During the 83rd regular session, legislators filed over 6,000 bills. However, only about 1,450 of them ultimately passed. A considerable number impact county government. TAC legislative staff has highlighted some of the significant county-related bills that passed during the regular session. TAC staff is also presently working on developing a more comprehensive analysis of county-related legislation, which will be available later this summer.
SB 637 by Paxton. Relating to notice and election order requirements for bond approval elections held by political subdivisions. Changes the content required for a county to properly call for a debt obligation election. A county must state on a notice to issue debt obligations, among other information, the proposition language that will appear on the ballot; the purpose for which the debt obligations are being authorized; the principal amount of debt obligations; and the taxes necessary to be raised to pay back the debt. The election order must be posted at each polling location during an election, in three public places in the county 21 days before the election and on the county’s website 21 days before the election if the county maintains a website. Effective 9/1/2013.
SB 265 by Huffman. Relating to bond requirements for county officers and employees, district attorneys, and criminal district attorneys. Allows a commissioners court to self-insure in lieu of an otherwise required bond of office for a county officer or employee. Also establishes that a district attorney or a criminal district attorney is not required to execute the required bond of office if the commissioners court chooses to self-insure against losses that would have been covered by the bond. Effective 5/18/2013.
SB 656 by Paxton. Relating to providing transparency in the budget adoption process of municipalities and counties. Adds requirements to the procedures that the commissioners court must undergo in order to properly pass a budget. Any budget must be approved by a record vote. The adopted budget must include a cover page with a specific statement about how much revenue will be raised relative to the previous year. The cover page must also state the debt obligations owed by the county and the property tax rates for the preceding fiscal year. A copy of the record vote on the budget must be posted. Effective 9/1/2013.
SB 484 by Whitmire. Relating to the creation of a prostitution prevention program; authorizing a fee. Requires a commissioners court in a county with a population of more than 200,000 to establish a prostitution prevention program for defendants charged with a prostitution offense if a municipality in the county has not established such a program and sufficient federal or state funding is received for that purpose; counties that are mandated to establish a program must apply for federal and state funds and counties that do not establish and maintain a program as required are ineligible to receive state funds for a community supervision and corrections department. It authorizes certain fees that may be collected from participants in the program, sets forth certain program powers and duties, and makes the authority to establish the program permissive in counties with populations of 200,000 or less. Effective 9/1/2013.
HB 1263 by Lewis. Relating to the delay in the implementation of the abolishment of small claims courts. Delays the effective date of the abolishment of small claims courts to Aug. 31, 2013. Effective 4/10/2013.
SB 1611 by Ellis. Relating to discovery in a criminal case. Requires the state’s prosecuting attorney to provide a defendant with certain information as part of standard discovery, including offense reports and witness statements. It prohibits the defendant, defense counsel, and other individuals from disclosing any documents received from the state to a third party except in certain circumstances. It specifically authorizes a defense attorney to allow a defendant or witness to view the information provided by the state; however, the defense attorney or other person possessing the information must redact certain identifying information of witnesses before allowing the documents to be viewed. Additionally, it codifies existing duties to disclose exculpatory evidence and information; requires the state to electronically record or otherwise document any information provided to the defendant; and authorizes a court to order the defendant to pays costs related to discovery, provided that the costs do not exceed the charges authorized by the Public Information Act. Effective 1/1/2014.
HB 2021 by Rodriguez, Eddie. Relating to the authority of a municipality or county to contract for the collection of certain amounts; authorizing a fee. Authorizes a commissioners court to contract with a private attorney or public or private vendor for the collection of an amount owed to the county relating to a civil case, including the unpaid fine, fee or court cost if the amount is more than 60 days overdue. It also allows the county to authorize the addition of a collection fee of 30 percent of the amount referred to compensate the contracted collector. This does not apply to the collection of commercial bail bonds. Effective 6/14/2013.
SB 1729 by Nichols. Relating to an agreement between the Department of Public Safety and a county for the provision of renewal and duplicate driver's license and other identification certificate services; authorizing a fee. Allows the Department of Public Safety (DPS) to establish a pilot program for driver’s license renewal services, election identification certificates and personal identification certificates in certain counties. Specifically, the legislation allows DPS to establish a pilot program in: not more than three counties with a population of 50,000 or less; not more than three counties with a population of more than 50,000 but less than 1,000,001; not more than two counties with a population of more than one million; and any county in which the department operates a driver’s license office as a scheduled or mobile office. A county office that provides written consent to the commissioners court may provide the services. Additionally, the bill authorizes a participating county to collect a $5 fee for the services. Effective 6/14/2013.
