TAC Legislative Services staff has highlighted some recently filed bills of interest to county officials. These include several bills in line with state leadership priorities. Among them, on Wednesday, Sen. Bettencourt filed SB 10, relating to the use by a county or municipality of public money for lobbying activities; see below for more information on this bill.
HB 3 by Rep. Burrows – Known as the ‘Texas Pandemic Response Act’, the committee substitute would change how state and local governments prepare, respond and recover from future pandemic disasters. The legislation would also address the governor’s emergency powers during a pandemic and create a 10-member Pandemic Disaster Legislative Oversight Committee, consisting of the Lt. Governor, Speaker of the House and several chairs from both chambers. The oversight committee has the authority to act only when the legislature is not convened and has the authority to review any pandemic disaster declaration in effect for more than 30 days.
Among the many provisions, the committee substitute would:
- Define pandemic disaster.
- Authorize the governor to declare a state of pandemic disaster.
- Name the presiding officer of a political subdivision as the pandemic emergency management director for that political subdivision.
- Preempt local orders, rules or proclamations in response to a state or local state of pandemic disaster where inconsistent with those issued by the governor of the Texas Department of State Health Services.
- Prohibit an election official of a political subdivision from seeking to alter any voting standard in response to a pandemic disaster and directs they must first obtain approval from the Secretary of State by written request.
- Add a provision that would freeze tax revenues for one year for any county or city that issues an order requiring a private business to close in response to a pandemic.
- Provide a person commits an offense for failure to comply with pandemic components of the emergency management.
HB 2812 by Rep. Murphy – Creates a disaster relief loan fund for political subdivisions at the comptroller’s office. To be eligible, the applying entity must be in a disaster area as declared by the governor and meet Federal Emergency Management Agency criteria for financial assistance.
HB 2826 by Rep. Bonnen – Provides a law enforcement officer access to their personnel file (renamed "department file") and requires the department to include any statement an officer submits in the file. Grants rulemaking authority to the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement to prescribe how a law enforcement agency may access a prospective hire’s department file possessed by a prior agency.
HB 2916 by Rep. Schofield – Allows the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) to prosecute the criminal offenses of sedition, bribery and corrupt influence, abuse of office, rioting, and obstruction of a highway or other passageway. Repeals Section 39.015 of the Penal Code, which requires the OAG to obtain consent from the appropriate local county or district attorney prior to prosecuting abuse of office cases.
HB 3139 by Rep. Longoria - Authorizes all governmental bodies to conduct virtual meetings in compliance with open meetings act by conference or video call so long as the public can monitor proceedings and offer testimony. Requires that all meetings be recorded and made publicly available.
HB 3295 by Rep. Senfronia Thompson – Allows a district or county attorney to prosecute an action under the Deceptive Trade Practices Act for cases involving improperly licensed massage establishments without having to gain permission from the OAG’s Consumer Protection Division so long as they provide prior written notice to the division. See also SB 1214 by Sen. Huffman.
HB 3413 by Rep. Murr – Cleans up language regarding the occupational driver’s license.
HB 2809 by Rep. Murphy – Exempts certain contracts from the attorney general review process. This is a priority bill for the Tax Assessor-Collectors Association of Texas (TACA). Last session, TACA supported legislation enabling counties to enter into contracts with third-party vendors for the collection of delinquent alcohol license fees and permits. However, the legislation got caught under the purview of another bill that requires these contracts to undergo attorney general review.
HB 3107 by Rep. Clardy – Provides numerous changes to the election code on practices and procedures in conducting an election.
