The Week Behind Us and the Week(s) Ahead of Us – This week, Senate State Affairs heard eminent domain bills and moved the big eminent domain bill out of committee. The goal of reforming the Driver Responsibility Program is in sight. We are figuring out how to collect sales tax on internet sales, and some legislators are mulling over the idea of moving the driver’s license program out of the Department of Public Safety and over to the Department of Motor Vehicles. House Juvenile Justice and Family Issues heard an important bill regarding changing the age of criminal responsibility and an important county treasurers’ bill got voted out of the Senate.
Senate State Affairs Hears Eminent Domain Bills - On March 11, Senate State Affairs heard three bills by Sen. Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown) relating to eminent domain authority and landowner rights. Current law requires a condemning entity to present the Landowner’s Bill of Rights to a landowner by the time an entity first represents that it possesses the power of eminent domain. SB 552 provides the Landowner Bill of Rights include the condemning entity’s responsibility for any actual damages arising from an examination or survey of the property; the property owner’s right to negotiate the terms of the examination or survey of the property; and the condemning entity’s ability to sue to obtain a court order authorizing the examination or survey. The legislation also requires a survey permission form to conspicuously include the same information and to clearly state rights of the landowner and the eminent domain authority. SB 553 requires a condemnor to make a separate offer for desired land that the condemnor will not seek to condemn and updates the Landowner’s Bill of Rights to include information on that provision.
Current law allows a property owner to repurchase land acquired through eminent domain if within 10 years the property is not used for the stated public use. The law prohibits a private property owner from repurchasing the land if the entity has made “actual progress” toward the public use. SB 554 would increase from two to three, the minimum number of certain completed actions needed to meet the definition of “actual progress.” All three bills were reported favorably from committee and recommended for the Local/Uncontested Calendar and have been set on Senate Intent Calendar beginning Monday, March 18th.
Update to SB 421 (Eminent Domain) - As filed, SB 421 by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham), relating to the acquisition of real property by an entity with eminent domain authority, amends the property acquisitions process. It includes minimum easement terms for utilities and pipelines; a standard easement form promulgated by the Attorney General; mandatory public hearings at the county level for projects prior to land acquisition process; expands factors that special commissioners must consider in estimating injury to property owners; and specifies penalties in the event that the special commissioners’ award is in excess of the initial offer by at least 25 percent.
After working with numerous stakeholders who were requested by Chair Huffman to submit agreed upon language, a committee substitute was laid out on March 11 in Senate State Affairs. Section 1 of the committee substitute is problematic because it requires all condemners, including counties, to initially offer an amount equal to or greater than 145 percent of the market value of the property as determined by a certified appraiser, which could be a violation of Article III Section 52 of the Texas Constitution, which prohibits public entities from gifting public money. Simply put, counties are constitutionally prohibited from paying property owners more than fair market value. The substitute also includes language that requires all condemners to obtain a written appraisal report from an appraiser selected by or approved by the landowner before making a final offer. The committee substitute for the bill was voted favorably from committee and has been placed on Senate Intent Calendar beginning Monday, March 18th.
Repealing the Drivers Responsibility Program (DRP) - Repealing the DRP remains one of the top priorities for county government. Counties have continued to work with the Texas Hospital Association and other stakeholders to come up with a solution to maintain the critical funding mechanism for trauma care while repealing the program. This session, the coalition led by Hermann Memorial Hospital met with leadership and other members of the Legislature to come up with a solution. HB 2014 by Rep. John Zerwas (R-Richmond) and SB 918 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) are the beginnings of the solution.
As filed, the bills include increasing the state traffic fine, increasing the DWI fine and increasing a transportation fee. However, the bill repeals the DRP program freeing all those who languish under the program currently. It also repeals the surcharges for driving without a license and driving without insurance. It should be noted that the changes are not soft on crime – as the additional traffic fines imposed for certain offenses, including Driving While Intoxicated, are in addition to the existing fines and punishment already authorized by law for those offenses.
