87th Texas Legislature Opens
It promises to be a memorable session, as the Legislature grapples with how to meet during a pandemic and tackles redistricting in addition to the budget and other issues.
On January 11, the Texas Comptroller released the biennial revenue estimate which sets the amount that can be spent in the new biennial budget, and the shortfall isn’t as large as was previously estimated at the onset of COVID-19 economic downturn . Lawmakers will have $112.53 billion in General revenue to spend in the 2022-2023 budget, a slight decrease from the $112.96 billion that was available for the current budget. However, the comptroller also acknowledged that the economic future is somewhat uncertain and that numbers could change in the coming months. While the smaller deficit is good news, writing the state budget will still be extremely challenging.
Conducting the Session During a Pandemic
The Texas Legislature has been grappling with how to conduct business effectively and safely during the COVID-19 pandemic. Rules and procedures will be debated in the House and Senate once the Legislature convenes. Many groups have raised questions about accessibility of the legislative process. The House and Senate have issued guidelines for opening day, but it is not clear yet what procedures will be in place for members of the public.
Texas State Library & Archives Budget
The Texas State Library & Archives Commission’s (TSLAC) total budget request is $74.7 million in all funds ($33.5 million in state General Revenue funds, and the remaining from federal funds and fees.)
In addition to the operating budget request, the agency included three exceptional item requests:
- $1.4 million for architectural and engineering designs and plans to expand the State Records Center, which will reach capacity in five years.
- $3.75 million for the Texans Need Strong Libraries initiative to enhance quality library services across the state. This item includes:
- $1.5 million to support work initiatives (digital literacy, entrepreneurship, small-business development, STEM learning, and workforce training programs)
- $1 million to support digital inclusion (grants for equipment, devices and outreach technologies and solutions to support community internet access)
- $1 million to continue access to affordable e-resources for work and study (TexQuest and TexShare)
- $250,000 to increase digital access to primary resources (hire two archivists to help process the backlog of valuable Texas archives)
- $25.2 million to complete construction on the expansion of the State Records Center to achieve a 25-year solution for adequate storage of archives and administrative records.
The TLA Legislative Committee voted to support TSLAC’s budget request, including all exceptional items, with priority given to the Texas Needs Strong Libraries initiative.
Governor’s Broadband Development Council
The council issued their first report in late November. It includes recommendations that Texas create a state broadband plan and establish a statewide broadband office. Eddy Smith, executive director of the Abilene Library Consortium, who represents TLA and TX libraries on the council, wrote an article for the Winter issue of the Texas Library Journal which includes more detailed information on the Council’s work to-date.
TLA’s Legislative Priorities
The Texas Library Association’s legislative vision is to empower Texas libraries to build essential community infrastructure by focusing our efforts on the following areas:
- Support recommendations from the Governor’s Broadband Development Council to create a state broadband plan and establish a state broadband office.
- Support TSLAC’s budget and exceptional item request to support increased digital inclusion and access.
- Support TSLAC’s exceptional item request to support initiatives including digital literacy, entrepreneurship, small-business development, STEM learning, and workforce training programs in libraries.
- Support access to affordable e-resources for work and study (TexQuest and TexShare).
- Support funding for grants to develop Open Educational Resources (OER).
- Support funding to support the use and development of OERTX, Texas’ digital repository of open educational resources (OER) for Texas students and educational institutions.
TLA will closely monitor all legislative proposals in these areas and will actively advocate in favor of those which would positively impact libraries, and strongly oppose those that would have a negative impact.
Your support and participation during what promises to be a very challenging Legislative Session will be critically important. Look for updates, calls to action, and more information on advocating for libraries in this pandemic soon! And please join us Tuesday, January 19 for our first TLA TALKS of 2021, which will address these and other issues.