HB 487 by Bell. Relating to liability of certain persons assisting in man-made or natural disasters. Authorizes a commissioners court, county judge, county fire marshal, certain volunteer fire departments or an emergency management director or coordinator designated for the county to request or accept certain care, assistance, or advice, including the loan or operation of construction or heavy equipment if needed to address a man-made or natural disaster. A person who provides such care, assistance, or advice to a county is immune from civil liability, except in a case of reckless conduct or intentional misconduct that occurs while providing voluntary assistance to a county. Effective 5/24/2013.
HB 1513 by Lewis. Relating to temporary increases in the records archive fees and the records management preservation fees charged by district and county clerks. Allows a commissioners court to increase the records archive fee from $5 to not more than $10. Monies from the fee must be used for the preservation and restoration of the district court records archive. The bill also allows a county clerk to increase both the records management and preservation fee and the records archive fee from $5 to not more than $10. Effective Dates: On 9/1/2013, commissioners courts and county clerks are authorized to increase the above mentioned fees; on 9/1/2019, the maximum fee amounts are reverted back to the amounts set prior to 9/1/2013. The amended court costs and fees become effective 1/1/14 due to the passage of SB 390 which amended Government Code, Section 51.607.
HB 2302 by Hunter. Relating to signing electronic or digital court documents, to the electronic filing system established by the Texas Supreme Court, to the statewide electronic filing system fund, to certain court fees and court costs, and to recovery of electronic filing fees by taxing units; imposing and authorizing certain fees. Establishes a statewide electronic filing system in order to comply with an order issued by the Supreme Court of Texas mandating electronic filing and requires a clerk to collect a $20 fee on the filing of civil cases in the supreme court, appellate courts, district courts, statutory county courts, constitutional county courts and statutory probate courts. It requires the clerk of a justice court to collect a $10 filing fee on any civil action or proceeding requiring a filing fee. In addition, it requires a person to pay a $5 court cost on conviction of any criminal offense in a district court, county court, or statutory county court. All fees collected are to be remitted to the comptroller to be deposited into the statewide electronic filing system fund created by this legislation.
Money in the statewide electronic filing system fund may only be appropriated to the Office of Court Administration to be used to support a statewide electronic filing technology project for courts in this state, provide grants to counties to implement electronic filing or support court technology projects that have a statewide impact.
The bill also gives local governments or appellate courts the authority to collect a $2 fee for each electronic filing transaction if the fee is necessary to recover actual electronic filing system operating costs; this $2 fee expires on Sept. 1, 2019. Additionally, it authorizes a judge or justice presiding over a court in this state to sign an electronic or digital court document. A document signed in this manner is an official document issued by the court. Most fees are effective on 9/1/2013; the $2 fee is effective on 1/1/2014.
SB 390 by West. Relating to the effective date of a new court cost or fee or of an amendment to the amount of a court cost or fee. Changes the effective dates of all new or amended court costs and fees collected by the clerk of a district, county, statutory, municipal or justice court until the next January after the law takes effect. Effective 6/14/2013.
SB 692 by Carona. Relating to the filing by electronic mail of financial disclosures by certain county officers, county employees or candidates for county office. Allows certain county officers or candidates for a county office to file the required financial disclosure statement with the county clerk by electronic mail. Effective 9/1/2013.
HB 712 by Murphy. Relating to the responsibility for keeping fire-fighting equipment furnished to a volunteer fire department by a county in good working order. Requires the petitioner for a volunteer fire department to maintain and repair fire-fighting equipment, removing the mandate off the county that donated the equipment. Effective 9/1/2013.
HB 1318 by Turner, Sylvester. Relating to the appointment of counsel to represent certain youths and indigent defendants. Requires a court appointed attorney to submit information that describes the percentage of the attorney’s practice time that was dedicated to court appointments for indigent defendants to the county each year on a form prescribed by the Texas Indigent Defense Commission (“Commission”). Requires a county to prepare and provide to the Commission information that describes for the preceding fiscal year the number of court appointments for indigent defendants made to each attorney accepting appointments in the county. Requires a county to provide to the Commission any plans or proposals submitted to the commissioners court with respect to public defender offices and managed assigned counsel programs, certain contracts relating to a contract defender program and any revisions to plans, proposals or contracts previously submitted to the Commission. The bill also requires the Commission to conduct a study for the purpose of determining guidelines for establishing a maximum allowable caseload for a criminal defense attorney representing indigent defendants.
