Clock Ticking in Austin for Priority Legislation—With just ten days until the Texas Legislature reaches the conclusion of its 85th regular session, questions still remain about the prognosis of major initiatives. At the beginning of the session in January, Governor Greg Abbott laid out four priorities:
- Reform Child Protective Services to be more responsive and thorough in protecting foster children
- Eliminate “Sanctuary Cities”
- Ethics reform to target legislators who transition to lobbying or whose private occupation contracts with public entities
- Form a Convention of States to rewrite the U.S. Constitution
As of today, only one of those priorities has passed through both chambers and made its way to the Governor’s desk to be signed into law. Two weeks ago, Governor Abbott signed SB 4, the “Sanctuary Cities” bill, on a Facebook livestream event. He did so alone, skewing the tradition of inviting the legislators who were instrumental in the bill’s passage. Conspicuously absent was Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, who also identified eliminating “Sanctuary Cities” as one of his many priorities for this session.
Despite his absence at the signing ceremony, Lt. Gov. Patrick’s agenda may dictate the proceedings of these last ten days. Although the Legislature is only constitutionally obligated to pass a biennial budget and authorize the continuation of state agencies, Lt. Gov. Patrick declared he will block passage of state agency authorization unless the House passes two of his priority bills. The first, and most prominent, of these two bills is the “bathroom bill,” which seeks to force transgender Texans to use the bathroom that corresponds to the sex on their birth certificate. The bill has been widely panned by the business community and moderate Republicans, but the Lt. Gov. continues to assert that it is the single most important issue facing Texans today. The second of the Lt. Gov.’s priorities is to limit the ability of local governments to raise property taxes. Presently, a local government cannot raise taxes by greater than 8% lest they trigger an automatic tax ratification election. The bill, as the Senate wrote it, seeks to reduce that rate to 4%.
If the House does not pass these two measures, Lt. Gov. Patrick has promised that he will refuse to pass the state agency authorization and force Gov. Abbott to call for a special session over the summer. Today, Friday May 19, the House will be debating the property tax bill. The House let the “bathroom bill” die earlier this month, but there may still be avenues for legislators to attach the policy as an amendment to another bill. By this time next week, we will likely know whether the Legislature will adjourn for good on May 29 or merely be taking a short break before returning for a special session.
New WOTUS Website Now Available—Following last week’s news on Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt’s efforts to reach out to state governors for their feedback regarding the Waters of the U.S. rule, the EPA has launched a new website to keep people informed about progress of the WOTUS rulemaking process. The former site developed for the 2015 rulemaking process will still be available through EPA’s archived site, archive.epa.gov.
Export Report—Exports were very strong this week with China, Japan and Mexico committing to purchase 2.2 million bushels. This brings total commitments for the year to 177 million bushels or 79 percent of the USDA export target (including food aid donations). Exports are still ahead of the 5-year average pace needed to meet this target and are back on pace with last year. Deliveries were also strong, with shipments to China, Japan and Mexico totaling 3.3 million bushels. Prices on the Gulf Coast remained strong on these shipments with sorghum bids for July delivery jumping to 115 percent of corn or $4.61 per bushel in New Orleans. Interior bids remained weak, but river bids continued to move higher. Producers in areas affected by flooding should strongly consider taking advantage of these basis opportunities.