WEEK IN REVIEW
JUVENILE BACKGROUND CHECK ENHANCEMENTS PASS AS SENATE'S FIRST BILL
(AUSTIN) — The Senate passed its first bill of 2023 on Wednesday, a measure that would bring the state into compliance with new federal firearm background check legislation and would hopefully catch mentally troubled young adults if they attempt to purchase a firearm. In the wake of the 2022 Ross Elementary shooting, the federal government approved a bipartisan safety bill which included a provision for enhanced background checks for anyone 21 or younger trying to buy a gun. Buyers could fail this check if they have a history of mental health problems that involve institutionalization or other contact with the juvenile criminal justice system. The FBI relies on state data to conduct these checks, but Texas retains that information at the county level. SB 728, by Houston Senator Joan Huffman, would make the Department of Public Safety the repository for this information. Huffman said she carefully crafted this bill so that it would remain effective while still garnering enough support in the heavily pro-gun rights state legislature. "It has been a long time to get it to a place where it works, it complies with federal law, it will require DPS to do what they need to do, make it clear to the clerks that they have to comply, but yet still fit in a way and work in a way that I felt like I could pass it out of the Legislature," she said. "We can have good ideas, but if we can't get it passed, it's not going to make a difference. I wanted this bill to make a difference, and I think it will." The bill passed the chamber unanimously.
Thursday, members of the Business and Commerce Committee held a press conference to roll out a package of legislation that is intended to improve the resilience and reliability of the state electric grid. Building on last session's reforms following the 2021 February winter storm that left millions in the state without power for several days, the new bills seek to incentivize the construction of new thermal power plants. Committee Chair and Georgetown Senator Charles Schwertner says the state needs these incentives to correct the balance between renewable and thermal generation in the Texas electric grid. "We have to have generation that performs when its critically necessary, and that's dispatchable generation that can be counted on when the wind is not blowing and the sun is not shining," said Schwertner. "You look at the performance of dispatchable and non-dispatchable assets during crises, it is absolutely critical that we re-level the playing field and balance out that market." The nine-bill package would create a new system of backup, thermal generators providing up to 10,000 MW of dispatchable power that can come online in tight demand conditions. Other provisions include an end to state subsidies for renewable generation, a cap on consumer share of the cost of new transmission lines, reliability requirements for both renewable and thermal generators, and a low-interest loan program to help existing operators modernize and maintain power plants.
In committee this week, the Criminal Justice Committee approved a bill Tuesday that would enhance penalties for the potent synthetic opioid fentanyl. Most of the dramatic increase in fatal opioid overdoses can be attributed to this single drug, which is often cut with other drugs by traffickers. Unsuspecting users take what they think is single dose of one drug but is actually a fatal dose of fentanyl. To deal with this growing crisis, Senator Joan Huffman offered SB 645, which enhances penalties for manufacture or delivery of less than a gram of fentanyl. Offenders could face up to ten years in prison and if someone dies of fentanyl they produced or sold, then they could receive a sentence of up to twenty years. "It is flooding our border, it is killing our citizens at an alarming rate," said Huffman. "We have to act." In her role as chair of the Senate Finance Committee, Huffman said she is committing millions towards prevention education, overdose reversal drugs, and crime lab capacity to help local prosecutions of fentanyl traffickers. Approved unanimously by the panel, the bill will now head to the full Senate.
The Senate will reconvene Monday, March 13 at 2 p.m.