H.B. 55 (Branch), prohibiting the use of a wireless communication device (WCD) while operating a vehicle within a school crossing zone unless the vehicle is stopped or the WCD is used with a hands-free device. Passed the House. A House floor amendment provides that a city that enforces this new prohibition shall: (1) post signs informing drivers that WCDs are prohibited, and (2) impose a fine of not more than $25 for the first offense and $50 for a subsequent offense.

H.B. 206 (Jackson), relating to alcoholic beverages. Passed the House. As passed, this bill would: (1) permit the holder of an on-premises alcohol consumption permit to allow an individual to bring alcoholic beverages onto the permitted premises for consumption by that individual; and (2) make it an offense for a commercial establishment to allow customers to bring alcoholic beverages onto the premises if the establishment does not have an on-premises consumption permit.

H.B. 360 (Kuempel), relating to the Texas Municipal Retirement System. Passed the Senate.

H.B. 451 (Allen), requiring health benefit plans to provide coverage for autism in a child up to age nine. Passed the House.

H.B. 1221 (C. Howard), relating to property tax. Passed the House. As passed, this bill would: (1) eliminate the requirement that appraisal value notices must include the estimated tax liability based on an application of last year’s tax rate to this year’s appraised value; (2) require tax assessors to submit the appraisal roll to a city not later than 21 days after the date the appraisal roll is certified to the assessor; (3) require a city to calculate its effective tax rate not later than 30 days after it receives the certified appraisal roll from the assessor; (4) require the person who calculated the effective tax rate to submit the rate to the city council within five days of making the calculation; (5) require the calculation of a “same services tax rate;” and (6) require a city council, before giving notice of tax increase hearings, to take a record vote on the proposal to increase taxes and that the motion for that vote must be as follows: “I move that a proposal to increase property taxes by the adoption of a tax rate of (specific tax rate) be placed on the agenda for the meeting to be held on (date on which the governing body anticipates adopting the tax rate);” and much more.

H.B. 1433 (Lucio), raising the cap on the annual water quality fee imposed on a city by TCEQ. Passed the Senate. As passed, this bill would, on September 1, 2009, raise the maximum fee from $75,000 to $100,000. The bill would also allow the TCEQ to thereafter raise the maximum fee annually by an amount that reflects growth in the CPI, up to a maximum amount of $150,000 annually.

H.B. 1988 (McReynolds), relating to DWI. Passed the House. As passed, this bill would require a peace officer to make and attach a photocopy of a driver’s license to a temporary driving permit issued to a person suspected of an intoxication offense.

H.B. 1998 (McCall), relating to housing and emergency shelters provided by a political subdivision for disaster victims. Passed the Senate.

H.B. 2000 (McCall), requiring health benefit plans to provide coverage for amino acid-based elemental baby formulas. Passed the House.

H.B. 2705 (Gattis), relating to annexation. Passed the House. As passed, this bill would clarify current law regarding provision of services after annexation to provide that, if the annexed area had a level of services for maintaining and landscaping rights-of-way superior to the level of services provided within the corporate boundaries of the city before annexation, a service plan must provide annexed public rights-of-way with a level of maintenance and landscaping that is comparable to the level of maintenance and landscaping available to other public rights-of-way in the city.

H.B. 2828 (Menendez), relating to a property tax exemption. Passed the House. As passed, this bill would: (1) permit property owned by certain limited partnerships to claim a community housing development organization (CHDO) property tax exemption; (2) expand the application of special appraisals for low-income or moderate-income housing to include apartments and land owned by persons other than certain nonprofit organizations; and (3) alter the application of the income method of appraisal to low-income or moderate-income appraisals. The bill’s fiscal note states that the bill “could” impose costs on the state and on local governments.

H.B. 3222 (Hancock), allowing two or more cities to designate a joint tax increment financing reinvestment zone. Passed the House.

H.B. 3255 (Gattis), relating to vehicle financial responsibilities. Passed the House. A second reading, House floor amendment provides that a peace office may impound the vehicle of a person who operates a vehicle without proof of financial responsibility “if the person has been previously convicted” of the same violation.

H.B. 3389 (Harper-Brown), relating to the continuation and functions of the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Education. Passed the House. As passed, this bill would require police departments to: 1) complete training, every two years, on how to handle persons with mental impairments; (2) provide additional reports in order to receive certain funds from the comptroller; (3) provide additional reporting to TCLEOSE on racial profiling; (3) report when a new police department is formed; (4) complete training requirements in the laws of the U.S. and Texas; and (5) complete training requirements in civil rights, racial sensitivity, and racial diversity for intermediate proficiency.

S.B. 39 (Zaffirini), requiring health benefit plans to cover certain expenses related to clinical trials. Passed the House.

S.B. 254 (Estes), exempting volunteer fire departments from the state motor fuels tax. Passed the House.

S.B. 1011 (Estes), relating to the Texas Commission on Fire Protections (TCFP). Passed the House. As passed, this bill would: (1) create an interim study of volunteer fire departments; and (2) allow the TCFP to enter a default order if a fire department fails to take action to correct a violation found by the TCFP during an inspection; and much more. (Fire chiefs should review this bill thoroughly.) (Note: a House floor amendment eliminated the provision that would have authorized the TCFP to establish minimum education and training standards for volunteer firefighters.)

S.B. 1182 (Wentworth), relating to public information. Passed the House. As passed, this bill includes a House floor amendment that provides that a quorum of a city council may receive and a member of the council may make a report about items of community interest during a council meeting without posting notice of the subject of the report if no action is taken and no possible future action is discussed. (The addition of this amendment is just one example of the way in which lawmakers can use floor amendments to enhance the ability of city councils to govern effectively.)

S.B. 1410 (Jackson), relating to plumbing. Passed the House. On the House floor, legislators added an amendment that will prohibit a city (after January 1, 2009) from requiring a sprinkler system in a new or existing one- or two-family dwelling. (Before this amendment was added, TML had no position on this bill. The addition of this amendment is just one example of the way in which lawmakers can use harmless bills as vehicles to erode municipal efforts to protect the public health, safety, and welfare.)

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