As Congress came back into session after a two-week break for the Easter and Passover holidays, Republicans intend to counter President Joe Biden’s $2 trillion national infrastructure initiative called the American Jobs Plan with their own smaller package. The package is anticipated to be in the range of $600-800 billion, more targeted in scope and funded by unspecified user fees.
On April 13, the newly formed U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Tourism, Trade and Export Promotion, led by Chairwoman Jacky Rosen (D-NV) and ranking member Rick Scott (R-FL), held its first-ever hearing, entitled, “The State of Travel and Tourism During COVID.”
The U.S. Travel Association provided testimony identifying four key priorities to restore travel demand, accelerate rehiring in the travel sector and shorten the timeline for recovery:
- The safe and quick reopening of international travel.
- Approval of clear guidance by the CDC to safely restart professional meetings and events.
- Enactment by Congress of the Hospitality and Commerce Job Recovery Act to spur incremental demand and accelerate rehiring.
- The provision of temporary emergency funding by Congress for Brand USA to welcome visitors back to the United States.
The U.S. Travel Association noted specific policies should also be implemented to improve the industry’s long-term competitiveness and ensure it comes back stronger and better than ever. These include:
- Enacting the Visit America Act to elevate permanent leadership in federal government on travel policies.
- Investing in repairing and modernizing travel infrastructure.
We have entered that point in the legislative session where there are long days on the House/Senate floors followed by committee meetings that can go well into the late night and sometimes early morning hours. Historically, this is the time in the session where legislation can be moving along nicely, but at any second could go off the rails. The first big deadline is just a little under a month away on May 13, which by rule is the last day the House can consider HBs/HJRs on second reading. Typically, by this time major legislation – like the appropriations bill – have passed both chambers and are in conference committees. Given the slow pace of this session, brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, the final weeks will likely be full of frenzied activity.
We are monitoring 300 bills, here is a summary of some of the issues:
Currently, State House of Representatives and Senate budget patterns provide for full funding of travel-related programs. This means that $130 million is proposed for the next biennium (FY22-23), or $65 million each year. This amount includes approximately $35 million in direct appropriations and carry-over from the current budget cycle.
The general appropriations bill, SB 1 (by Nelson), as well as the supplemental budget, HB 2 (by G. Bonnen), both hit the House floor next week. After passing out of the Appropriations Committee (where the House’s budget language was substituted in) this past Monday, SB 1 and HB 2 were scheduled to be debated Thursday.
SB 29, by Perry; Relating to requiring public school students to compete in interscholastic athletic competitions based on biological sex, the proposed legislation amends Chapter 33 of the Education Code requiring University Interscholastic League (UIL) athletes to compete in sports associated with their biological sex as determined at or near birth and that was properly listed on the student's birth certificate. SB 29 has a companion bill in the House, HB 4042, by Hefner: Relating to requiring public school students to compete in interscholastic athletic competitions based on biological sex. HB 4042 was heard in the Public Education on Tuesday.
The House Ways & Means Committee met last Monday and took up 15 Hotel Occupancy Tax bills, most related to local hotel and convention center projects, and/or the authority of a municipality or county to impose a hotel occupancy tax. We will continue to monitor them as they move through the process. Three bills of interest that we are monitoring, include:
HB 1048, by Anchia, Relating to the financing of certain sports and community venue projects. This bill was introduced for Fair Park in Dallas. It would only allow for funding to be used on this project that meets current statutory requirements. The author agreed to pull down the legislation is opened to any other community. The bill has been left pending in the House International Affairs and Economic Development Committee.
HB 3223 by Zweiner, Relating to the use by certain municipalities of municipal hotel occupancy tax revenue for the enhancement and maintenance of public parks. HB 3223 has been referred to and remains in the House Ways & Means Committee.
HB 4305 by Morales, Relating to the use of hotel occupancy tax revenue by certain counties and municipalities. A Central Texas bill related to funding for “dark skies” events and activities.
Business Liability Protections
SB 6 by Hancock; Relating to the liability of or certain claims during a pandemic or other disaster or emergency. SB 6 provides retroactive civil liability protections for large and small businesses, religious institutions, non-profit entities, healthcare providers, first responders and educational institutions. It passed the Senate on April 8 and was referred to House Committee on House Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence on April 13.
Business Preemption Protections
SB 14 by Creighton; Relating to the regulation by a municipality or county of certain employment benefits and policies, passed out of the Senate on April 14. SB 14 was referred to the House State Affairs Committee on that date.
Franchise Tax Forgiveness
HB 1195 by Geren, Relating to the forgiveness of a loan made under the Paycheck Protection Program for franchise tax purposes, was heard in the House Ways & Means Committee earlier this month. HB 1195 was passed by the full House on April 1 by one unanimous vote. On April 19, the full Senate also passed the bill by unanimous vote, with one amendment.
Small Business Disaster Recovery Loan Program
SB 678 by Alvarado, Regarding to the creation of the small business disaster recovery loan program was set on the Senate Intent Calendar on April 20. This bill would amend Chapter 403 of the Government Code to establish the Small Business Disaster Recovery Loan Program and authorize the Comptroller to make loans to small businesses affected by a natural disaster declared by the Governor.
HB 390 by Senfronia Thompson, Relating to requirements for human trafficking awareness and prevention in commercial lodging establishments. HB 390 seeks to provide additional opportunities for human trafficking to be spotted and reported to law enforcement by requiring training for employees directly employed by certain commercial lodging establishments. HB 390 passed the full House on April 1 on a vote of 122-26 and was scheduled for a hearing in the Senate Jurisprudence Committee on Thursday.
School State Date
HB 3846 by Krause, Relating to the scheduling of the first day of school for students by school districts and open-enrollment charter schools, was left pending in the House Public Education Committee on April 15.
House Bill 1927, by Schaefer, would get rid of the requirement for Texas residents to get a license to carry handguns if they are not already prohibited by state or federal law from possessing a firearm. The House gave final approval to the legislation recently in an 87-58 vote that included seven Democrats in support of it. Referred to the Senate.
The City of San Antonio will conduct its General Election in May. Election dates are as follows:
GENERAL ELECTION: SATURDAY, MAY 1
EARLY VOTING PERIOD: MONDAY, APRIL 19 – TUESDAY, APRIL 27
RUN OFF ELECTION (IF NEEDED): THURSDAY, JUNE 5