The bills are a starting point. We are aware of problems with its current structure and are working to correct them. Please reach out if you have thoughts about problems and solutions to help the process along. There is a real commitment to repealing the program as you can tell by the bill authors. County officials are encouraged to provide feedback and keep their legislators informed of our progress. For questions and comments please feel free to reach out to Rick Thompson.
Post-Wayfair: Collecting Sales Tax on Internet Sales - The U. S. Supreme Court’s South Dakota v. Wayfair decision overturned a five-decade-old stance that a seller must have an in-state physical presence before being required to collect sales and use tax. The 86th Session has seen several bills to clarify the statutes and position Texas to be able to collect sales tax from a marketplace provider.
SB 890 by Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) and HB 1525 by Rep. Dustin Burrows (R-Lubbock) outline the administration and collection of sales and use taxes involving marketplace providers. The bills define a marketplace seller, the duties to collect, and determine the location of the sale to be the location the items are delivered. HB 1525 has a positive fiscal note of roughly $550 million through the next biennium. SB 70 Nelson and HB 2153 by Burrows would establish a single local use tax rate of 1.75 percent for goods subject to sales tax by a seller who may not have a physical presence in the state and are not currently collecting local sales tax.
Both House bills were heard on March 13 in the House Ways & Means Committee, received positive testimony, and were left pending. It is expected they will be voted out next week. Both Senate bills will be heard in Senate Finance on March 18.
Raising the Age - On March 13, the House Committee on Juvenile Justice and Family Issues considered legislation that would raise the age of criminal responsibility for juveniles. HB 344 by Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston), who chairs the committee, would raise the age of criminal responsibility from 17 to 18 years old. The bill is similar to legislation that passed the House last session, but stalled in the Senate.
When laying out the bill, Dutton noted that Texas is one of four states that considers 17 year-olds as adults for the purposes of the criminal justice system. According to the fiscal note for the legislation, imposing such a change would have a significant fiscal impact on both the state and counties, as the costs associated with the juvenile justice system are generally more expensive than those associated with the adult criminal justice system.
The committee also heard HB 1364 by Rep. Gene Wu (D-Houston), a bill that would raise the minimum age in which a person may be subject to juvenile jurisdiction from 10 to 12 years old. Both bills were left pending.
Licenses and Registration - On March 13, the House Transportation Committee heard HB 1262 by Rep. Keith Bell (R-Forney). The bill allows certain vehicles not required to get an inspection to extend the number of years between registrations for up to five years. The owner of the vehicle can choose how many years in between each registration and remit the appropriate fee at that time. For example, the bill would require an individual to pay an amount equal to five years of registration fees at the time they receive their registration if the person opts to go five years without registering their vehicle. The bill was left pending.
Additionally, HB 11 by Rep. Ed Thompson (R-Pearland) was referred to the House Transportation Committee this week. The bill transfers the driver’s license program from the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) to the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) in September of 2020. This bill differs from the Sunset legislation, HB 1530 by Rep. Chris Paddie (R-Marshall) and SB 616 by Sen. Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury), which require DPS to conduct a study and create a transition plan prior to the transfer of the program in 2021.
Treasurer Platform bill Passes Senate- The county Treasurers platform bill, SB 354 by Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. (D – Brownsville) was heard on the Senate floor on March 13. This bill was filed in response to Attorney General Opinion KP-160. The bill removes the population bracket for counties with a population of 190,000 of fewer, thus allowing these smaller counties to approve expenditures at regular commissioners court meetings like larger counties can. SB 354 was unanimously passed to engrossment and now heads to the House. The companion, HB 1047 by Rep. Ryan Guillen (D-Rio Grande City), has been referred to the House County Affairs 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.
- MyTLO section of Texas Legislature Online – use it to create customized alerts for specific committee meetings or to track specific bills.