February 11, 2022, Number 6
Download the full .pdf version here: TML Legislative Update Number 6
TML President Testifies Before Congressional Committee on Autonomous Vehicles
[Editor’s note: The edited press release below was reprinted from the National League of Cities (NLC).]
Last week, TML President Martha Castex-Tatum testified before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Subcommittee on Highways and Transit on behalf of NLC during a hearing on “The Road Ahead for Automated Vehicles.” A recording of the testimony can be found here.
Below is an excerpt from TML President Castex-Tatum’s testimony:
“Zero is the only acceptable number of deaths on America’s roads. Today, we are losing far too many of our residents to dangerous roads in Houston and across the country, and efforts to reduce fatalities must include every possible strategy, including autonomous vehicles.
Cities handle most aspects of public transportation, and that experience and authority equips us to see both the opportunities and challenges to these new types of transportation. We are aiming to create the right environment of shared, safe, connected AV transportation options that will better serve our residents and meet our goals as a city.
In Houston, piloting the testing of AVs started with our METRO transit agency and their self-driving shuttle at Texas Southern University on their Tiger Walk across campus. They are now expanding their pilots to on-road options between two universities, AV buses, and researching better paratransit options.
My district was one of the first three areas in Houston where Nuro launched zero-occupant AVs for commercial services delivery using lower speeds and smaller, lightweight vehicles. These AVs pull right up to your home and deliver groceries, prescriptions, or hot food from Kroger, Dominos, CVS, and the Houston Food Bank.
When Nuro first came to District K, we made arrangements with our local police officers to allow them to see the vehicle, understand how to access it in an emergency, and to ask questions.
As with all AVs, these vehicles must be designed to operate on the roads as they exist today and to interact in the real-world situations.”
NLC provided three recommendations to Congress for federal action that will promote safe AV testing if done correctly as well as grow job opportunities in the U.S.
- Investing in Piloting with Local Governments: America’s cities are open to piloting more technology safely that can make our residents’ lives better, and Congress and the U.S. Department of Transportation can support localized piloting in a new effort to build up strong federal safety guidelines. We need to move forward on piloting in a new effort to build up strong federal safety guidelines. We need to move forward on piloting this technology, particularly for shared uses and in areas of the country that feel left behind, and USDOT has the authority to act on this today.
- Invest in Ensuring a Skilled, Trained Workforce: Investment in America’s workforce needs to happen at scale and today. In cities, towns, and villages across America, we know that we cannot carry out today’s road, bridge, water and broadband projects funded through the bipartisan infrastructure law without trained, skilled workers – to say nothing on the future of demand for new skills sparked by new technologies such as autonomous vehicles. If we do nothing to improve labor market outcomes for infrastructure-related jobs, NLC’s latest study anticipates that the U.S. will struggle to fill at least 4.5 million jobs nationally.
- Raise Planning and Technology Sharing in Regions: America’s transportation foundations shifted underneath our feet during COVID – including travel patterns, land use, freight movement, and more. Anticipating, adapting, and accommodating transportation for these trends is the basis of good transportation planning from our metropolitan planning organizations remains underappreciated in federal programming. Investing in foundational transportation planning, logistics, and technology at the metropolitan and regional levels will serve us in more sustainable and practical ways.
Federal Infrastructure Bill Update
In November 2021, the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) was signed into law. The IIJA is altogether a $1.2 trillion bill that will invest in the nation’s core infrastructure priorities including roads, bridges, rail, transit, airports, ports, energy transmission, water systems, and broadband.
The League will monitor state and federal agencies and work with the National League of Cities (NLC) to access the latest information relating to the IIJA. We will be providing periodic updates in the Legislative Update on resources for Texas cities on how to access IIJA funding for local infrastructure projects.
The White House recently released its Bipartisan Infrastructure Law Guidebook. The guidebook is meant to serve as a roadmap for state and local governments to use to access funding from the more than 350 programs included in the IIJA. The guidebook has 13 chapters separated out by issue area and will be updated to reflect emerging details and dates for the different programs. Interested city officials can read more about the guidebook here and access additional information on the guidebook from NLC here.
The White House also released this fact sheet for local governments to use to prepare for funding opportunities under the IIJA.
National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA)
The NTIA announced that it will be holding a series of technical assistance webinars from March-May on five new broadband grant programs funded under the IIJA to help potential applicants understand the process. The programs are: The Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment Program; the Enabling Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure Program; and the Digital Equity Act Programs, which include the State Digital Equity Planning Grant Program, State Digital Equity Capacity Grant Program, and Digital Equity Competitive Grant Program.
More on the webinars, including dates and registration information, can be found here.
Federal Highway Administration (FHWA)
The FHWA recently released a guidance memo on the Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP), which will receive $15.6 billion in funding under the IIJA from 2022 to 2026. According to the press release, the guidance “ensures that the new funds are used strategically to make travel safer, including protecting people outside of vehicles, such as people walking, biking, or using mobility assistive devices, thereby reducing the number of lives lost on the nation’s highways, bridges, and roads.”
Department of the Interior (DOI)
Last week DOI announced $1.15 billion in IIJA funding available to the states for the purpose of cleaning up orphaned oil and gas wells. Texas, like other states, is eligible for an initial grant of $25 million. The estimated total funding formula for Texas under the program is over $343 million. DOI will release guidance for states to apply for the initial grants in the coming weeks, and application guidance for the formula grants in the next few months.
Governor Releases 2022 Report to the People of Texas
On Tuesday, Governor Abbott released his 2022 Report to the People of Texas. The report is issued during interim years when the Texas Legislature does not meet, and no formal State of the State speech is given. The report focuses on the state’s accomplishments in 2022 and highlights key legislation passed during the 87th legislative sessions. The report also includes an overview of the programs, grants, and initiatives within the Office of the Governor, including the Texas Enterprise Fund (TEF). Updates on the state’s pandemic response and recovery programs and on public safety are included in the report.
Don’t Forget: Mandatory Hotel Occupancy Tax Reporting
The 50-day window for reporting local hotel occupancy tax information opened January 1, 2022. The reporting deadline is February 20, 2022.
Tax Code Section 351.009 requires cities to file an annual report with the comptroller that includes the city’s hotel occupancy tax rate, the amount of revenue generated by the tax, and the amount and percentage of the revenue spent for each of the following purposes:
• Convention or information centers
• Convention delegates registration
• Advertising to attract tourists
• Arts promotion and improvement
• Historical restoration and preservation projects
• Signage directing the public to sights and attractions
Cities have two reporting options: (1) use the comptroller’s online reporting form to submit all required information; or (2) clearly post and maintain all required information on the city’s website and provide the comptroller’s office with a link to the information. For cities selecting the second option, the comptroller provides an optional format template to post on the city’s website.
TML member cities may use the material herein for any purpose. No other person or entity may reproduce, duplicate, or distribute any part of this document without the written authorization of the Texas Municipal League.