July 2, 2021, Number 25
Download the full .pdf version here: TML Legislative Update Number 25
Open Meetings Act Suspensions terminate september 1
In March 2020, as Texans worked to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, Governor Abbott’s office granted the attorney general’s request to suspend certain open-meeting statutes. The temporary suspension allows, among other things, for telephonic or videoconference meetings of governmental bodies that are accessible to the public in an effort to reduce in-person meetings that assemble large groups of people.
On June 30, 2021, the governor’s office approved a request by the attorney general to lift those suspensions. The suspensions will lift at 12:01 a.m. on September 1, 2021. Thus, as of September 1, 2021, all provisions of the Open Meetings Act will be effective and all Texas governmental bodies subject to the Open Meetings Act must conduct their meetings in full compliance with the Open Meetings Act as written in state law.
Contact the attorney general with questions about the lifting of the suspensions at (888) 672-6787 or via email at TOMA@oag.texas.gov..
TML'S Grassroots Policy Development Process
The primary function of the Texas Municipal League is advocating on behalf of its member cities. That’s the way it has been since the League’s formation in 1913 because many significant decisions affecting Texas cities are made by the Texas Legislature, not by municipal officials. Now, just as they did over a century ago, newly elected mayors and councilmembers quickly realize the legislature can address virtually any aspect of city government.
This fact is vividly demonstrated during each legislative session. For example, during the 2021 session, almost 7,000 bills or resolutions were introduced, and more than 2,000 of them would have affected Texas cities in some substantial way. In the end, over 1,400 bills or resolutions passed and were signed into law, and more than 200 of those impacted cities.
The number of city related bills as a percentage of total bills filed rises every year. Twenty years ago, around 17 percent of bills filed affected cities in some way. By 2021, that percentage had increased to 31 percent. In other words, more than a quarter of the legislature’s work is directed at cities, and much of that work aims to limit municipal authority.
Based on a “legislative program” that is developed by member cities, the League, through its grassroots, advocates for or against those efforts. The program is essential to the legitimacy of the League’s advocacy efforts. To develop the program, city officials provide input in primarily two ways.
First, a member city, TML region, or TML affiliate may submit a resolution for consideration at the business meeting of each year’s annual conference. Each city is asked to provide one delegate to serve as its liaison at the meeting. (See article on how to do so elsewhere in this edition.) The delegates will be briefed on the content of the resolutions and given a chance to discuss and vote on whether they merit inclusion in the legislative program. The resolutions form the basis of a “fixed” legislative program, under which – each session – modifications to the program will be made only if needed.
Second, member city officials can participate in the League’s “Municipal Policy Summit” during the summer of 2022. The report of the Summit takes the form of a resolution that is submitted to the annual conference in interim years. The summit participants will be appointed by the TML President in early 2022 based on volunteers and others chosen to balance the demographics of the TML membership at large.>>
The Summit will be an intensive, two-day workshop during which League staff briefs the participants on the issues faced by cities. Most will be issues that arise each session, but several will consist of solicited or unsolicited issues brought by city officials. Even if no changes are recommended to the “fixed” program, which is an unlikely prospect, staff will fulfill its educational goal through continued briefing on the issues. After each subject-matter briefing, the participants will make concise recommendations on the issues. Those recommendations are placed into resolution form and submitted to the League’s annual business meeting, discussed above.
The somewhat complex policy development process is necessary to ensure that the League advocates as directed by its members. The League is nothing without the involvement and expertise of its members, and participation in the process is an invaluable part of protecting municipal authority.
The League’s 2021-2022 legislative policy development schedule is roughly as follows:
October 2021 – the TML membership will consider resolutions at the 2021 Annual Conference at the annual business meeting.
April 2022 – the chair, vice-chairs, board representative, and participants of the League’s Municipal Policy Summit will be appointed by the TML President.
June 2022 – Municipal Policy Summit materials will be distributed to the membership.
August 2022 – the Municipal Policy Summit, a two-day policy briefing at which the members make recommendations for the League’s 2023-2024 legislative program, will meet. >
October 2022 – the report of the Municipal Policy Summit, along with any other resolutions, will go forward to the annual business meeting at the 2022 Annual Conference.>
December 2022 – the TML Board will finalize the League’s 2023-2024 legislative program based on resolutions passed in both 2021 and 2022.
Have questions or comments? Contact JJ Rocha, TML Grassroots and Legislative Services Manager, at 512-231-7400 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Resolutions for 2021 Annual Conference
The TML Constitution states that resolutions for consideration at the annual conference must be submitted to the TML headquarters 45 calendar days prior to the first day of the Annual Conference. For 2021, this provision means that resolutions from any member city, TML region, or TML affiliate must arrive at the TML headquarters no later than 5:00 p.m. on August 23, 2021. Details on the submission process can be found here.
