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Week in Review: A Digest of What Happened This Week at the Capitol

​TAC on the Lege — Weekly Video Series

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​TAC on the Lege — A conversation about what’s important to counties this week in the Texas Legislature, starting with the waiting game on naming budget conferees, a quick reminder on the revenue cap bills lurking in the House, the latest on Rep. Coleman’s wide-ranging law enforcement and mental health bill, more on the RE:SearchTX bill county and district clerks have been keeping their eyes on, the possible repeal of CTERZ, another problematic property tax consultants bill, a passel of eminent domain bills, more fireworks (Juneteenth and Labor Day) and unfunded mandates (this time for jails) and a resolution that could stop them. 

Week in Review: A Digest of What Happened This Week at the Capitol​

The Week Behind Us and the Week(s) Ahead of Us – We expect the two chambers to appoint budget conferees in the coming days, and some in the Capitol community will spend their idle moments handicapping the possibility of success in reaching an agreed-upon budget. House Homeland Security and Public Safety took up a comprehensive bill on mental health, jail policy and procedures and law enforcement policy and procedures. An important e-filing bill made its way out of its committee of origin, and Senate and House committees heard from district clerks about needed increases in the number of prospective grand jurors. There were fireworks bills in County Affairs and an effort to crack open the appraisal rolls moved out of its Senate committee. House Land and Resource Management heard a passel of eminent domain bills well into the night and we have an update from Senate IGR.

As far as revenue cap bills, keep up your contact with your House members, the members of House Ways and Means and the members of House Calendars. Further restricting the ability of counties to generate property tax revenue, while ignoring the cost of government (including unfunded mandates) and willfully ignoring the root cause of rising property taxes (the over-reliance on local property tax payers to fund public schools), is bad public policy. Period. 

“Moneytalks” – Now that each chamber has finalized its version of the state budget, both bills will head into the last phase of the budget process in which the conference committee works to reconcile the differences between the two budget plans.

Both budget plans include an “Article XI” – a sort of wish list of items for consideration, but not actually adopted into the budget – set aside for further debate by the conference committee.

Numerous state-funded programs, from both budget versions, that are important to county government are shown in the latest TAC budget summary report.

“Have You Ever Spent the Night in Jail?” – One of the most comprehensive bills offered this session is by County Affairs Chairman Garnet Coleman (D-Houston). House Bill 2702, titled the Sandra Bland Act, addresses many topics studied throughout the interim and seeks to improve the quality of law enforcement interactions with persons being detained or arrested and those who are in jail suspected of having mental health issues. The bill provides structure for regional mental health collaborative programs for counties with populations less than 100,000, intending to divert the mentally ill or homeless from the justice system.

Additional measures in the bill include equipping high-risk cells in county jails with automated electronic sensors to ensure accurate and timely cell checks and having the ability to access a mental health or other health professional either on site or through a tele-mental health or tele-health service 24 hours a day. Chairman Coleman continues to reach out to understand the concerns expressed by major law enforcement agencies across the state relating to various sections of the bill, including notifications at traffic stops, prohibited arrests on fine-only misdemeanors and additional procedures during consent searches. A committee substitute is anticipated; the bill is pending in the Homeland Security and Public Safety committee.

“Our Lips Are Sealed” – The House Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence met on April 10 to discuss several bills, including HB 1258 by Rep. Travis Clardy (R-Nacogdoches), a bill that relates to information publicly available in a state court document database and authorizes a fee to be set by the Supreme Court. The bill also addresses the storage of documents in the statewide database to not compromise the integrity of the official court records and the nondisclosure of confidential or sensitive data contained in the documents. The bill was voted favorably as substituted.

“Double Vision” – The Senate State Affairs Committee met on April 11 and considered SB 1298 by Sen. Joan Huffman, (R-Houston), a bill that increases the maximum number of prospective grand jurors a district judge may summon from 125 to 250. The bill was voted favorably from committee.

“One Way or Another” – House Criminal Jurisprudence met on April 10 and considered HB 2286 by Rep. Brooks Landgraf (R-Odessa), a bill to allow a district judge to summon as many prospective grand jurors as deemed necessary to ensure an adequate number are available from which to select a grand jury panel. The bill also changes the qualifications required to be a grand juror. The bill requires grand jurors be at least 18 years of age, a citizen of the United States, A resident of this state and qualified by both, the Constitution and state law, to vote regardless of whether or not the person is a registered voter. The bill was left pending in committee.

“Time Waits for No One” – The House Elections Committee met on April 10 and considered HB 365 by Rep. Drew Darby, (R-San Angelo), a bill that directs the Secretary of State to conduct a study regarding the feasibility of implementing a single uniform election held in November. The bill was left pending in committee.

