The House and Senate had a busy weekend, forging ahead on several major issues, some of which may stave off a special session. The conference committee on SB 1 agreed on a state budget, and the Senate passed a necessary but flawed TRS-Care bill and a voucher proposal, while the House passed an amendment to a school safety bill that addresses the use of school restrooms by transgender students.

Budget

The conference committee on SB 1 finished negotiations on the state budget, unveiling a compromise over the weekend that uses a combination of revenue enhancing tactics from both the House and Senate – around $1 billion from the Rainy Day Fund and $2 billion attributed to a delayed payment of funds owed to the state highway fund – to make the numbers work.

The committee agreed to a level of funding for TRS-Care close to the House version of the budget (see more details in the TRS-Care section below), and provides a little over half a billion dollars in new funding for public education, contingent on passage of a school finance reform bill. Senate additions to that bill (see Voucher section below) put the new money in jeopardy.

The House, Senate and Gov. Greg Abbott will all still need to agree to the revised budget. The House and Senate are expected to vote later this week.

TRS-Care

With the passage of HB 3976 through the Senate Sunday evening, and the accompanying level of funding agreed to in the budget negotiations, the TRS-Care bill is expected to be on its way to the governor’s desk soon. The House needs to agree to the Senate amendments, but is expected to concur with the positive changes made in the Senate.

The level of funding agreed to is slightly less than the House proposal, but the reduction does not affect the proposed costs to retirees, which remain as previously described:

  • Retirees who are at least age 65/Medicare-eligible will be enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan and Medicare Part D for prescription drugs.
  • TRS will work on expanding the network of providers willing to accept Medicare Advantage patients.
  • Retirees under age 65 will be enrolled in a high deductible plan with an estimated individual deductible of $3,000.
  • Disability retirees under age 65 will not be required to pay a premium for individual coverage for the first four years of plan implementation.
  • Generic maintenance drugs for retirees under age 65 will be free (TRS will provide a list of specific covered drugs); other prescriptions will be full-price until the $3,000 deductible is met (both medical and drug costs will count for purposes of reaching the deductible).  

TRS has provided preliminary figures for premiums, including premiums for categories other than employee-only, but these figures still must be approved by the TRS Board of Trustees at an upcoming meeting. See here for the chart of premium projections for Medicare eligible, non-Medicare eligible, and disability retirees.

Vouchers

The Senate passed HB 21, a school finance reform bill that was amended in the Senate to include an education savings account (ESA) proposal for students with disabilities. The ESA program is a voucher-type plan that has, to date, been strongly opposed in the House. Since $.5 billion in new funding for public schools is contingent on the school finance bill, passage of HB 21 has become a game of “chicken” in which the Senate may have the upper hand. Will House members be willing to reject new money for public schools because of the limited ESA program? The House will consider these Senate changes later in the week, and can either concur or reject the amended version and request a conference committee of House and Senate members to negotiate the differences.

Bathroom bill

Apparently in response to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s ultimatum last week, the House amended a school safety bill to include a version of the “bathroom bill” that is limited to public schools. The provision included in SB 2078 would require districts to provide single-occupancy facilities for a student who does not wish to use the facilities designated for use by persons of the student’s biological sex. (A multi-occupancy facility could be considered single-occupancy if it is used by the student only when no other persons are present.) The bill will now return to the Senate for consideration of the House change.