Activity Ramps Up At Texas Legislature As The New Year Begins
by Troupe Brewer and Ty Embrey
A new year is upon us and activity at the Texas Legislature is starting to heat up both on political and legislative fronts. State legislators will be campaigning throughout their legislative districts and meeting with constituents about the numerous issues facing Texans that will have to be addressed during the 2021 Regular Session of the Legislature.
With 2020 being a presidential election year, the amount of public attention focused on the election process throughout Texas and the United States will likely be at all-time high levels. The upcoming year will be incredibly busy as many legislators will be campaigning to retain their legislative positions. The Democratic and Republican political parties will hold party primary elections on Tuesday, March 3 for governmental positions all up and down the election ballot, including state legislative positions. After the primary election process is completed, everyone will turn their attention to campaigning that is part of the general election that will be held on Tuesday, November 3.
The upcoming year will also be full of legislative activity as legislators work to prepare for the 2021 Regular Session. The Legislature and its committees will hold public hearings all over the state throughout 2020 to gather information and testimony on important issues facing Texas. The legislators will use the information and knowledge they gain over the year to prepare bills to file during the Regular Session. Interim charges for the Legislature were released by the Speaker of the House and the Lieutenant Governor to their respective bodies in the fall of 2019. Highlighted below are charges to committees of particular interest to readers of The Lone Star Current.
In the Texas House, Speaker Bonnen provided the following charges to committees of interest:
House Natural Resources Committee (“HNRC”)
The HNRC was tasked with charges that include studying the efforts of the TCEQ, the TWDB, and the PUC to incentivize, promote, and preserve regional projects to meet water supply needs; to encourage public and private investment in water infrastructure; to identify impediments or threats to regionalization; and to monitor the joint planning process for groundwater and the achievement of the desired conditions for aquifers by groundwater conservation districts. Additionally, the HNRC is charged with monitoring the implementation of legislation passed by the 86th Legislature and any associated rulemakings, specifically noting HJR 4, SB 7, and SB 8 (statewide and regional flood planning and mitigation); HB 720 (appropriations of water for recharge of aquifers and use in ASR projects); HB 721 (reports on ASR and aquifer recharge projects); HB 722 (development of brackish groundwater); and HB 807 (state and regional water planning process).
House Environmental Regulation Committee (“HERC”)
The HERC was charged with investigating the delegation of state statutory authority to political subdivisions of the state for the authorization and regulation of solid waste management infrastructure and operations, and determining an effective approach to balancing the authority of the state versus local political subdivisions. Additionally, the HERC will study the regulation of commercial and residential irrigation backflow devices to determine if Texas is adequately regulating such backflow devices in the context of potential pollutant backflow into drinking water sources. The HERC was also requested to conduct oversight of all associated rulemaking and other governmental actions taken to ensure intended legislative outcome of all legislation, specifically noting HB 2771 (regarding the transfer of produced water regulatory authority from the Railroad Commission to the TCEQ in order to prepare for the delegation of the NPDES permitting by the U.S. EPA to the TCEQ for this source).
House State Affairs Committee (“HSAC”)
From a substantive perspective, the HSAC was first charged to receive an update on the 2020 electric reliability forecasts and to review operational successes and issues from the summer of 2019 through invited testimony from the PUC, ERCOT and other interested parties. HSAC was also directed to study the electric market to determine potential barriers in attracting sufficient energy supply and obstacles and/or incentives for the development and deployment of new energy supply technology and peak system energy demand management technology. Next, HSAC was charged with evaluating opportunities for competitive development of energy supply microgrids and the potential for enhancing reliability by transitioning municipally owned utilities to focus on transmission and distribution functions. Last, The HSAC will examine the enhancement of retail customers’ energy supply management capability through promotion of greater retail price transparency.
Aside from the aforementioned technical issues, the HSAC was also charged with studying how governmental entities use public funds for political lobbying purposes and examining and identifying what types of governmental entities use public funds for lobbying purposes. Finally, like all House Committees, the HSAC was charged with monitoring the implementation of legislation passed by the 86th Legislature and any corresponding rulemaking, specifically noting SB 475 and SB 936 (relating to the security of the state’s electric grid), and SB 943, SB 944, and SB 1610 (relating to the Public Information Act and the Texas Open Meetings Act).
House Energy Resources Committee
Similar to the charge above for the House Environmental Regulation Committee, and indicative of the likelihood of several pieces of legislation during the 87th Legislature on this issue, the Energy Resources Committee was charged with evaluating the status of water recycling and reuse efforts in the oil and gas industry in Texas and elsewhere. Such evaluation will consider options for tax credits, deductions, or discounts to encourage recycling, treatment, or reuse of produced water from oil and gas production activities, and it will ultimately make recommendations on statutory or regulatory changes needed to promote recycling and reuse strategies for produced water.
Over in the Texas Senate, Lt. Governor Patrick issued charges to the following committees of relevance to the readers of The Lone Star Current’s readers:
Senate Business and Commerce Committee (“SBCC”)
The SBCC was charged with assessing the electricity market in Texas, and such assessment should include (1) an examination of changes in customer demand (such as on-site storage), distributed generation, and electric vehicles, (2) a study of the usage of “non-wires alternatives,” including energy storage, and (3) an identification of barriers to the electric market at the state or local level. Additionally, this Committee was charged to make recommendations to maintain grid reliability and to encourage the continued success of the electric market, and ultimately to recommend any potential legislation to address these issues.
Joint Charges to Senate Natural Resources and Economic Development and Water and Rural Affairs Committees
These two Committees received joint charges to address the following topics: (1) future water supply (specifically, to examine current laws, processes, and water storage options and availability and make recommendations promoting the state’s water supply, storage, availability, valuation, movement, and development of new sources); (2) river authority infrastructure (to examine the roles and responsibilities of river authorities in maintaining their managed assets and to evaluate the impact on the economy, water supply, and flood control due to deferred maintenance); and (3) groundwater regulatory framework (to study such framework and make recommendations to improve groundwater regulation, management, and permitting).
These Committees were also charged with monitoring the implementation of legislation passed by the 86th Legislature, as well as relevant agencies and programs under each committee’s jurisdiction, and ultimately making recommendations for any additional legislation needed to improve, enhance, or complete implementation of the passed legislation. In particular, the Committees were directed to assess SBs 6, 7, 8, and 500 (all relating to disaster response and recovery, disaster funds, state-wide flood planning, and dam maintenance), SB 698 (related to expedited permitting), and SB 700 (relating to water utility ratemaking reform).
Senate Intergovernmental Relations Committee (“SIRC”)
Specific to infrastructure resiliency, the SIRC was charged with examining the authority of special purpose districts to generate natural disaster resilient infrastructure, determining ways state government can work with special purpose districts to mitigate future flooding and promote more resilient infrastructure, and making recommendations on how special purpose districts may use their statutory authority to assist in mitigating damage from future natural disasters.
Clearly, while the Legislature will not be meeting in a regular or special session in 2020, it will be a busy year, nonetheless.
Troupe Brewer is a Principal in the Firm’s Water, Litigation, and Districts Practice Groups and Ty Embrey is a Principal in the Firm’s Water and Districts Practice Groups. If you have any questions concerning Legislative tracking and monitoring services or legislative consulting services, please contact Troupe at 512.322.5858 or email@example.com, or Ty at 512.322.5829 or firstname.lastname@example.org.