Wrap up: Texas Legislative Session
The 87th Texas Legislative Session ended May 31 in a dramatic way. House Democrats left the Capitol and broke quorum so that the House was unable to vote on SB 7, the elections and voter registration bill. It was the culmination of a one-of-a-kind legislative session which opened under strict COVID-19 restrictions in January. The pace of business picked up in the Capitol in April, as pandemic restrictions throughout the state eased. At the end of the 140-day session, 6927 bills were filed, and 1073 were passed. Governor Greg Abbott has until June 20 to veto any bills. The governor is expected to call a special session, perhaps this fall, to tackle redistricting, and most likely, other leadership priorities such as the voter registration bill, which did not pass during the regular session.
SB 1, the appropriations bill, included $71 million requested by the Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC). The agency had several exceptional items in their budget request, including one for $3.75 million that would directly support Texas libraries.
Thanks to the strong advocacy from librarians around the state, the additional $3.75 million is included in the final TSLAC budget. These funds will support library initiatives including digital literacy, entrepreneurship, small-business development, STEM learning, and workforce training programs.
HB 1381 would have given TSLAC explicit authority to award grants for public library construction and renovation. Currently, the state library is statutorily prohibited from awarding grants for this purpose. TLA’s Legislative Committee Chair Gretchen Pruett testified at the House hearing on the bill, which was passed by the committee in April. Unfortunately, time ran out before the bill could be heard on the House floor, so it did not pass this session.
HB 5 is the omnibus broadband bill which establishes a statewide broadband development office in the Texas Comptroller’s Office, requires a statewide broadband plan, directs the broadband office to create and publish a map identifying areas of the state where 80 percent of addresses have access to broadband, and those areas where they do not, and creates a broadband development program to award grants, low-interest loans, and other financial incentives to expand access to and adoption of broadband.
TLA is a member of Digital Texas, which advocated broadening the scope/work of the broadband office and the broadband plan to address digital access, adoption, and readiness, not just infrastructure. TLA also specifically advocated for language directing the broadband office to work with libraries in developing the statewide broadband plan. While the library-specific language was not included, the language in the bill was expanded to address access, adoption, and use. The bill passed and was sent to the Governor.
HB 1811 required the State Board of Education (SBOE) to create standards for online school library resources purchased by TSLAC for primary and secondary schools. TSLAC would have been prohibited from purchasing any online school library resources from vendors that do not certify compliance with the of the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA). TLA strongly opposed this bill would have created duplicative, inefficient, and unnecessary processes. The bill was not heard in committee and did not pass.
However, the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Valoree Swanson, successfully added amendments to the TSLAC and Texas Education Agency (TEA) budgets requiring the agencies to ensure that vendors are CIPA compliant. We expressed our concerns to conference committee members and were able to have the TSLAC amendment removed in conference.
The amendment to the TEA budget did make it into the final bill. SBOE will now be required to ensure that any instructional materials and technology purchased using funds from the Instructional Materials & Technology Fund meet CIPA requirements to the extent the certification is applicable.
Thank you to everyone who responded to our emails requesting support during this session! Your calls and emails made a tremendous positive difference in TLA’s advocacy efforts.