After nearly 12 hours of debate on 175 amendments, the Texas House unanimously approved its version of Senate Bill 1, the $246 billion budget for the 2022-2023 biennium.
As part of the budget, the lower chamber made clear their intention to maintain their constitutional duty to appropriate the outstanding $34 billion in federal COVID-19 relief funds allocated to Texas from December and March. They unanimously adopted an amendment by Rep. Geanie Morrison (R-Victoria) to force Gov. Abbott’s hand on calling a special session if the federal relief funds do not get appropriated by the end of the regular session.
The budget also maintained the increased funding commitment from 2019 in HB 3 to public education. Federal funding from the CRSSA and the American Rescue Plan remain excluded from the budget. However, House leadership adopted an amendment by Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin) to ensure the $18 billion in ESSER II and ESSER III funds will be drawn down, go directly to school districts as soon as possible, and not be used to replace existing funding. The language on supplanting already was in the budget as passed by the Appropriations Committee in the Morrison Rider.
There also was an amendment by Rep. Justin Holland (R-Rockwall), which said the education commissioner cannot condition receipt of federal relief funds on “payment to any entity or purchase of any service by a local education agency.” An amendment by the current and former Chairs of Public Education Committee, Harold Dutton (D-Houston) and Dan Huberty (R-Humble), was adopted directing the priorities and strategies for TEA’s administration of the ESSER II and ESSER III funds and requiring school districts post plans on their website and to the TEA on how they will spend those funds.
As there is every session, an amendment to prohibit state funds for private vouchers was passed 115-29.
One issue regarding federal education funds was not resolved by lawmakers by the end of the night and that was the $1 billion shortfall in higher education needed to meet the maintenance of effort requirements for ESSER II and ESSER III.
While education advocates were pleased with the budget the House passed, the other big item up for debate did not turn out in their favor. Despite having enough votes on a Medicaid expansion bill, the effort to direct Texas to build its own program to insure those in the coverage gap—those who make too much to be eligible for Texas Medicaid and not enough to get federal marketplace subsidies—failed in a near party-line vote with only Rep. Lyle Larson (R-San Antonio) crossing over in favor.
Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, the budget writer in charge of the Health and Human Services article of the budget, rose in opposition to the amendment, and said he will vote against it because there has been no public debate on the policy. All bills to expand Medicaid have been languishing in committee without hearings because Human Services Committee Chair James Frank (R-Wichita Falls) and Speaker Dade Phelan have not allowed it.
Attorney General Ken Paxton didn’t get much love from the Texas House. Rep. Jessica Gonzalez (D-Dallas) had an amendment adopted by 73-64, which capped the pay for outside legal counsel fees to $500/hour because of a Texas Tribune story which reported the OAG was paying $3,780 for its Google lawsuit following all the whistleblowers leaving. Rep. Michelle Beckley introduced an amendment where the AG had to report quarterly to House Appropriations and Senate Finance Committees how much his office has spent on election/voting-related lawsuits.
Many of the controversial amendments filed by Democrats and Republicans were ultimately withdrawn or killed by a point of order from the opposing party.
Now, the state budget, SB 1, heads back to the Senate, the body will refuse to concur, and then the negotiations between the two chambers over the differences begin.