and title lenders, have disproportionately expanded their footprint in these areas.

This bill allows county and municipal governments to apply to the Finance Commission of Texas and the Texas Credit Union Commission to establish Banking or Credit Union Development Districts in communities that have limited access to mainstream banking services. This bill creates an incentive for banks and credit unions to open branches in areas where they are needed most.

HB 1628 Author: Eric Johnson
Purpose: Prize-Linked Savings Accounts - Saving is essential, not only for financial security and stability, but also to increase one's potential for upward economic mobility. Yet, more than a third of Texas households do not have a savings account at all and nearly halfdon't have sufficient savings to cover basic expenses in the case of an emergency.

This bill encourages saving by allowing banks and credit unions to offer prize-linked savings account programs in which a person can win prizes, including cash, by opening a savings account and making deposits into it.

HB 1629 Author: Eric Johnson
Purpose: Crowdfunding for Small Businesses - Crowdfunding is a fundraising method that uses the power of the internet to raise money from a large number of people. By leveraging this tool to boost economic development, crowdfunding has the potential to become a real game-changer for small businesses in Texas.

This legislation seeks to assist entities which provide financing to small businesses that have historically had limited access to capital. It would direct the Texas State Securities Board to adopt rules to regulate and facilitate intrastate crowdfunding for these entities, many of which are already providing grants or loans to small businesses.

HB 549 Author: Eric Johnson
Purpose: Preserving In-Person Jail Visitation - Roughly thirteen counties in Texas have completely eliminated in-person jail visitation and replaced it with video-only visitation. Many counties have contracted with a for-profit company that essentially forces families to pay to "video-chat" with their loved ones in jail, and tout this as an efficiency and cost saving measure for the jail. However, people visiting a family member or friend in jail should not be limited to seeing them on a video screen. In-person jail visitation is not only of psychological benefit to inmates (most of whom are innocent and awaiting trial) and their families, but is also a valuable disciplinary tool that helps keep our jails operating safely

This bill requires the Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS) to adopt rules that establish a minimum of two in-person visitation periods per week in all county jails. TCJS will also be required to determine a county jail's ability to comply with this law for the purpose of exempting those counties that have already built jail facilities that physically cannot accommodate in-person visitation.

HB 1363 Author: Eric Johnson
Breaking the Cycle of Prostitution - Texas is one of the few states that felonizes prostitution. This disproportionately affects women who are coerced into this lifestyle. Studies show that nearly 60 percent of individuals engaged in prostitution are physically forced into sexual exploitation, and once they are convicted of a felony, it is extremely difficult for them to break the cycle of incarceration and successfully re-enter into society.

This bill delays a felony conviction for prostitution and instead encourages participation in prostitution diversion programs. This bill will also ensure that these diversion programs do more to end the cycle of abuse for those who have been forced into prostitution by providing information, counseling, and other services relating to human trafficking.

HB 1036 Author: Eric Johnson
Purpose: Uniform Reporting of Officer-Related Shootings - Despite intense media coverage of officer-involved shootings, there is no single source for accurate statistical information on these incidents. Even FBI Director James Comey has said that "because [officer-involved shooting] reporting is voluntary, our data is incomplete and therefore, in the aggregate, unreliable." This information gap prevents policymakers and researchers from adequately studying the issue, allowing the conversation on this topic to be driven more by speculation and personal biases than facts.

This bill requires Texas law enforcement agencies to submit a report containing basic demographic information on shootings involving peace officers to the Office of the Texas Attorney General (OAG) within thirty days of the incident. The OAG would then be required to report this information on their website within five days and to compile an annual report.

SB 158/HB 455 Author: Eric Johnson
Purpose: Body Cameras for Police - The use of body worn camera technology by law enforcement has increased dramatically over the last few years. This is largely due to the potential that this technology has to improve the safety of both citizens and peace officers, and to reduce the rate of false claims made against law enforcement. In Texas, some cities like Fort Worth have already fully implemented body camera programs, while in others, like Dallas, law enforcement agencies have implemented pilot programs.

This bill establishes statewide standards for the use of body cameras by police and helps law enforcement agencies throughout the state procure and operate a body camera program through a grant run by the Governor's office.

SB 1462/HB 1098 Author: Eric Johnson
Purpose: Providing Greater Access to Anti-Overdose Medicine - Accidental death due to opioid overdose disproportionately affects the elderly and veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder who are often prescribed opioids for pain. These accidental overdoses often occur in the presence of family or friends who are unable to immediately administer aid. However, there already exists an easily administered anti-overdose antidote that can save lives, but due to strict limitations on its prescription and administration, it is not accessible to the people who need it most.