SB 7 by Sen. Hughes – Makes numerous changes to voter registration and elections. Includes, among other things: 1) If the registrar determines an ineligible person has registered to vote, must notify the attorney general, secretary of state, along with the local prosecuting attorney. 2) If the secretary of state has to makes corrections for a local registrar on the voter registration list, the registrar could be subject to civil penalties of $100 per each violation corrected. 3) The early voting clerk may not solicit a person to complete an application for a ballot-by-by mail or by third party. 3) If an application for a ballot-by-mail is requested on the grounds of a disability must require the applicant to affirm their disability by agreeing with a statement they are physically unable to enter the polling place without assistance. 4) Provides for an electronic tracker system for ballots voted by mail. 5) The signature verification committee may use any known signature to verify a voter’s signature. 6) Ballots-by-mail shall be tabulated separately from ballots voted in person. 7) Early voting ballots must be scanned on both sides. 8) Expands protection for poll watcher and observers. 9) Each countywide polling place in the county must have the same number of voting machines. 10) An election officer who knowingly refuses to accept a poll watcher for service commits an offense of a Class A Misdemeanor.
The bill is included in the Lt. Governor’s priority bill list for the 2021 legislative session on election integrity and ballot security.
SB 10 by Sen. Bettencourt – Places restrictions on lobbying activities by counties and municipalities. Prohibits the governing bodies of both from spending public money or providing compensation in any manner to either directly or indirectly influence or attempt to influence the outcome of any legislation pending before the legislature, with certain enumerated exceptions.
SB 14 by Sen. Creighton – Prohibits a county or municipality from regulating terms of employment in a manner that exceeds or conflicts with state or federal law relating to leave policies, hiring practices, benefits, scheduling or other terms of employment. An exception is provided for a voluntary contract between a private entity and a governmental entity.
SB 17 by Sen. Taylor – Amends the Civil Practice and Remedies code to require that in civil actions involving a commercial motor vehicle, on motion by a defendant, a court shall provide for a bifurcated trial. Contains other provisions related to evidentiary and payment procedures in these cases. Lieutenant Governor priority bill intending to “Protect Texas Trucking.” See also HB 19 by Rep. Leach.
SB 22 by Sen. Springer – Establishes that if a peace officer, fire fighter, detention officer, county jailer or emergency medical services employee contracts a disease that is the basis for a gubernatorial disaster declaration, it is presumed to have been contracted during the course and scope of duty, and therefore entitles the employee to reimbursement from the employing entity for medical expenses.
SB 23 by Sen. Huffman – Requires local government entities to hold an election and receive voter approval prior to adopting a budget that reduces a law enforcement agency’s budget appropriation, the number of officers an agency is authorized to employ, the total amount of funding per officer for overtime, or the amount of funding per officer for recruitment and training of new officers. If in violation of these provisions, a county or municipality would be prohibited from raising taxes. Lieutenant Governor priority bill with the intent to “Stop Local Police Defunding.” Also known as the “Back the Blue Act.”
SB 24 by Sen. Huffman – Requires the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE) to create a preemployment procedure for peace and non-peace officer positions. Peace officers would be subject to background checks including: prior employment personnel files, termination reports, service records, proof of meeting minimum qualifications, military service records, criminal history, pending warrants, insurance and claim history, driving record, social media activity and US citizenship. Prospective employees would also need to provide three personal references. Refusal of a candidate to provide consent to this procedure must be reported to TCOLE. The information submitted to the commission would not be confidential, and the head of a law enforcement agency that fails to comply with this procedure constitutes grounds for suspension of license.
SB 28 by Sen. Bettencourt – Requires counties and other local governments to an open-enrollment charter school a school district for purposes of zoning, permitting, plat approvals, fees or other assessments, construction or site development work, code compliance and development.
SB 30 by Sen. West – Allows for the removal of discriminatory restrictive language from certain property records held in the county clerk‘s office. The property owner or owner with interest in the property may request removal of offensive language on a form promulgated by the OAG.
SB 1340 by Buckingham – Designates the Secretary of State (SOS) as the chief voter registrar for the state and requires the SOS to maintain the voter registration list. Gives authority to the SOS and the Department of Public Safety to implement electronic voter registration.
SB 1530 by Sen. Huffman – Relates to the operation and administration, practice and procedure related to proceedings in the judicial branch of state government. Creates multiple district and county courts. Modifies practices and procedures for judges and clerks for both district and county-level courts. See also HB 3774 by Rep. Leach.