AUSTIN - Today, State Representative Donna Howard announced the enactment of several laws which were approved by the 84th Texas Legislature. "September 1 marks the culmination of untold hours of work at the Capitol, as hundreds of new laws take effect," Rep. Howard said. "I am proud to have passed a number of bills which will positively impact the lives of Texans."
Rep. Howard authored or sponsored the following bills with a September 1 effective date:
- HB 426, which directs the Texas Workforce Commission to modernize the state's Work in Texas website, making it more user-friendly and improving the application process for those seeking employment with the state. The result of a constituent's suggestion, this legislation will help ensure that we are attracting the best and brightest applicants for our state jobs.
- SB 27, which requires the online broadcast of conference calls by the Governing Boards of institutions of higher education. This was just the latest effort by Rep. Howard to increase public access to open meetings — in the past she has been responsible for the online broadcast of meetings by the State Board of Education (SBOE) and she effectively advocated for similar transparency from the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA).
- SB 44, which clarifies that private gifts for undergraduate research activities are eligible for matching funds under the Texas Research Incentive Program (TRIP), the primary research funding for our eight emerging research institutions. This will better assure donors that their gifts can be further maximized through the use of matching funds.
- SB 1468, which makes it easier for a District Judge to remove a member of an Appraisal Review Board if there is evidence of bad behavior. The law will better prevent and punish impropriety in our appraisal process.
Rep. Howard also successfully inserted a number of items into the state budget, which goes into effect on September 1. "My position on the House Appropriations Committee was critical to advancing a variety of important initiatives in the areas of women's health, public and higher education, and environmental policy," the Representative said. These include the following:
- Directed the state's health agencies to expeditiously implement program policies to increase access to Long Acting Reversible Contraceptives (LARCs), including the development of provider education and training. This is particularly beneficial in light of recent research showing that educating providers on LARCs leads to increased utilization and decreased rates of unintended pregnancies.
- Directed the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, in consultation with the Texas Health & Human Services Commission, to implement necessary rules for the Physician Education Loan Repayment Program to address the qualifications for the participation of providers in the field of Obstetrics and Gynecology, taking into account the field's lower number of unduplicated clients in comparison to other specialties participating in the program.
- Directed the LBB, in consultation with the Comptroller and State Demographer, to produce a report on state revenue and cost drivers for the next 10 years, including projected revenue sources and the impact of economic and demographic growth on state programs. This will help the state better anticipate its long-range budgeting needs.
- Required the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to compile and maintain a list of the year-round schools in Texas (which they don't currently have!), examine how they schedule their school year around assessments, and compare their assessment performance to traditional schools.
- Earmarked $1.5 million in funding through the biennium for the Educational Aide Program, which provides tuition exemption for paraprofessionals to go to college and receive a teaching certificate. These aides, often members of communities with high staff turnover, are more likely to return to those communities upon completing their education.
- Allowed the Commissioner of Education to spend $2 million to provide Texas military-connected children with additional counseling and support services in our public schools.
- Secured additional funding for the Texas Pathways Project, a data-driven effort to answer critical questions about student preparation and achievement at the local level.
- Directed $1 million to demonstration projects or feasibility studies for Aquifer Recharge and Storage, to create new water supplies or otherwise increase the availability of water.
- Earmarked $1 million in funding for Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) grants for near non-attainment areas. Areas such as Austin are considered to be close to violating federal air quality standards. This will help provide additional dollars for local air-quality efforts to reduce ozone and prevent the regulatory costs that come with being in non-attainment.
Rep. Howard passed 9 additional bills in the 84th Regular Session, each of which went into effect immediately upon receipt of the Governor's signature.
Scott M. Daigle
P.O. Box 2910