This bill will provide greater access to this anti-overdose medication by permitting its prescription and use to a person at risk of experiencing an overdose or to a family member or friend. It will also protect persons who act in good faith and with reasonable care in prescribing, dispensing, or administering t he antidote from civil or criminal liability.

HB 2590 Author: Eric Johnson
Purpose: Ending "Squatter's Rights" Real Estate Fraud - In a troubling trend, some real estate scam artists have misused our adverse possession laws to claim fraudulent title to seemingly abandoned homes. Without the actual owners’ knowledge or consent, these scam artists then "sell" these homes to "buyers" who are unaware of the fact that the seller doesn’t actually own these properties. Some victims have reported spending over $30,000 on renovations and "mortgage" payments as a result of these scams.

This bill allows municipalities, county governments, district attorneys, and the Office of the Texas Attorney General (OAG) to prosecute this type of real estate fraud under the Deceptive Trade Practices Act (DTPA). It also allows for the distribution of 75% of the monetary penalties to the local jurisdiction prosecuting the case. Additionally, it allows victims of these fraudulent schemes to obtain three times the damages while simultaneously recovering their attorney's fees, regardless of whether the scammer has already been sued by local attorneys or the OAG.

HB 2573 Author: Eric Johnson
Purpose: Ending Immigration Consulting Fraud - Some Notaries Public (and other individuals not licensed to practice law) exploit Spanish speakers who conflate the Spanish words for Notary Public ("notario") and attorney. These fraudulent actors take advantage of this misnomer to represent themselves as being licensed to provide legal services. Unfortunately, victims of this kind of fraud are disproportionately immigrants who are striving to be law-abiding citizens.

This bill creates the offense of “notario fraud”under the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act (DTPA). It allows city and district attorneys to prosecute these types of cases under the DTPA without prior approval from the Office of the Attorney General, while allowing 75% of the monetary penalties to be distributed to the local jurisdiction prosecuting the case.

HB 11 Author: Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Friendswood
Purpose: Allocates $300 million for border security efforts, including the hiring new Department of Public Safety troopers and creates a committee to oversee border activities.

HB 1690 Author: Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford
Purpose: Shifts responsibility to investigate public corruption cases to Texas Rangers from Travis County district attorney’s office

HB 21 Author: Rep. Kyle Kacal, R-College Station
Purpose: The “Right to Try” bill to allow terminal patients speedier access to experimental drugs.

HB 2150 Author: Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston
Purpose: Requires judges to use random selection to empanel grand juries, eliminating the existing key-man or “pick-a-pal” method

HB 2398 Author: Rep. James White, R-Woodville
Purpose: Decriminalizes truancy and requires schools to consider a student’s situation before referring him to court for truancy violations.

HB 2804 Author: Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen
Purpose: Requires public schools to be assigned A-F letter grades and establishes a new evaluation method for issuing said grades.

HB1842 Author: Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen
Purpose: Requires school districts that receive a failing grade for two years in a row to develop improvement plans; allows education commissioner to close schools if no improvement made.

HB 3994 Author: Rep. Geanie Morrison, R-Victoria
Purpose: Tightens restrictions on judicial bypass process used by abused and neglected minors to obtain abortions without parental consent

HB 4 Author: Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston
Purpose: Provides grants to existing pre-K programs that meet certain standards, including more teacher training

HB 40 Author: Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo
Purpose: Bars local governments from prohibiting fracking or oil and gas drilling within their municipal boundaries.

HB 9 Author: Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Canton
Purpose: Increases funding to the state employee retirement fund from 7.5 to 9.5 percent, and boosts employee contributions to 9.5 percent.

HB 910 Author: Rep. Larry Phillips, R-Sherman
Purpose: Allows open carry of handguns.

SB 11 Author: Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury
Purpose: Allows concealed handgun licensees to carry handguns on public university campuses

SB 1630 Author: Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston
Purpose: Moves juvenile offenders serving time in state youth lockup facilities to local treatment programs.

SB1760 Author: Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe
Purpose: Requires a super-majority vote by local governing entities to approve tax increases

HB 26 Author: Rep. Angie Chen Button, R-Richardson
Purpose: Disbands the Emerging Technology Fund and replaces it with a new fund aimed at improving research at Texas universities.

SB 1697 Author: Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston
Purpose: Keeps the identities of suppliers or manufacturers of drugs used for lethal injections secret.

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