*2013 Legislative Updates

Jeff Leach (LRM associate and Texas House Representative), helped us recap 5 bills of critical interest to you and your business passed in the last Session.

DRUG TESTING FOR UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS (SB 21)

Drug testing required to receive unemployment benefits IF employer required pre-employment drug screening.

The legislation, effective September 1, mandates if someone submits an initial claim for unemployment benefits, they must submit to a drug-screening assessment, consisting of a written questionnaire, by the TWC if their occupation required pre-employment drug testing. If a reasonable likelihood of drug use is found, the applicant will have to pass a drug test to be eligible for unemployment benefits. Seven other states have passed similar measures.

BUSINESS TAX CUTS (HB 500)

Improving Texas’ positive business climate.

House Bill 500 offers over $700 million in business tax relief and makes the $1 million small business tax exemption permanent.  HB 500 also provides for a franchise tax deduction for businesses that are relocating to Texas.

SCHOOL DRIVING LAWS STRENGTHENED (HB 347)

Statewide ban on handheld cell phone use on school property.

Unless the vehicle is stopped or the driver is using a hands-free device, House Bill 347 prohibits someone from using a wireless communication device while on public or private elementary or middle school property.

EDUCATION (HB 5)

Reforms: A new accountability system, new end of semester exams, and academic planning flexibility.

We must not only teach our students how to pass tests and graduate high school, but we must also train them and prepare them for the jobs of tomorrow. With House Bill 5, the Legislature instituted sweeping reforms to Texas public education.  HB 5 institutes a new standard course of study for high school students and substantially reduces the number of end-of-course exams public high school students must pass to graduate, from 15 to 5. HB 5 also establishes a new accountability ratings system evaluating schools on academic performance, financial performance, and community and student engagement.  Finally, HB 5 changes how students who do not wish to attend college can enroll in vocational, career and technology-related courses.

WATER (HB 5, HB 1025 & SJR 1)

Water: Long-term, affordable and sustainable water supply projects.

Water, not oil, is the foundation upon which the Texas economy is built.  The 2012 State Water Plan says the total needs are projected to increase by an astounding 130% over the next 50 years.  A series of bills (H.B. 4, H.B. 1025 and S.J.R. 1), creates long-term financing assistance for water supply projects. Two billion dollars from the state’s “Rainy Day Fund” will pay for the water plan via a new State Water Implementation Fund for Texas (SWIFT), a special fund outside of the state treasury to implement the new plan.  Texas voters must approve the funding structure via a constitutional referendum. 

How will this Legislative Session impact business owners? With the assistance of our own LRM Freshman State Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, Tilting the Scales periodically posts updates on bills affecting businesses, along with an occasional oddity.

LIGHTER SIDE

Texas Independence Day Ammo & Gun Sales Tax Waiver
HB 1533 (Leach)
This bill establishes Texas Independence Day (March 2) as a tax-free holiday, exempting individuals’ purchase of firearms and hunting supplies in the State of Texas from sales taxes. Exempt eligible items include the following:

  • Shotguns, rifles, pistols, revolvers, and other handguns
  • Gun cleaning supplies, gun cases, gun safes and optics
  • Ammunition
  • Archery equipment
  • Hunting stands, blinds and decoys.

Status: Bill Filed

Exemption from US Law for Firearms, Accessories and Ammunition Made in Texas
HB 872 (Laubenberg)
This bill exempts the intrastate manufacture of a firearm, a firearm accessory, or ammunition from federal regulation if manufactured in Texas. The Legislature of the State of Texas declares that a firearm, a firearm accessory, or ammunition manufactured in Texas, as described by Chapter 2003, Business & Commerce Code, as added by this Act, that remains within the borders of Texas: (1) has not traveled in interstate commerce; and (2) is not subject to federal law or federal regulation, including registration, under the authority of the United States Congress to regulate interstate commerce.
Status: Referred to Committee / Awating Hearing

Mandated A&M – Texas nonconference football game
HB 778 (Guillen)
This legislation would require UT and Texas A&M to play a nonconference, regular-season football game against one another every year. If either school refuses to play in the football game, the school will be prohibited from awarding to any student an athletic scholarship for the following year.
Status: Referred to Committee / Awating Hearing

