Members of the Chamber’s staff were in New Braunfels last week attending the 51st Annual Texas Legislative Conference. The event, hosted by the New Braunfels Chamber of Commerce, brought together hundreds of Texas business and political leaders to focus on public policy issues. This year’s conference focused on state programs for our veterans, the debate over local control and economic development incentives, as well as how the Trump administration is affecting Texas policy. The half-day event included four panel discussions, each of which touched on a variety of priorities outlined in the Chamber’s state legislative agenda.
The day kicked-off with a Veterans Care for Texas panel, which included Rep. Tony Dale, Vice Chair of House Juvenile Justice and Family Issues Committee; Rep. John Zerwas, M.D., Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee; and Sen. Donna Campbell, Chairwoman of the Senate Veterans Affairs and Border Security Committee. The panel touched on the state’s priority to support programs for mental health, particularly for our veterans. Even though the budget is lean this biennium, the panel said both houses are working to ensure that the $6 billion dollars currently allocated for mental health stays in the budget.
The panel also discussed the Defense Economic Adjustment Assistance Grant Program (DEAAG). Chairman Zerwas informed attendees that the proposed budget includes $30 million dollars in funding. This funding would help continue to support San Antonio’s base redevelopment as well as enhance military value of active installations.
The economic development panel, titled Corporate Welfare or Good Jobs, included Sen. Konni Burton, member of the Senate Natural Resources Committee; Rep. Angie Chen Button, Chairwoman of the House Economic and Small Business Committee; Carlton Schwab, President of the Texas Economic Development Council; and Pike Power, Attorney at Law. The panel covered the much-debated Texas Enterprise Fund (TEF) and discussed several examples of how TEF funding was a successful tool in creating jobs and generating a great return on investment for Texas. Most notably, they highlighted the Caterpillar Plant in Seguin, which received $8.5 million dollars from the TEF and created 2,000 jobs with an average wage of $23 dollars an hour.
Local control was a hot topic on the next panel, which included Sen. Kirk Watson, Member of the Senate Finance Committee; Rep. Paul Workman, Member of the House Business and Industry Committee; Mayor of Austin Steve Adler; and Mayor of Live Oak and President of Texas Municipal League Mary Dennis. Panelists discussed the number of bills filed this session that could undermine a city’s local authority, including rollback rates, Transportation Network Companies (TNC), and sanctuary cities, just to name a few. The panel also debated whether any of these issues provided a “compelling state interest for the state legislature to govern.” When referring to TNCs, Rep. Workman argued that public safety in large local governments can be of compelling interest for the state to govern.
The event ended with a media panel discussing the top three priorities in the 85th Legislative Session: SB6, better known as the bathroom bill; public education; and the budget.