AUSTIN – Fort Worth’s legislative wish to further expand the region’s growing film and TV industry is getting a mixed reception in the state Senate with just over a week remaining before lawmakers adjourn their 140-day biennial session in Austin.
Two film-related bills passed the Senate and advanced to the governor’s desk this week, but House Bill 4419, an omnibus film industry measure backed by Fort Worth Mayor Mattie Parker, has no sponsor and has not been scheduled for a committee hearing with the Legislature’s May 29 adjournment fast approaching.
“I’m very concerned it’s not going to pass the Senate,” said Rep. Craig Goldman of Fort Worth, who authored all three measures in the House.
Goldman, who chairs the House Republican Caucus, secured House passage of HB 4419 early last week. The bill overcame parliamentary attempts to kill it waged by one of Goldman’s Tarrant County colleagues, Arlington Republican Rep. Tony Tinderholt, who called it a “misuse of people’s tax dollars.”
HB 4419 is designed to boost movie and TV production in both Fort Worth and Texas and would create two state funds to support the film industry, modeled after the state’s Major Events Trusts Fund that has been used to land big-ticket events such as major conventions and international sports competitions.
The bill also would create a virtual film production institute at Texas A&M University and Texas State University for students interested in pursuing careers in virtual production. A branch of the institute could ultimately be located at the $350 million A&M campus planned for downtown Fort Worth, according to a top A&M Systems official.
Paul Jensen, executive director of the Texas Media Production Alliance, which advocates for the film industry in Texas, said he remained cautiously optimistic about the measure.
“I’m crossing a lot of fingers,” Jensen said.
Two other House bills – 4539 and 4051 – sponsored in the Senate by Houston Republican Joan Huffman, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, won final passage in the Senate on Thursday, May 18, with yes votes from all five senators representing parts of Tarrant County.
Legislative budget negotiators have also been deliberating behind closed doors to determine the total amount of state rebates that will be available to lure film, TV and gaming companies to produce in Texas.
A total of $45 million is currently awarded through the Texas Moving Image Industry Incentive Program, but industry advocates have been pushing for as much as $200 million to be included in the state’s final budget that will be approved before lawmakers return home.
Senators voted 24-7 to pass HB 4539, which lowers the percentage of Texas residents required on certain production crews from 70 percent to 55 percent to qualify for film incentive grants, a move designed to encourage more out-of-state production crews to come to Texas.
HB 4051, approved on a vote of 27-4, revised population criteria for designating media production zones in the state to make more communities eligible to apply.
Those two bills and HB 4419 were supported by the Fort Worth Film Commission and were assigned to Huffman’s Finance Committee.
But, as of Friday, HB 4419 was not scheduled for a hearing.
Goldman said he didn’t know why two of the measures advanced and the other didn’t.
“Once a bill of mine makes it to the Senate, I no longer have control over it,” he said.