As the 2011 legislative session draws to a close, here are the top five issues that city officials should speak out on.  We urge you to pick the one or two items that matter most to your city and contact your legislators now.

  1. Elections:  S.B. 100 by Sen. Leticia Van de Putte would effectively eliminate the May uniform election date in even-numbered years for the majority of Texas cities.  If the Senate-approved version of the bill passes, the vast majority of cities could be forced to conduct their elections in November.  Please urge your state representative or senator to preserve a viable spring election date for your city.    
  2. Budget:  The conference committee report for House Bill 1 contains cuts to both the mixed beverage tax and to local parks grants.  The conference committee report has yet to be adopted by the House or the Senate.  Please contact your state representatives and senators and urge them to restore those funding cuts.
  3. ATV Sales Tax:  H.B. 2237 by Rep. Lanham Lyne would reclassify all-terrain vehicles, off-road motorcycles, and arguably golf carts as “motor vehicles.” (The same provisions have appeared in versions of H.B. 2357 by Rep. Joe Pickett, an omnibus bill relating to the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles.)  That classification would subject them to the motor vehicle sales tax, which means that the state would continue to collect its full sales taxes as it does on cars and trucks, but cities would lose all their sales taxes on these vehicles.  H.B. 2237 has been referred to the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee.  Please contact members of the committee to express your opposition.
  4. Court Fees:  Today the House plans to consider an omnibus fiscal matters bill, S.B. 1811 by Senator Steve Ogden and sponsored by Representative Jim Pitts.  Proposed amendments to this bill include an increase in the State Traffic Fine from $30 to $45 and a $5 court fee for indigent defense.  We urge you to contact your state representative to express your opposition to these amendments.  (Note:  S.B. 1811 is critical to the state budget.  The bill has been postponed numerous times over the past days.  If it does not pass, the legislature will be forced to call a special session to deal with funding issues contained in the bill.)
  5. Open Government:  S.B. 1826 by Sen. Mario Gallegos would expand the statutory definition of a “deliberation” under the Open Meetings Act to include written and e-mail communications.  The bill has passed the Senate and would make it even more difficult for city officials to receive information on important city issues outside of a posted city council meeting.  S.B. 1571 by Senator Kirk Watson would make the personal e-mails or text messages of a city official or employee that relate to city business subject to the Public Information Act.  The bill also would subject the records of most city vendors to the Public Information Act and would require cities to handle open records requests for information belonging to private vendors doing business with the city.  Please contact your state representative or state senator to express your opposition to these bills.   

As is true every session, much action in the final days of the session will take place in conference committee.  These committees invariably will do some or all of the following:  (1) meet in secret with no chance for League staff or anyone else to participate; (2) go “outside the bounds” of the rules to inject bad ideas from other bills into the final conference report; and/or (3) go “outside the bounds” to inject bad ideas into final conference bills that weren’t even considered at all in other bills during the session.  League staff will be as vigilant as possible during this process, but direct contact from city officials on the items that matter most will have the most impact at this stage.

The next issue of the Legislative Update will contain a summary of all the city-related bills that pass, and city officials are urged to register for the Legislative Wrap-up Workshop that will be held in Austin on June 27.

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