Category Archives: 84th Texas Legislative Session

Photo by Bill Stipp (www.billstipp.com)

Speaker, Lieutenant Governor release Interim Charges to House, Senate

Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick (R-Houston) and Texas House Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) have rolled out numerous interim charges to legislative committees, giving citizens a hint of the potential key issues the legislature will tackle the next time legislators meet in 2017.

“The next legislative session is more than a year away, but the work of that session starts now,” Straus said.

Various Capitol media observers say that the Senate charges aim to tie up loose ends from the 84th session. Among the most important of these charges in the upper chamber for Texas agriculture and landowners are Patrick’s requests to the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Water & Rural Affairs.

“The Natural Resources Committee will study the federal mandates being implemented by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the impact they will have on the Texas economy,” Patrick said in the official release. “The committee will also review the competitiveness of Texas’ permitting process and make recommendations on how to maintain our friendly business climate.”

Patrick’s charge to the Agriculture, Water & Rural Affairs Committee included this message: “The Senate Agriculture, Water and Rural Affairs Committee will continue their critical focus on protecting and increasing the water resources of our state while preserving the water rights of all Texans.”

On the House side, Straus issued more than 150 charges, but stated he chose to focus on three core priorities: supporting private sector growth, creating opportunity through education, and continuing to make government more transparent and accountable.

Between the two chamber leaders’ charges, there was some overlap, including the requests for legislators to study oil field theft, eminent domain, and groundwater issues, as well as Texas’ property tax appraisal system.

Tara Trower Doolittle of the Austin-American Statesman notes that the ability to set the interim charges is perhaps one of the most powerful tools that chamber leaders have at their disposal. The charges not only set the groundwork for the most developed and comprehensive proposals of the next legislative session, but they also dictate, by default, what lens will be used for creating policy. The laws the governor will sign in 2017 will be based in no small part on the parade of charges laid out this month.

To view the entire list of interim charges to the House, click here.

To view the Senate interim charges, click here. Charges are listed on home page.

Photo by Bill Stipp (www.billstipp.com)

As Legislative Session nears end, Ag bills navigate towards passage

As the final days of the 84th Texas legislative session draw ever closer, there are several bills relating to Texas Agriculture to watch. Seven bills have been passed out of both legislative chambers and sent to the Governor’s desk. Of these, two have been signed into law, including Senate Bill 928, which abolishes the equine incentive program, and Senate Bill 1749, which relates to citrus pest and disease management for Texas’ citrus farmers.

The Texas Farm Bureau’s Legislative team noted several bills they are tracking in their weekly newsletter this week. Two of these bills, HB 4112 and HB 30, deal with groundwater ownership and the promotion of the development of brackish groundwater. Authored by Rep. DeWayne Burns, HB 4112 amends the Water Code to recognize that groundwater ownership and rights are established under the common law by the courts. The committee substitute of this bill removes the provision that a landowner has the right to “produce and save the groundwater beneath his or her property, but still recognizes the common law rights of the landowner to the groundwater beneath their land.

A third water bill that the Farm Bureau is tracking is HB 655, which encourages aquifer storage and recovery (ASR) projects that could provide alternative water storage solutions to combat some issues associated with above ground water storage.

More agriculture and property rights bills that continue to work through the process can be found in this chart:

Bill Author Subject Status
HB 942 Kacal Storage of Ammonium Nitrate Senate Intent 5/19/15
HB 1203 Murr Agritourism Pending: Calendar Committee
HB 1934 Kacal Beef Council Enrolled
SB 140 Perry GPS Sales Tax Enrolled
SB 474 Kolkhorst Eminent Domain – fees Pending: House Committee
SB 479 Schwertner Eminent Domain – repurchase Pending: House Committee
SB 970 Perry Animal Handling Enrolled
SB 1099 Estes Grain Indemnity Enrolled
SB 1339 Perry Ag Lien Pending: Calendar Committee
SB 1812 Kolkhorst Eminent Domain – List Pending: House Committee

To learn more about these bills, visit Texas Legislature Online at http://www.legis.state.tx.us/billlookup/billnumber.aspx

Also this week, the House preliminarily passed legislation that would allow physicians to prescribe low-THC cannabis to patients with a certain type of epilepsy. While some form of medical marijuana use is legal in 23 states across the nation, some legislators worry that this bill could open the door for broader marijuana legalization in Texas. Still, the measure is expected to pass the House this week and be sent to the Governor’s desk.

