TCA Capitol Report: May 26, 2023

Legislative Session Ends Monday

A frustrating session of the Texas Legislature will end on Monday. We will give an overview of how this session has gone in a minute, but we want to start with some final action steps for TCA members.

HB 2929, a TCA priority bill which corrects a technical error from last session and removes the cap on professional development (CE) hours for school counselors on core content, has been approved by the Texas House and Senate and sent to Gov. Greg Abbott for his signature. TCA members played a big role in getting this bill through the House and Senate and now we need you to take one more step: Please email Gov. Greg Abbott and briefly and respectfully ask that he not veto HB 2929, which is an important bill to make sure school counselors get the professional development they need.

We also ask that you fill out this very quick form from our friends at Raise Your Hand Texas. This form will allow you to send a short email to your local legislators asking them to support more money for public schools and oppose private-school vouchers. Right now, the Senate has tied new funding for public schools and educator raises to the passage of a sweeping voucher program. The Raise Your Hand Texas link will help tell your legislator that you do not want public dollars supporting private schools.



A Disappointing Session Winds DownAdvDay_2469563.jpg

We began this legislative session with high expectations that legislators would take real steps to address the mental health challenges facing our state and to support the work of Licensed Professional Counselors and Professional School Counselors in Texas. We, and you, followed up on that hopeful feeling with months of work — attending TCA Advocacy Days, visiting with legislators and staff, making calls, sending emails, and championing our priorities. 

The session is ending in a far less optimistic place. While elected officials rushed to cite the importance of mental health after a tragic event, the record of this session does not match their rhetoric. The Texas House moved pretty much all of our priority bills through the process in a timely manner, and we are grateful for that. However, most of those priorities died in the Senate, where the presiding officer, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, holds tremendous power. Some bills, such as HB 2557 to join the Interstate Counseling Compact, passed with bipartisan support in the House but never even got a Committee hearing in the Senate. Others, such as HB 1157, a noncontroversial bill to allow excused absences for appointments with mental health professionals, were heard and never voted out of the Senate committee. HB 1167 was a BHEC clean-up bill and would have added "LPC Associate" to statute, and HB 1879 which added LPC Associates as Medicaid providers, moved late in the process but were not called up for votes by Lt. Gov. Patrick before deadlines hit.

Many bills — far beyond those affecting TCA — died as a result of consistent tension between the House and Senate. It’s not unusual at this point in the session for someone to kill an otherwise innocent bill out of retaliation, but the hostility between the House and Senate has been especially intense this year.

Still, when both sides want to get something done, they usually get it done. Unfortunately, that resulted in some bills attacking school counselors that both sides passed this year, such as SB 763 allowing schools to hire chaplains and SB 798 removing teaching experience as a certification requirement for school counselors. It also resulted in the passage of bills that we opposed to ban gender-affirming care for minors and to ban DEI initiatives in public  colleges and universities.

The good news is that we were able to make some bills better through our advocacy. For example, the chaplain legislation as filed in both chambers allowed schools to supplant school counselors with chaplains. This direct language is no longer in the bill, although TCA still opposes the legislation and we continue to have grave concerns about the lack of qualifications needed to call yourself a chaplain. Still, the visits you made during Advocacy Day and the phone calls you made throughout the session did make a difference.

Here’s what we know: The time to make a difference is not just during a hectic legislative session. We must call and write your Legislators all throughout the year. Most importantly, we must be engaged in the political process. If we do not want to end up in this same place two years from now, one of the easiest and most important things we can do is vote! Register and vote in the March 2024 primary elections and vote in the November 2024 general elections. Talk to your friends and family members about voting as well.

Like it or not, most elections (especially on the statewide level) are decided in the Republican primary election, which is open to any registered voter in Texas. However, in March 2022, only 11 percent of registered voters in Texas participated in the Republican primary, and only 6 percent of registered voters cast a ballot in the Democratic primary. All of us must do a better job of not only voting, but also helping our legislators understand the importance of the work we do.

In the meantime, thank you to all of the TCA members who have answered our calls to action and given of your time and energy to influence the legislative process. Change does not come quickly, but it does come, and all of us should keep working to make change happen.

Next Friday will be our final Capitol Update for the 88th Regular Legislative Session. We will also publish a Legislative Wrap-up later in June.