“All Apologies”SB 1847 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) creates substantial property tax refund situations. As a result, it would create a budgeting problem for counties who will have to try to anticipate these refunds, and it may have a significant fiscal impact. Counties would also have to pay for the cost of increased protests that this bill will incentivize. The bill was reported out favorably by Senate Finance.

“I’m a Tool Pusher from Snyder”HB 2813 by Rep. Drew Darby (R-San Angelo) was heard in House Energy Resources on Monday. The bill will be substituted to preserve the county infrastructure fund but will abolish the county energy reinvestment zones created by SB 1747 in 2013. The bill was left pending in committee awaiting the substitute language.

“We Didn’t Start the Fire” – The House Committee on County Affairs met on Monday to hear testimony on several bills important to counties including a pair of fireworks bills proposed by Rep. James White (R-Hillister). HB 41 and HB 554 would allow for the sale of fireworks on Juneteenth and Labor Day respectively. Chairman White agreed to accept language from counties requiring commissioners court approval by order allowing for the sale. Also heard in Committee were HB 4142 and HB 4180 by Chairman Garnet Coleman (D-Houston). These bills are an attempt at a comprehensive restructuring of the behavioral health system, including within county jails. Counties are working closely with the chairman in an effort to make significant improvements in these areas. None of these bills were voted out of committee.

“Hard Hat and a Hammer” – The Committee on Land and Resource Management met on Wednesday, April 12. Among the many bills heard were six pieces of legislation relating to eminent domain. HB 2090 by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston) would amend the Property Code to require that property continuously owned by a single family for 100 or more years be designated as a heritage property. If this heritage property is acquired through eminent domain, a bona fide offer must be equal to or greater than 150 percent of appraisal and include damages, if any, to the property owner’s remaining property.

Also heard was HB 2684 by Rep. DeWayne Burns (R-Cleburne) that would require the condemning entity to reimburse the attorney and expert fees incurred by the condemnee if the Special Commissioner's award or Final Judgment in Condemnation is at least 20 percent greater than the condemner's final offer.

The agenda also included HB 2694 by Rep. Kyel Kacal (R-College Station) relating to requirements for a bona fide offer for the acquisition of property by an entity with eminent domain authority; HB 2556 by Rep. Justin Holland (R-Rockwall) relating to the appraisal required in connection with a bona fide offer to acquire real property by an entity with eminent domain authority; HB 3170 by Rep. Cecil Bell, Jr. (R-Magnolia) relating to the protection of the rights of a property owner in an eminent domain proceeding and HB 3687 by Rep. Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin) relating to the acquisition of property by an entity with eminent domain authority. Stakeholders continue to meet with bill authors to find agreed-upon language. All of these eminent domain bills were left pending in committee.

“Another Brick in the Wall (Hey! Teachers! Leave Those Kids Alone!)” – On Monday afternoon, upon adjournment, the House Committee on Investments and Financial Services met to hear a long agenda of bills ranging from certain consumer loans and debt cancellation agreements to financial exploitation of certain individuals. These included HB 3082 by Rep. Giovanni Capriglione (R-Southlake) relating to investment training requirements for certain local government officers. Similar to a bill filed last session, this legislation reduces the number of hours of instruction relating to investment responsibilities required for local government investment officers from 10 to five. HB 3082, as filed, included county treasurers. Travis County Treasurer Dolores Ortega Carter testified in favor of the committee substitute stating county treasurers wished to be removed from the bill and thanked the author for doing so while offering substitute language. HB 3802 was left pending in committee.

“Texas Flood” – The Senate Committee on Intergovernmental Relations met Monday, April 10, to discuss a number of water district bills, including several Montgomery County municipal utility district (MUD) bills.

SB 749 by Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin) would help bring Bastrop County Water Control and Improvement District #2 roads up to minimum standards so that the county would accept ownership of them. The district’s roads were damaged by heavy flooding; this bill would allow a slight increase in fees per owner lot to make it easier to sell bonds needed to improve the 30 miles of flood damaged roads.

In addition, the following bills by Sen. Brandon Creighton (R- Conroe) SB 991, SB 992, SB 993 and SB 994 would authorize existing MUDs in Montgomery County to impose taxes and fees, incur debt to build roads and allow limited eminent domain authority. SB 995 and SB 996, also by Creighton, would create new MUDs able to issue bonds to incur debt for road construction and grant them the authority to impose taxes and fees. All bills were left pending in committee.

Helpful Tracking Links for Legislation

  • County Bills by Office as tracked by the Texas Association of Counties.
  • Senate and House committee postings are available on Texas Legislature Online.
  • O section of Texas Legislature Online — ​use it to create customized alerts for specific committee meetings or to track specific bills. ​​​​​​​​​​  ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​