Agriculture Quick Hit

On May 14, Governor Greg Abbott announced that Kubota Tractor Corporation would relocate its headquarters to Grapevine, Texas, from its current home in Torrance, California. In a release, the Governor’s Press Secretary Amelia Chase said that the move will bring 344 jobs to the region. Other reports indicated that the move will also bring over $50 million in capital investments to the region and state. Kubota President and CEO Masata Yoshikawa also added that Texas’ business-friendly climate, and access to a large portion of their clients in the central United States, coupled with access to D/FW International Airport, were important factors in the company’s decision to relocate.

Construction of the corporate headquarters located near Grapevine Mills will begin this fall and is scheduled for completion in early 2017.

High Speed Rail

High-Speed Rail from Dallas to Houston faces hurdles in final days of legislative session

Over the past year, a plan to connect Big D to Houston has gone from a pie-in-the-sky dream to a real possibility with 60+ daily trips between the two cities via a 200 mph bullet train by the year 2021. While civic leaders in both cities anxiously dream of transit-oriented development surrounding stations in downtown cores, several legislators and landowners on the proposed route are pushing back against the proposal.

As the Texas House and Senate leaders work to hammer out a deal on the biannual state budget, one of the sticking points for a resolution between the two chambers has been a rider to the budget bill that would potentially kill the rail project. The rider would prohibit the Texas Department of Transportation from subsidizing or assisting in the construction of high-speed passenger rail. As The Texas Tribune’s Aman Betheja reported, while Texas Central Railways leadership has vowed to not take public operating subsidies, company officials nonetheless believe the rider would kill the train because TxDOT (the state agency in charge of transportation) would need to play a role in the project’s construction.

And while conservative organizations have praised the theory of a fully privately funded rail project, two GOP Senators (Sen. Lois Kolkhorst of Brenham and Sen. Charles Schwertner of Georgetown) remain the most vocal critics of the project. They both also serve on the budget conference committee.

These two legislators are joined in their opposition to the project by many rural Texas landowners, who fear much more than just losing their land. Many believe diminishing property values, spending taxpayer money on a private project and using eminent domain to buy residents out of their homes for a train they say they won’t even ride are also red flags.

“It’s not a good thing for Texas. It destroys a bunch of property, homes, farms and ranches that will never be the same,” said David Hunter, a landowner who has a home in Ennis along the projected rail route.

Speculation abounds about the fate of the project, especially during the waning days of the legislative session. But Senate Finance Chairwoman Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) told The Texas Tribune she is diligently working on a compromise.

Looking into the Crystal Ball: the 84th Texas Legislative Session

As the Texas Legislature convenes on the second Tuesday in January of 2015 with 22 newly minted House members, and seven fresh faces on the Senate floor, there will be plenty of new energy, along with a little confusion.

And while these new legislators will bring their own ideas on new legislation, several groups around the state are predicting that the new crop will be facing some age-old challenges, and a few new ones, as well.

In the 2013 session, legislators authorized transferring $2 billion from the state’s Economic Stabilization Fund, better known as the “Rainy Day Fund”, to create a new loan program that was later approved by voters via a constitutional amendment last November. According to Robert McKnight, second Vice President of Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raiser’s Association, however, the planning for Texas’ future water needs has just begun:

“Some say water may not be an issue this session; however, TSCRA believes this important resource will be a major topic not only this session, but for ones to come. As Texas continues to struggle with drought conditions and the need for water grows in our state, some groundwater ownership issues could come up. TSCRA staunchly believes groundwater is groundwater. If a water resource lies beneath your property, you own it. TSCRA will be active in water rights and ownership issues during this session.” (Source: http://tscra.org/news_releases_blog/?p=1047)

While water supply may be an age-old challenge, it is one of the high-profile usages of the resource that should also get plenty of attention this session. According to Royce Poinsett, a senior attorney in Austin with Gardere Wynne Sewell LLP’s government affairs practice, the energy sector only uses about 1 percent of Texas’ water. Consumption of water in fracking and by power plants becomes more pronounced during times of drought and limited water availability, Poinsett added. (Source: http://shalemag.com/a-preview-of-the-84th-legislature/)

On the heels of the recently passed fracking ban in the City of Denton, some legislators will face the challenge of the delicate balancing act of local control issues and a seeming growing resistance to fracking in several communities with the importance of oil and gas production to the state’s economy, and more specifically the revenue generated that goes to the Permanent School Fund.

Moreover, the issue will be given further interest with the efforts of former Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, who quickly filed suit against the Denton fracking ban following its approval last fall. Patterson claimed that the ban would deprive the General Land Office of money that it could make from the land and mineral rights it owns in Denton County. It is expected that the recently sworn in George P. Bush will take up the mantle where Patterson left off.

Lastly, new Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, who vowed that there would be property tax relief for all Texans on the campaign trail, recently renewed that pledge, saying he would not let a budget pass the Senate without it. But the legislature will now have to wrestle with falling oil and gas prices and less budget surplus with which they can work.