April 2023 Editorial

April 2023

I hope everyone enjoyed a blessed Easter with family. He is Risen, and there is hope for tomorrow because of Jesus’ promise! We are back in Austin following a wonderful holiday weekend, and from this point forward the legislature will be moving fast and furiously as critical deadlines for bill considerations approach. The House Chamber took a huge step in fulfilling the legislature’s only constitutionally required duty by passing House Bill 1, the state budget. The biennial budget originates in alternating chambers each session, and in this session it was the House that passed the budget legislation first. Now, HB 1 heads to the Senate for consideration where it will undergo changes before coming back to the House. The Speaker and the Lt. Governor will then appoint conference committee members from both chambers to hash out the differences between the two chambers’ versions before coming back through both chambers where identical versions must pass both sides before heading to the Governor’s desk for final approval.

House Bill 1, the two-year state budget, is a fiscally conservative package that makes a number of critical investments to meet the needs of our rapidly-growing state. This budget stays well below the state’s constitutional pay-as-you-go limit, the constitutional tax spending limit, and the new consolidated general revenue limit that was passed last session. HB 1 represents $300 billion that prioritizes property tax relief, the state’s commitment to fully funding public education following sweeping school finance changes made in 2019, funneling additional dollars toward school safety measures and expanding mental health resources, and much more. HB 1 coupled with Senate Bill 30, the supplemental appropriations legislation for the state’s current budget cycle, appropriates $60.3 billion to fully fund school districts for the over 5 million Texas public school children across the state. This includes a $5 billion increase in public education funding. The budget includes an unprecedented $17.3 billion for property tax relief, including a 25-cent compression for school district property taxes and a $6.8 billion reduction in recapture payments when combined with the House’s property tax relief plan in House Bill 2 and HJR 1. HB 1 will continue the state’s efforts to defend our southern border in light of the Biden Administration’s complete failure and abdication of duty. We have appropriated an additional $4.6 billion as well as $2.2 billion to the Texas Military Department and $1 billion to the office of the Governor for further construction of physical border barriers. I am pleased that HB 1 also includes a long-deserved ongoing cost-of-living adjustment for Texas retired teachers with $3.5 billion set aside in the budget for that purpose. As mental health problems continue to plague our modern society, the House has appropriated $9.6 billion for mental health resources, including the support of inpatient client services at state hospitals, outpatient services through local mental health authorities, and substance abuse treatment for incarcerated persons and veterans. This funding will hopefully offset the use of hospitals, jails, and law enforcement as the primary mental health authorities in our communities. HB 1 prioritizes many important state needs and I was proud to vote in favor of those priorities.

In addition to committee hearings for State Affairs, Natural Resources, and House Administration and legislation being considered on the House floor, I continue to present many of my own bills in various committees in the Texas House. Two bills I presented recently, House Bill 1845 and House Bill 3340, were heard in the Natural Resources Committee and the Pensions, Investments and Financial Services Committee.

Like many industries, the water and wastewater sector are struggling to maintain a reliable workforce. In 2022, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) reported that two-thirds of all Texas licensed utility operators will be able to retire by 2025 which would only leave about 10,000 licensed operators in the entire state. In 2021, Texas had approximately 1,000 operators enter the utility industry, and if that pattern continues, we are at risk of a 95% operator deficit. The industry needs a larger workforce in order to meet the needs of a growing population with increasing pressure on our systems. The best way to fix this impending deficit is to allow high school students to work towards becoming water or wastewater operators while they are still in school. Unfortunately, obtaining your first operator license comes with some initial barriers. Currently, in order to receive your Texas Class D Water Operator License, an individual must already have their high school diploma or GED. House Bill 1845 would amend the current education requirement in order to allow students to receive training for their Class D Water System Operator License while also earning high school credit. With this change, students can begin working immediately upon receiving their diploma and enter the workforce without any additional barriers to entry. This change would bolster the industry workforce to help utilities meet the needs of a growing customer base in Texas. I was proud to present HB 1845 in the Natural Resources committee and look forward to its passage.

House District 16 is home to a significant number of current and retired City of Houston police officers and firefighters. Our close proximity to Houston, with the safety and quality of life of Montgomery County, is the reason many of these current and retirees choose to live here and commute to work. I filed House Bill 3340 in response to concerns raised by local leaders that the City of Houston is struggling to recruit and retain police officers and firefighters, with a deficit in the thousands for public safety officers. HB 3340, also known as the “20/20 DROP Plan,” is supported by the Houston Police Officers Union, the Houston Professional Firefighters Association, the Houston Firefighters Relief & Retirement Fund and the Houston Retired Firefighters Association. Importantly, HB 3340 does not seek to undo or make changes to SB 2190, the comprehensive City of Houston pension reform legislation passed during the 2017 session. A Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP) is one of the best incentives for retirement-eligible first responders to continue serving our communities. A DROP account is a pension benefit designed to encourage eligible personnel to work past their normal retirement age. In exchange for their continued service, the plans will allow the firefighter or police officer to defer what they would have received as a retired pensioner into a separate interest-bearing account. Once the firefighter or police officer retires, they can withdraw the money that has accrued in this account as a supplement to the standard pension benefits they earned before their eligible retirement age. It is important to remember that both Firefighters and Police officers in Houston do not receive Social Security, so this is their entire retirement. This bill would have a net positive impact on overall pension funding for both the fire and police funds – at no cost to the City of Houston, the State of Texas, or taxpayers. The bill will simplify and align the Houston Fire and Police DROP programs by allowing all currently employed and eligible personnel the opportunity to retire after 20 years of service. Those who continue to serve will be offered up to an additional 20 years of service in a DROP program. This program will incentivize some of our most experienced and capable firefighters and police officers to stay with their departments past their eligible retirement dates. HB 3340 is a great bill and will benefit many of my constituents who risk their lives for others as first responders.

As always, it is my honor to serve our community at the state capitol. Please do not hesitate to contact me if I can be of assistance to you.

May God bless you, your family, and the great state of Texas!

State Representative Will Metcalf
House District 16