Act Now: Choose Your City's 2021 TML Business Meeting Delegate
At the 2021 TML Annual Conference in Houston on October 6-8, resolutions submitted to the membership will be considered at the TML Business Meeting on October 7 at 3:30 p.m. Each city is entitled to one voting delegate at the business meeting. The delegate isn’t required to have any special expertise. The delegate must sign up electronically prior to the meeting or can sign up in person at a table outside of the meeting room. Cities are encouraged to sign up their delegate early using the link above. All city officials are welcome to attend the meeting, whether or not they are a voting delegate.
SPEAKER PHELAN ANNOUNCES INTERIM COMMITTEE CHARGES RELATED TO THE TEXAS-MEXICO BORDER
Speaker Phelan issued House Committee interim charges this week related to the Texas-Mexico border. He told House members “these interim charges present an opportunity for the Texas House to better understand the impact of the most recent surge in border crossings, examine our state's preparedness to respond to the ongoing situation at the border, and make recommendations for legislative strategies that will enhance the safety and security of Texas residents and communities.”
“Even with a special session on the horizon, the importance of getting these issues right means that we must begin to work on them immediately. The challenges along our border may be familiar, but they demand continuously innovative solutions on the part of all House members.”
Post-Session update: Utility Customer Information may not be disclosed
In an effort to protect sensitive customer information from predatory practices, the legislature passed H.B. 872. H.B. 872 applies to information held by a municipally owned utility (MOU) that provides water, wastewater, sewer, gas, garbage, electricity, or drainage service.
Effective immediately, an MOU may not disclose customer information (including the customer’s address) under the Public Information Act (PIA) unless the customer elects to make the information public or certain exceptions apply. Also excluded from public disclosure is information: (1) that reveals whether an account is delinquent or eligible for disconnection; and (2) collected as part of an advanced metering system.
H.B. 872 essentially reverses the prior law’s requirements. Before H.B. 872, utility customers had to fill out a form to request their information remain confidential. Failure to do so made the customer’s information public. Now, a customer’s information is protected unless the customer opts to make it public.
MOU customers may elect to make their information public by filling out a form requesting disclosure of their personal information in response to PIA requests. To give customers this option, an MOU must include with a bill sent to each customer or post on its Internet website: (1) a notice of the customer’s right to request disclosure; and (2) a form the customer may use to request disclosure by marking the appropriate box and returning it by mail or electronically. The League’s legal department has prepared an example form for customers to request disclosure of their records. This is just an example, and each city’s attorney should review the form prior to its use.
In sum, to comply with H.B. 872, an MOU must: (1) create the required form; (2) send the form with its bills or post it on the MOU’s website; and (3) maintain the confidentiality of its customers’ information in response to PIA requests, unless a customer has requested the MOU disclose the customer’s information or an exception applies.
Post-Session Update: Personal Information of Elected Public Officers is confidential
H.B. 1082, signed into law by the Governor on May 19, 2021, went into effect immediately. The bill provides that certain information a city holds as an employer is excepted from the Public Information Act (PIA), regardless of whether an elected officer affirmatively elects the information be kept confidential. Specifically, the information includes the home address, home telephone number, emergency contact information, social security number, and personal family information of an elected public officer.
With regards to information contained in records maintained by the city in a non-employment capacity, an elected public officer’s home address, home telephone number, emergency contact information, date of birth, social security number, and family member information is excepted from the PIA if the elected officer chooses to keep the information confidential.
Do H.B. 1082’s protections extend to information on an application for a place on the ballot given that the Texas Election Code provides that the application is public immediately upon filing? It’s unclear. As of this writing, some cities have requested a ruling from the attorney general’s Open Records Division regarding that question, but none has yet been issued.
COVID-19 Update (No. 192)
All pandemic-related updates, including information about the American Rescue Plan’s city related provisions, will be in the Legislative Update newsletter from now on.
- Updated Treasury Department FAQ: On June 24, Treasury updated its Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds FAQ to clarify that funds can be used for local eviction prevention efforts and housing stability services. The entire FAQ can be accessed here.
- Updated EEOC Vaccination Guidance: On June 28, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission updated its Technical Assistance Questions and Answers related to employers’ abilities to incentivize COVID-19 vaccinations for employees. The updated guidance can be found here.
- Post-Session Update: Texas lawmakers passed a variety of bills in response to the pandemic. Many of the bills are summarized in the “Emergency Management” section of our legislative wrap up, while others—some with implications beyond disasters—are summarized elsewhere. For instance, see:
H.B. 2073 – paid quarantine leave for first responders
H.B. 1239 – relating to interference with religious activities, including during disaster
H.B. 1500 – relating to gun stores
S.B. 22 – COVID-19 workers compensation presumption for first responders