Celeste Embrey

Celeste Embrey
SVP of Government Relations and Deputy General Counsel

87th Legislative Session proving pundits wrong again

Leading up to Jan. 12, the opening day of the 87th Regular Session of the Texas Legislature, conventional wisdom in Austin was that the 87th would be a low bill session that focused on the budget and the pandemic.

After Winter Storm Uri hit, Austin pundits said the remainder of the session would be consumed with addressing the situation that led to millions of Texans being without power during the coldest winter spell we have seen in years. With less than six weeks to go until sine die (at press time), conventional wisdom and the pundits have been proven wrong yet again.

As of April 19, 7,001 bills and joint resolutions have been filed for consideration this session. This is 500 bills fewer than the number of bills filed in the 2019 session, but still more than the number of bills filed in 2017, 2015, 2013 and 2011. So much for a low bill session.

And, while more than 300 utilities-related bills were filed from Feb. 15 through the March 12 bill filing deadline, the 87th Session has been anything but consumed with addressing the problems that led to Texas’ grid to falter in February.

From TBA’s perspective, our proactive 2021 State Legislative Agenda is making the kind of progress that needs to be made for bills to arrive on Gov. Abbott’s desk. SB 516, Chairman Joan Huffman’s TBA-supported legislation that will enhance criminal penalties in ATM smash and grab cases, passed the Senate 30-1 on March 31 and is awaiting its hearing in the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee.

Reps. Andy Murr and Stan Lambert filed the companion bill in the House, and Chairman Murr sits on the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, so our positioning with SB 516 is very good at this time.

Similarly, Rep. Eddie Lucio III’s HB 654, TBA-supported legislation that will extend Texas’ Rule Against Perpetuities from 21 to 300 years, finally passed the House on April 1. Reps. Burrows, Allison and Leach are joint authors of HB 654, and Rep. Biedermann is a coauthor of the bill.

HB 654 has been referred to the Senate Jurisprudence Committee, where its companion, SB 1377, which is being carried by Sens. Nathan Johnson and Kel Seligers and coauthored by Sen. Hinojosa, has also been referred. Our plan was to get HB 654 or SB 1377 set for public hearing the week of April 19 or April 26.

The third proactive legislative issue on TBA’s 2021 State Legislative Agenda is pandemic liability protection for business, and SB 6 by Senate Business & Commerce Chairman Kelly Hancock and 10 other Senate Republicans passed the Senate 29-1 on April 8.

House Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence (JCJ) Chairman Jeff Leach is carrying SB 6’s House companion, and that bill — HB 3659 — was heard in JCJ on April 14. SB 6 was expected to be voted out of JCJ in the coming days. As a leadership priority, barring unforeseen circumstances (which are always possible when the legislature is in town), SB 6 should have made it to the governor’s desk by late April.

Just because TBA’s priority bills are moving does not mean we can rest on our laurels. As my co-counsel likes to say, we spend 80-90% of our time playing defense at the Texas Capitol, and this session is no different.

We work every day to educate legislators about the unintended consequences well-intentioned bills could have on the Texas banking industry. These issues stretch far and wide and vary from construction lending to the difference between payment processing and data processing for taxability purposes, to commercial lending conducted within 25 nautical miles of a military base, to climate change and second amendment issues.

If we are not able to successfully agree to amendatory language on these issues, and likely a whole host of others that have not yet been identified, TBA will reach out to our members – our grassroots advocates – and ask that you engage with your legislators to explain how issues will impact your customers, your communities and your banks.

Our ultimate success is based on the relationships each of our member bankers has with his or her legislators, so please be ready to mobilize if asked!