State Senator Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, filed Monday a package of bills to improve mental health services, protect victims of human trafficking, strengthen the state’s cybersecurity infrastructure and more as pre-filing began for the 86th Regular Session of the Texas Legislature, which will reconvene Jan. 8.
“My top goal is to pass a solid budget that makes significant investments in our future,” Nelson said in a statement. “After paying Hurricane Harvey bills, we will still have the opportunity to increase education funding, improve transportation and make communities safer. We will care for our seniors, children and other vulnerable Texans, and I am personally committed to supporting survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking.”
Nelson serves as Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and is the highest-ranking Republican in the Texas Senate. The following is an overview of legislation pre-filed Monday by Nelson, provided by her office:
Mental Health Consortium: SB 63 establishes the Texas Mental Health Care Consortium to foster collaboration among health-related institutions with the goal of improving early identification and access to mental health services, addressing psychiatry workforce issues, promoting and coordinating mental health research, and strengthening judicial training on juvenile mental health. The consortium will coordinate programs located in health-related institutions across the state such as the Child Psychiatry Access Network (CPAN) to assist pediatricians in meeting the behavioral health needs of children and youth and the Texas Child Access Through Telemedicine (TCHATT) program to connect at-risk students with behavioral health assessments and intervention through telemedicine. “This bill will help physicians identify children and adolescents who are struggling with mental health challenges and get them into treatment. More importantly, it will help prevent young people from becoming a danger to themselves and others,” Senator Nelson said. “By leveraging the expertise of our institutions of higher education, we can expand access to care, grow our mental health workforce and support mental health research.”
Cybersecurity: SB 64 strengthens the Department of Information Resource’s oversight of agency cybersecurity, assists local entities in responding to cyber breaches, grows the cybersecurity workforce pipeline, and helps secure the electric grid. These measures will protect sensitive data and ensure that vital services are provided uninterrupted. “Data is the new oil, and the state possesses highly sensitive, highly sought-after information that must be protected,” Senator Nelson, chair of the Senate Select Committee on Cybersecurity, said. “We are working on several fronts to ensure that Texas is well positioned to defend against cyber threats. With billions of attempted hacks each month, we must remain vigilant. As threats evolve, so must our responses.”
Contracting Reform: SB 65 responds to the continued failure of state agencies to follow laws and procedures on state contracting. It increases conflict-of-interest oversight, enhances oversight of risky procurements, strengthens scoring guidelines, and bolsters vendor performance tracking. “Despite repeated legislative intervention, we continue to see breakdowns in contracting across state government. This cannot continue. My reform bill will ensure agencies are held accountable and that the state is receiving the best possible services at the appropriate cost to taxpayers,” Senator Nelson said.
Franchise Tax Relief: SB 66 phases out the franchise tax rate over 10 years by reducing the tax by 2.5% per year as long as the Comptroller certifies there are available funds over the Biennial Revenue Estimate. “Texas is already a business-friendly state, but we need to maintain our competitive edge. Eliminating the franchise tax will help businesses flourish, creating new investments, growing jobs and providing new opportunities that benefit all Texans,” Senator Nelson said.
Appraisal Reform: SB 67 reforms the property appraisal review process to make it fair and transparent for taxpayers who dispute their appraisal value. It increases training requirements, adds term limits for appraisal review board members, and eliminates disincentives to protest appraisals. “Across Texas property owners often feel overmatched when it comes to protesting their appraisals. This legislation ensures taxpayers are treated fairly and prevents them from being penalized just for speaking up,” Senator Nelson said.
Zero-Based Budgeting: SB 68 directs all state agencies to undergo a zero-based budget process on a schedule tied to their Sunset review. This will require that each agency’s budget start at zero rather than their current funding level. “Zero-based budgeting will allow us to take a deep dive into the budgets of every state agency without assuming current spending levels are justified. We should put each program under a microscope to ensure we are making the most efficient use of taxpayer dollars,” Senator Nelson said.
Economic Stabilization Fund (ESF) Reform: SJR 1 and SB 69 reform the Economic Stabilization Fund (ESF) to address long-term needs identified by the Legislature. Specifically, it will lower the ESF cap, alters the way the sufficient balance is set, allows more ESF funds to be invested in higher-yield portfolios, and establishes a Legacy Fund. “We have billions of dollars set aside earning very little interest. That’s not good money management. This bill maximizes our potential interest earnings while ensuring we maintain healthy reserves to address emergencies and make smart investments in our future,” Senator Nelson said.
Online Sales Tax: SB 70 codifies the recent North Dakota v. Wayfair decision from the U.S. Supreme Court on online sales tax by requiring that out-of-state sellers collect sales tax on purchases made in Texas. “This bill will provide additional revenue to help meet the needs of our growing state. It levels the playing field for our businesses without placing undue burdens on remote sellers,” Senator Nelson said.
Sexual Assault Nursing: SB 71 establishes a telemedicine program that will deliver high-quality medical forensic care to sexual assault survivors throughout Texas. This bill allows local medical providers to consult via telemedicine with Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE) who are trained to collect evidence and provide expert testimony in court proceedings. With only 357 certified SANE practitioners in Texas, the program will dramatically expand the number of locations where survivors can obtain care. “Every survivor of sexual assault deserves compassionate care and justice – regardless of where they live. This legislation will ensure that we are providing expert care and collecting forensic evidence in a manner that will stand up in court,” Senator Nelson said.
Human Trafficking Council and Strategic Plan: SB 72 creates the Statewide Human Trafficking Coordinating Council whose members include all state agencies that receive an appropriation to address human trafficking. SB 72 directs the Council to develop a strategic plan and ensure cross-agency coordination in the effort to combat human trafficking — an illegal enterprise that victimizes over 300,000 people in Texas every year. “Human trafficking is a scourge on our society, and we have to end this epidemic once and for all. This bill will ensure that state resources are being maximized and that agencies are working together to root out traffickers and help victims,” Senator Nelson said.
Judicial Safety: SB 73 protects judges and their families by closing a loophole to keep personal information private from the public. The bill builds on the 85th Legislature’s Judge Julie Kocurek Judicial and Courthouse Security Act by expanding the list of documents county clerks may conceal to include mineral leases, mechanic’s liens, and any other document with a judge’s address. “Given the nature of their work, judges often become targets of individuals who wish to do them harm. It is important that we take these extra measures to ensure the safety of our judges and their families,” Senator Nelson said.