Here We Go: Preview of Regular Session of 86th Texas Legislature
By Ty Embrey and Troupe Brewer
The 86th Texas Legislature is now underway, after convening at noon on Tuesday, January 8th at the State Capitol in Austin. There are many new faces among the Legislature, and there is new leadership in the Texas House of Representatives. State Representative Dennis Bonnen was elected Speaker on the first day of the Regular Session after collecting the support of a significant majority of the 150 State Representatives. Bonnen was first elected at the age of 24, and he has served Texas House District No. 25 since 1997. There are six new members of the Texas Senate and 32 new members in the Texas House. It is important to note that the Republican majority in the House shifted from 95 Republicans and 55 Democrats to 83 Republicans and 67 Democrats, and from 21 Republicans and 10 Democrats to 19 Republicans and 12 Democrats in the Senate. This shift will impact how the House and Senate operate during the Regular Session.
This past legislative interim time period leading into the Regular Session was full of substantial activity. Interim Committee Reports were recently released, summarizing the testimony and findings gathered by House and Senate Committees in hearings conducted throughout the interim and making recommendations to the Legislature thereon. Two of the committees that were particularly active were the House Natural Resources Committee, which conducted a “tour of Texas” style hearing schedule, holding hearings in several cities all over the state to address various issues, and the Sunset Advisory Commission, which held multiple hearings to evaluate and receive recommendations on numerous important agencies in Texas (among them the Texas Board of Professional Geoscientists, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, the Lower Colorado River Authority, the Texas Historical Commission, the State Securities Board, and the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association).
The window to ‘pre-file’ legislation opened on Monday, November 12th, and nearly 400 bills were filed that day, and over 1,000 bills were ‘pre-filed’ in all. The topics of those bills include, in part, the reduction and eventual elimination of the state’s franchise tax, removal of daylight savings time in Texas, guardianship reform, and public school funding. The biggest challenges that the Texas legislative leadership has expressed an interest in addressing during the Regular Session are the intertwined issues of property tax relief and public school finance. As you may recall, there was a standoff on this very issue between the House and Senate throughout the legislative sessions in 2017, including a special session. No resolution occurred. In a press conference where Speaker Bonnen announced the end of the Speaker of the House race, he stated the House’s main priority during the Regular Session would be public school finance. Texas Legislature will also likely consider legislation to address Hurricane Harvey relief (along with the financing of flooding infrastructure and mitigation), as well as a variety of health-related issues including insurance coverage, mental health, maternal mortality, and opioid addiction.
The Texas House and Senate also worked during the interim on municipal solid waste issues and how the State of Texas regulates the disposal of municipal solid waste. The Texas Legislature continues to look at electric and gas utility issues. The House Energy Resources Committee had an interim charge aimed at studying the Gas Reliability Infrastructure Program (“GRIP”) and its effect on gas utility ratemaking and ratepayers and held a hearing on April 18 to receive testimony on the topic.
As they have done in the past, during the interim leading up to this Regular Session, the Texas Water Conservation Association (“TWCA”) formed committees aimed at developing consensus-based legislation to address water-related issues facing the State of Texas, including flood response and groundwater issues. The TWCA Board of Directors recently approved six pieces of legislation developed by the Groundwater Committee for the upcoming 86th Regular Session. Those draft bills are as follows:
1. Groundwater Export – This bill builds upon a bill from last session aimed at clarifying how a groundwater conservation district shall issue permits requesting the export of groundwater beyond a district’s boundaries.
2. Water Conservation Education – This bill would authorize a groundwater conservation district to use its funds on water conservation education programs, water conservation facilities, or water conservation projects.
3. Abandoned Wells – This bill is focused on clarifying the existing authority of groundwater conservation districts to repair and/or plug abandoned wells.
4. Groundwater Omnibus Bill – This bill builds upon omnibus groundwater legislation developed by ChairmanPerry of the Senate Agriculture, Water, & Rural Affairs Committee last session.
5. Brackish Groundwater Production – This bill continues the effort of prior legislation authored by Chairman Larson that passed both legislative chambers last session but was eventually vetoed by Governor Abbott. The bill provides guidelines for the development of groundwater conservation district rules related to the production of groundwater from “brackish groundwater production zones.”
6. TWDB Funding – The TWCA expressed support for funding for Groundwater Availability Model updates and the development of other scientific tools and data by the Texas Water Development Board.
TWCA also created a Flood Response Committee for the purpose of providing a central place for discussing potential education and policy responses to the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey and other flood events. Members of the committee represented river authorities, municipalities, regional water districts, drainage districts, and firms related to engineering, law, communications, and consulting. The Flood Response prepared white papers and educational materials about the roles and responsibilities of the entities involved in flood response, the purpose of reservoirs, different flood mitigation strategies, and flood-related liability.
Ty Embrey is a Principal in the Firm’s Water, Government Relations, Districts, and Air and Waste Practice Groups. Troupe Brewer is an Associate in the Firm’s Water, Government Relations, Litigation, and Districts Practice Groups. If you have any questions concerning legislative issues or would like additional information concerning the Firm’s legislative tracking and monitoring services or legislative consulting services, please contact Ty at 512.322.5829 or firstname.lastname@example.org or Troupe at 512.322.5858 or email@example.com.