Limited Full Contact Football Practice
HB 887 (Lucio)
This bill would prohibit a high school or middle school football team from holding more than one full-contact practice per week.
Status: Referred to Committee / Awating Hearing

Expanded Liquor Sale Hours
HB 421 & SB 236 (Thompson, S.)
Would expand the hours of liquor sales to include Sundays 12:00 pm-10:00 pm, and expanding hours on Monday through Saturday to 9:00 am-10:00 pm. Current law only allows for sale Monday through Saturday 10:00 am – 9:00 pm. The effect is one would be able to buy liquor on any day except for New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. The bill would also allow wholesalers to sell to retailers on any day except for Christmas day.
Status: Referred to Committee / Awating Hearing

Smoking Banned in Public Places
SB 86 (Ellis)
Smoking would be banned from any public place, place of employment, or in a seating area of an outdoor event. The exceptions would be a private residence, hotels or motels (no more than 20% of rooms may be designated as smoking, and all on the same floor must be contiguous, and smoke may not enter a non-smoking area),nursing homes or long-term care facilities, tobacco shops, tobacco bar in operation by May 15th, 2013, private clubs not employing any employees, outdoor area of a restaurant or bar, outdoor porch not accessible to the public, tobacco product manufacturing site. A business owner may completely ban smoking on their premises.
Status: Referred to Committee / Awating Hearing

 

HEAVIER SIDE

Too Much Social Media Information!?
HB 318 (Giddings)
An employer would commit an offense if it requires or requests that an employee or job applicant disclose a user name or password for accessing their personal account, including a personal e-mail or a social networking website or profile. Right now, the employee, if asked, can merely deny the request.
Status: Referred to Committee / Awating Hearing

DNT TXT N DRIVE
HB 63 (Craddick)
The “Texting While Driving” legislation proposes that a person may not read, compose or send any “text based” communication from a “handheld wireless device” while operating a motor vehicle. Defenses to prosecution include, among others, using a cell phone to read, select or enter a telephone number to make a call, using a cell phone in conjunction with hands free talking technology and using a cell phone to navigate using GPS.
Status: Favorable Vote from Transportation Committee / Awaring House Floor Debate

Goodbye Franchise Tax?
HB 607(Turner, E.S.) and its Senate companion SB 179 (Paxton)
Would phase out the franchise tax by reducing it by 25% each year between 2014 and 2017. The legislation maintains the $1 million exemption throughout the phase out to protect small business owners and removes the $50 penalty for failure to file a franchise tax report by entities that do not owe a tax.
Status: Referred to Committee / Awating Hearing

Suing the Lone Star
HB 586 (Workman)
Proposes that a state agency that enters into a contract waives sovereign immunity for breach of an express or implied provision. In other words, the state can be sued and money damages can be awarded.  This topic has gained recent attention when former Texas Tech football coach Mike Leach discovered that he could not recover on a suit against the state for the alleged wrongful termination of his employment contract.
Status: Referred to Committee / Awating Hearing

Land Grab
HB 476 (Kolkhorst)
Proposes significant revisions to the eminent domain authority of governmental entities, providing increased protections and options for the property owners including ensuring that condemned land is used for public purposes and that landowners are fairly compensated.
Status: Referred to Committee / Awating Hearing

Will this Legislative Session impact business owners? With the assistance of our own LRM Freshman State Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, Tilting the Scales will periodically post updates on bills that might affect your business, along with an occasional humorous twist.

As an example and keeping in the tone of this month’s postings on gun control, as the federal government moves forward on its plans to tighten gun restrictions, Texas lawmakers are proposing legislation to expand gun rights in the state. The latest proposal is HB 700, a so-called “open carry” bill filed last week by State Rep. George Lavender, R-Texarkana, to allow individuals with concealed handgun licenses to carry weapons in plain view on a belt or shoulder holster. Similar legislation failed last session. Other recent proposed policy changes include allowing concealed handguns on college campuses, and arming and training school officials, including teachers.

More summaries to come as we continue through this legislative session.