Additionally, it prohibits a public defender’s office from accepting an appointment to represent an indigent defendant if the acceptance of the appointment would violate the maximum allowable caseloads established at the office and requires a court to determine whether the chief public defender has demonstrated adequate good cause for refusing the appointment. It also requires a court, in certain juvenile cases, to appoint counsel within a reasonable time before the first detention hearing to represent the child at that hearing, unless the court finds that the appointment is not feasible due to exigent circumstances. Effective 9/1/2013, except Sections 1 and 6 take effect 9/1/2014.
SB 511 by Whitmire. Relating to the commitment of certain juveniles to local post-adjudication secure correctional facilities in certain counties and to the release under supervision of those juveniles. Contains temporary provisions for housing certain juveniles with or without, determinate sentences in local facilities; the temporary provisions in this bill expire Dec. 31, 2018. Counties with a population of more than 1 million and less than 1.5 million that operate a secure post adjudication detention facility will have the authority to sentence juvenile felony offenders to the secure local facility instead of to a state facility operated by the Texas Juvenile Justice Department. Effective 12/1/2013.
SB 965 by Williams. Relating to the correction of employment termination reports for law enforcement officers. Allows an administrative law judge and the State Office of Administrative Hearings to order the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Education (TCLEOSE) to change a termination status upon hearing a petition for change of termination status if the alleged misconduct is not supported by a preponderance of the evidence. If a change is ordered, TCLEOSE will be required to send the corrected termination report to the terminating law enforcement agency for replacement of the original in the employment file. Effective 9/1/2013.
SB 1189 by Huffman. Relating to the disposition of certain firearms seized by a law enforcement agency. Provides law enforcement the authority and guidelines for the disposition of firearms seized when a person is taken into custody without a warrant due to a mental health crisis. Effective 9/1/2013.
HB 2392 by Menendez. Relating to the mental health program for veterans. Directs the Department of State Health Services to implement a mental health program for veterans that includes jail diversion services and veterans courts. Effective 9/1/2013.
HB 3793 by Coleman. Relating to powers, duties, and services of entities serving counties and county residents. Directs the Department of State Health Services to plan for the allocation and funding of an appropriate number of state mental hospital beds and outpatient treatment beds. It also establishes a planning advisory committee to review the state’s resources and the efficient provision of mental health services. In addition, the bill expands the list of mental health disorders eligible for assessment and treatment by local mental health authorities. The expansion of treatment for disorders such as post traumatic stress, obsessive compulsive, attention deficit, eating disorders and others will be prioritized only after the “big three” serious mental illnesses (bipolar, schizophrenia and depression) are treated and depending on availability of funds. Local mental health authorities are required to include jail diversion strategies in their management plans. Effective 9/1/2013, except Section 2 takes effect 1/1/2014.
SB 1475 by Duncan. Relating to a jail-based restoration of competency pilot program. Authorizes the establishment of a pilot program to administer in-jail competency restoration services to inmates declared incompetent to stand trial, instead of transporting them to a state mental hospital for competency treatment. Effective 9/1/2013.
HB 2414 by Button. Relating to open meetings of governmental bodies held by videoconference call and to written electronic communications between members of a governmental body. Allows a commissioners court to hold a meeting by videoconference call and authorizes a member of the court to participate in that meeting remotely if the video and audio feed meet certain criteria. During a meeting by videoconference call, the court must provide certain suitable physical space for the public to participate in the meeting and the member presiding over the meeting must be present at that physical location. The legislation also allows a governmental body to operate an online message board subject to certain regulations. A governmental body may communicate information regarding public business on this forum without the communication constituting a public meeting under certain circumstances; however, the governmental body may not vote or take any action that is required by Chapter 551 of the Government Code to be taken at a meeting. Effective 6/14/2013.
SB 1368 by Davis. Relating to public information pertaining to the official business of governmental bodies and to contracts by certain state governmental entities that involve the exchange or creation of public information. Amends the definition of public information under the Public Information Act to include any information (1) that a governmental body spends or contributes public money for the purpose of writing, producing, collecting, assembling or maintaining or (2) that is created by an individual officer or employee of a governmental body in his or her official capacity and is related to official business, and (3) any electronic communication on any device if it is in connection with the transaction of official business. The bill also adds a definition of "official business" among other provisions. Effective 9/1/2013.
