An Update from Your MOWAT Lobby Team
The Legislative session is rolling into its last three weeks...and none of us will complain when they declare that the session is finally adjourned, sine die (without days.) We will finish up May 31st, and not a moment too soon.
The budget, SB1, has been passed by both the House and Senate, and is now in Conference Committee. The Conference Committee is composed of five members each of the House and Senate, and they work to resolve the differences between the two versions of the bill. Thankfully, this session the House and Senate versions were fairly close to each other, only being about $3.8 billion apart. The Senate version is about $250 billion, and the House is about $246 billion.
The great news for MOWAT is that both versions of SB 1 contain full funding ($9,871,438 each fiscal year) of the Department of Agriculture’s Texans Feeding Texans Home-Delivered Meals program. If you remember, the original SB 1 language cut the program by about 14%, which is was $688,081 each year of the biennium. Thankfully, due to great leadership and support from Chairwoman Nelson, Senator Perry, Senator Lucio, and Senator Nichols (who chaired the Article VI work group) - that money was restored. Because both versions of the budget had the same funding amount when they finally passed each chamber, they are not part of the Conference Committee’s deliberations.
Also great news is that the HDM funding in Article II (HHSC) had been exempted from last summer’s “5% budget cuts,” so the funding gains from last session remain in place as well.
HB 1134/SB 732 Update
More good news, the bills that would open the Texans Feeding Texans (TFT)-HDM program to for-profit companies (HB 1134/SB 732) have been bottled up in both the House and Senate committees without a hearing on either side. This has required a lot of time and effort by your lobby team, and it has been an uphill fight. HOWEVER, our job has been made much easier by all the calls and contacts your organizations have made to legislators. We thank you all for taking the time to write, call, email and text when we have asked for your support! And we may still need to ask for more help. There is always a chance of legislators adding an amendment to a different bill that would have the same impact as the version we have been fighting. We are monitoring this very diligently.
The Texas Department of Agriculture Sunset bill is one of those bills that could take on a bad amendment that could hurt the TFT-HDM program. However, we have been able to keep the bill free of bad amendments to date. This bill, SB 703, has passed the Senate and House Agriculture committees and is awaiting House Floor Consideration. The bill authors and Sunset commission members are anxious to avoid any amendments that would require the bill to go back to the Senate for concurrence, since there are some political tensions between the Agriculture Commissioner and the Texas Senate (for example, he recently sued the Senate members because their rules required masks to be worn in the Senate chamber and Committee hearings). We hope, and anticipate, that the tension is going to work to our advantage—for once!
Finally, significant federal funds still hang in the State’s balance. The money is part of the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 economic relief package that President Joe Biden signed into law on March 11th. Texas lawmakers continue to wrestle with who has the authority to spend that money. Recently, about $11.2 Billion of that money was released by the State to assist Texas public schools, but, how or when they will allocate the remainder of the money is still a source of great uncertainty.
So, the good news is that we are currently in good shape on all of our projects for MOWAT, with only three weeks left. The bad news is that we still have to be on major alert for three more weeks. If we see anything, we will send out the alert, so please be ready to jump on those phones if we need to fight an amendment!!