Call to Action: Several Detrimental Bills on the Move

Legislators have begun trying to move their bills through the legislative process in earnest, and many of the bills would erode city authority or impose an unfunded mandate:

    • Land Acquisition:  Two bills, H.B. 1250 (Frank) and H.B. 20 (Kolkhorst), would drag the routine purchase of land by a city into the realm of “eminent domain reform.”  Legislators, and some city officials, strongly supported eminent domain reforms prohibiting the use of the power for economic development.  The same goes for last session’s process reforms that protect property owners from abuses.  The two bills this session are cleverly disguised to look like eminent domain reform, but they are not about eminent domain at all.

      The bills would provide that private property acquired through eminent domain or through purchase in connection with an initial offer must be initially used for the public use for which it was acquired.  Cities frequently save taxpayer funds by acquiring property ahead of development because they anticipate various public functions that will be needed for an area.  For example, a city may purchase land for future fire or police stations or for other municipal buildings.  Or a city may purchase easements for utility lines.  When a city makes those purchases, it is not required to make a determination of what the exact use will be.  The public policy behind allowing a city to make general purchases as would any other buyer in the market is to save taxpayer funds.

      H.B. 20 and H.B. 1250 would require a city to bind itself to use in a certain way property purchased on the open market in an arms-length transaction.  Both bills were referred to the House Committee on Land and Resource Management.  H.B. 20 was heard on April 15 and is pending.  H.B. 1250 was heard on March 4 and was voted out of the committee on April 16.  It now moves to the House Committee on Calendars.

 

    • Tree Preservation:  H.B. 1858 (Workman) would: (1) provide that a city, county, or other political subdivision may not enact or enforce any regulation that restricts the ability of a property owner to remove a tree or vegetation on the owner’s property that the owner believes poses a risk of fire to a structure on the property or adjacent property; (2) exempt the City of San Antonio from the bill; and (3) exempt from the bill: (a) regulations relating to property being developed under a municipal permit; (b) regulations governing certain large trees; and (c) regulations designed to mitigate tree-borne diseases as recommended by the Texas A&M Forest Service. 

      The bill would, for all practical purposes, allow a property owner to clear cut trees even if a city’s ordinance prohibits that activity. The bill is framed as a “fire safety bill,” but city tree preservation ordinances rarely, if ever, limit a property owner’s ability to perform true fire mitigation activities.  H.B. 1858 was heard in the House Business and Industry Committee on April 2 and was reported from that committee on April 15.

 

    • Billboard Relocation:  H.B. 2244 (Harper-Brown) would provide that a city must pay compensation to a billboard owner if a billboard has to be removed from a city or a city’s extraterritorial jurisdiction because: (1) of the widening, construction, or reconstruction of a highway that is part of a state highway project; and (2) it cannot be moved to another place in the city because of a city billboard ordinance.  When the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) obtains right-of-way for highway projects, it must pay for that right-of-way or use eminent domain to acquire it.  Requiring a city to pay the costs to condemn a billboard that can’t remain in place due to a state highway project is an unfunded mandate. 

      H.B. 2244 was heard in the House Committee on Urban Affairs on April 10 and was voted out of the committee on April 17.

 

  • Civil Service:  H.B. 1312 (Fletcher) would require immediate reinstatement to a fire or police position for civil service suspensions while a city appeals the reinstatement order of a hearing officer or civil service commission. 

    Why is that a problem?  When a city feels the need to challenge a civil service reinstatement in court, it’s often because the suspension was for a reason—dishonesty, criminal misconduct, or inappropriate sexual conduct—that would make immediate reinstatement impractical or risky.  H.B. 1312 was heard in the House Committee on Urban Affairs on March 20 and the committee report was sent to the House Committee on Calendars on April 5. 

League staff and city officials testified against all the bills above.  Nevertheless, each (except for H.B. 20) has been voted out of a House committee.  If your city has concerns, now is the time to contact your legislators, especially those city officials whose legislators serve on the House Committee on Calendars:

Todd Hunter (R – Corpus Christi)Sarah Davis (R – Houston)
Eddie Lucio (D – Harlingen)Craig Eiland (D – Galveston)
Roberto Alonzo (D – Dallas)John Frullo (R – Lubbock)
Carol Alvarado (D – Houston)Charlie Geren (R – Fort Worth)
Dan Branch (R – Dallas)Helen Giddings (D – Dallas)
Angie Chen Button (R – Richardson)John Kuempel (R – Seguin)
Byron Cook (R – Corsicana)Doug Miller (R – New Braunfels)
Myra Crownover (R – Denton)

Contact information for the members listed above is available at:
http://www.house.state.tx.us/committees/committee/?committee=050&session=83

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.

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