SB 581 by Carona. Relating to procedures for securing the deposit of public funds. Removes the statutory requirement of the Public Funds Collateral Act that the collateral trust receipt be delivered by the custodian to the county treasurer. For a deposit of public funds, this bill revises statute to require the custodian, at the written direction of the appropriate public entity officer, to either issue and deliver a trust receipt for the pledged security to the appropriate public entity officer or to issue and deliver the trust receipt to the public entity's depository with instructions to immediately deliver the trust receipt to the public entity officer. The bill requires the custodian to issue and deliver the trust receipt as soon as practicable on the same business day on which the investment security is received. Effective 6/14/2013.
HB 1951 by Thompson, Senfronia. Relating to the licensing and requirements of telecommunicators; providing a criminal penalty. Increases the criteria and eligibility for employment as a telecommunicator (dispatcher) and mandates a minimum 20 hours training every 24 months. Effective 1/1/2014, except Section 12 takes effect 9/1/2013.
HB 699 by Davis, John. Relating to the location of certain public sales of real property. Allows the commissioners court to designate an area other than at the county courthouse where public sales of real property may take place. The area must be a public place within a reasonable proximity of the courthouse and in a location as accessible to the public as the courthouse door. The court is required to record that designation in the real property records of the county. The sale may not be held prior to the 90th day after the designated area is recorded. Effective 10/1/2013.
HB 1597 by Gonzalez, Naomi. Relating to installment payments of ad valorem taxes. Allows an individual who is disabled or at least 65 years of age and qualifies for a residence homestead exemption or a disabled veteran who qualifies for an exemption to make installment payments on the ad valorem taxes imposed on the residence homestead of the individual in four equal installments without penalty or interest if the first installment is paid before the delinquency date and is accompanied by a notice to the taxing unit that the person will pay the remaining taxes in three equal installments. The second installment must be paid before April 1, the third installment before June 1, and the fourth installment before August 1. The bill also prohibits the penalty from accruing on the unpaid balance during the period of the agreement and provides new language that must be included in a notice of delinquency instructing the homeowner to contact their tax office regarding entering into an installment agreement. Effective 9/1/2013.
SB 1510 by Hinojosa. Relating to the public notice required to be provided by certain taxing units before adopting an ad valorem tax rate. Authorizes a simplified tax notice as outlined under new Section 140.010 of the Local Government Code. It reduces the tax notice to three parts: the tax rate of the preceding year and the rate being proposed, a method for taxpayers to determine their own taxes, and information on getting assistance if a taxpayer needs help in understanding the notice. Effective 1/1/2014.
SB 825 by Whitmire. Relating to disciplinary standards and procedures applicable to grievances alleging certain prosecutorial misconduct. Revises the State Bar’s grievance procedures to prohibit private reprimands for grievances against prosecutors who fail to disclose exculpatory evidence and delays the start of the statute of limitations applying to such grievances until the date on which a wrongfully imprisoned person is released from a penal institution. Effective 9/1/2013.
HB 3795 by Coleman. Relating to the creation of a county assistance district. Allows for more than one county assistance district per commissioners precinct. Current law allows no more than one per precinct. Effective 6/14/2013.
SB 194 by West. Relating to ingress and egress for access by emergency vehicles and for use during evacuations in certain new residential subdivisions. Applies only to a residential subdivision that is divided into 1,000 or more lots and is in the unincorporated area of the county. Directs a commissioners court to adopt infrastructure standards requiring at least two means of ingress and egress in the subdivision to provide for sufficient routes of travel for emergency vehicles and for evacuation purposes resulting from fire or other natural disasters. This does not limit the authority of a commissioners court under any other existing law, as applicable, to adopt more stringent infrastructure standards. Effective 9/1/2013.
HB 7 by Darby. Relating to the amounts, availability, and use of certain statutorily dedicated revenue and accounts; reducing or affecting the amounts or rates of certain statutorily dedicated fees and assessments; making an appropriation. Directs the Legislative Budget Board (LBB) to develop and implement a process to review the dedication, appropriation, and accumulation of general revenue-dedicated funds. The bill further directs LBB to come up with measures on how to reduce the reliance on dedicated funds over the next six years. Among other provisions, the bill expands the use of various dedicated fund accounts. Effective 6/14/2013, except Section 19 takes effect 9/1/2015.
