Eighty-Third Texas Legislature: Back to Basics
The final days of a regular session of the Texas Legislature are often characterized by a flurry of activity in both chambers: a rush to meet deadlines, hastily drafted amendments tacked onto any bill that’s moving, and sunset bills that become dump trucks for all kinds of bad ideas. The Eighty-Third Legislature was much different. Having focused on a few core issues like education and water infrastructure, the final days seemed almost calm. Historically, it was what you might call an “ordinary” session, but it stands out like a sore thumb because so many recent sessions have been fraught with partisanship and fighting that this one seemed anything but ordinary.
How did cities fare this session? Not too badly overall—we sustained a few minor nicks and scratches. For instance, city health authority over health and safety at farmers markets was circumscribed. (Please see H.B. 1382 in the Public Safety section.) A series of attorney general’s opinions holding that personal email accounts can be made public if they contain emails about public business were codified into state law. (Please see S.B. 1368 in the Open Government section.) And there were a few other bills that passed that were less than ideal from a city perspective.
Of course, many filed bills would have, if passed, seriously undermined city authority. Among those were revenue cap bills, appraisal cap bills, and bills that would have eliminated city authority to prevent the clear cutting of trees. There were bills filed to eliminate original city jurisdiction over utility ratemaking, and bills that would have expanded the vested rights statute to the detriment of sensible city land use authority. Fortunately, all these bills (and many more) died a well-deserved death at various points in the process.
Meanwhile, beneficial legislation passed dealing with water. H.B. 4 and related bills will, if voters approve the concept in November, move $2 billion from the state’s Rainy Day Fund to a new revolving loan account for water infrastructure projects and conservation projects. Cities have Rep. Allan Ritter and Sen. Troy Fraser to thank for passing this important legislation that paves the way for new water capacity and, just as important, doesn’t resort to tap fees (city water taxes) to make it happen.
With regard to the state budget, some money ($15.5 million) was restored to local parks grant programs that was cut under the current budget, but the amount remains less than half of that under the 2010-11 budget.
The League helped pass beneficial legislation that will assist cities struggling with “fire flow” problems posed by non-city water utilities. (Please see H.B. 1973 in the Public Safety section.)
Cities were unsuccessful in passing legislation that would have permitted publication of notices on the Internet instead of in print newspapers. Two of these good bills were filed and heard in committee, but the newspaper lobby made it their main mission to kill this cost-saving idea and the bills never made it to the House floor.
Finally, a contentious back-and-forth battle was fought all session over whether, and how, to regulate the growing payday lending industry. The powerful payday lobby first supported a bill, S.B. 1247 by Sen. Carona, that would have imposed some substantive regulation. It would also have preempted city regulation entirely. When the bill got seriously toughened up on the Senate floor, however, the industry pulled their support. The result? No substantive regulations at the state level, but cities are free for now to pass regulatory ordinances as they deem it necessary.
The Important Numbers
In the 2013 session, lawmakers filed fewer bills than in previous sessions. All told, 6,061 bills and proposed constitutional amendments were filed, compared to 6,303 filed in 2011. At one point in the session, the League was tracking over 1,700 of those bills that could have affected city authority.
In 2011, lawmakers passed 22.4 percent of bills filed; this year, 23.7 percent made the cut. Thus, fewer bills were filed but a greater percentage made it through. More bills filed and passed affected cities than in the previous session, but as pointed out earlier the harmful effect of such city-related bills was relatively modest.
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As of this writing, a special session is already underway to deal with legislative and congressional redistricting. It’s possible that other issues will be added to the special session agenda, and the League will monitor any such items closely.
The following sections contain summaries of the major city-related bills passed by the Eighty-Third Legislature. The governor has until June 16 to sign bills, veto them, or let them become law without his signature. The effective date of each bill is noted in a parenthetical following each bill described below. Some of the bills will become effective as soon as they are signed (e.g., “effective immediately”); others (unless vetoed) will become effective on September 1.
Future issues of the TML Legislative Update or Texas Town & City magazine will provide additional details on some of the bills described here, may include summaries of “straggler” bills that for various reasons weren’t summarized at the time of printing, and will provide other updates as appropriate.