HB 10 by Pitts. Relating to making emergency supplemental appropriations and providing direction and transfer authority regarding certain appropriations. Various appropriations are made to cover expenditures, mainly relating to Medicaid costs for the current fiscal year which ends on Aug. 31, 2013. Effective 3/13/2013.
HB 1025 by Pitts. Relating to making supplemental appropriations and reductions in appropriations and giving direction and adjustment authority regarding appropriations. The bill makes several appropriation reductions in fiscal year 2013, while appropriating funds, including $1.5 million to the Veterans Commission to create two state strike force teams to address the backlog of claims in Houston and Waco. Among other provisions, the bill also appropriates $15 million to the Trusteed Programs within the Office of the Governor to assist units of local governments affected by wildfires and disaster-related events. The governor’s line item vetoes reduced available appropriations by over $500 million. Effective 6/14/2013 (Note: line-item vetoes).
SB 1 by Williams. General Appropriations Bill. As the state budget, SB 1 reflects the conference committee report which appropriates $197 billion for the next two years (2014-15). The Governor vetoed several line-items within the state budget, including the Public Integrity Unit which will directly impact Travis County. Appropriations for county-related state funded programs are shown in this chart. Effective 9/1/2013 (Note: line-item vetoes).
SB 1747 by Uresti. Relating to funding and donations for transportation projects, including projects of county energy transportation reinvestment zones. Creates the transportation infrastructure fund, a dedicated account in the state treasury, which consists of eligible federal and state funds, as well as gifts or grants. Grants the Texas Department of Transportation the authority to develop policies and procedures to administer a grant program to counties for transportation infrastructure projects located in areas of the state affected by increased oil and gas production. Creates a formula for grant distribution during a fiscal year among counties that designated a county energy transportation reinvestment zone, appropriating 20 percent to counties based on weight tolerance permits issued in the preceding fiscal year, 20 percent according to oil and gas production taxes in the preceding fiscal year, 50 percent determined by well completions in the preceding fiscal year, and 10 percent according to the volume of oil and gas waste injected in the preceding fiscal year.
The bill also allows a county to designate an area affected by oil and gas exploration and production and create a county energy transportation reinvestment zone. The bill includes requirements regarding an advisory board and for holding a public hearing on the creation of the zone, on its benefits to the county and to property in the proposed zone. It establishes an ad valorem tax increment account for the zone funded by taxes collected on property in a zone to be used for transportation projects located in the zone, and, in the alternative, allows a county to create a road utility district, with the same boundaries as the zone, which may issue bonds. Effective 9/1/2013.
HB 4 by Ritter. Relating to the administration of the Texas Water Development Board and the funding of water projects by the board and other entities; authorizing the issuance of revenue bonds. Serves as the enabling legislation for SJR 1 and together with this proposed constitutional amendment and HB 1025 will provide $2 billion for funding the state water plan. It creates two funds in the state treasury and outside the general revenue fund, sets aside no less than 10 percent of the funds for rural political subdivisions or agricultural water conservation and no less than 20 percent for water conservation and reuse projects. It also restructures the Water Development Board from 6 part-time members to three full-time, paid members, and sets forth requirements for areas of expertise for them. Effective 9/1/2013, with certain sections contingent upon voter approval of SJR 1.
HB 677 by Geren. Relating to the regulation and enforcement of dam safety by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Amends Section 12.052 (e-1) of the Texas Water Code to change the exclusion requirements for privately owned dams from counties with populations of less than 215,000 to counties with populations of less than 350,000. Using U.S. Army Corps of Engineer dam survey data, the result of the legislation is the addition of nine counties and 123 dams to the list of dams no longer under the purview and regulation of the TCEQ Dam Safety program. It brings the total number of exempted dams to nearly 3,000 low hazard and 225 significant hazard dams. Effective 9/1/2013.
SJR 1 by Williams. Proposing a constitutional amendment providing for the creation of the State Water Implementation Fund for Texas and the State Water Implementation Revenue Fund for Texas to assist in the financing of priority projects in the state water plan. Creates two special funds in the state treasury, outside the general fund, to be administered by the Water Development Board for the purpose of funding the state water plan. Upon its passage, $2 billion from the rainy day fund would be transferred into these accounts for that purpose. Election date: 11/5/2013.