Veteran observers of the Texas Legislature know that every session takes on a theme of its own beyond the common budgetary concerns that unite all sessions. The theme this time around, Jim Allison, senior counsel for the County Judges and Commissioners Association of Texas, reflected at the start of Tuesday's legislative breakfast meeting, is to expand state control over local decision-making.
It's evident in a spate of preemption bills that would accelerate a trend that began several sessions ago by exerting state authority over areas traditionally delegated to local government, Allison said. He urged representatives of the various county office associations gathered Tuesday to join judges and commissioners in their effort to slow the loss of local control.
Rob Kepple, executive director of the Texas District and County Attorneys Association, thanked Allison for his testimony in opposition to one such bill, House Bill 1372 by Rep. Cody Harris (R-Palestine). Allison was one of several county officials and county staff members who appeared before the House Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Committee on March 15 to say that HB 1372 would prevent counties from pursuing public nuisance claims against companies whose products or actions cause harm, as counties have done to settle opioid lawsuits, for example.
The bill was left pending in committee. You can watch last week's testimony in this video recording. Discussion of HB 1372 begins at 1:01:40 with Rep. Harris explaining his bill. Allison's and other county testimony begins at 1:25:45.
The Senate version of HB 1372 is SB 1034 by Sen. Mayes Middleton (R-Galveston). SB 1034 is awaiting a hearing in the Senate State Affairs Committee.
TAC Legislative Consultant Caroline Love brought HB 1460 by Rep. Ryan Guillen (R-Rio Grande City) to the meeting's attention on behalf of the Tax Assessor-Collectors Association. HB 1460 would amend the Transportation Code to allow eligible vehicles to operate at an axle weight 15% greater than the limit set by current law. Not only could the additional weight damage county roads, increasing maintenance costs, but the Legislative Budget Board, citing an analysis by the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles and the Comptroller's office, also says the bill would result in fewer overweight permits being issued. Counties receive a share of fees from those permits. Fewer permits would result in a loss of $37.7 million to affected counties from fiscal year 2024 to 2028.
There are 65 days left in the 140-day regular session of the 88th Legislature. With the session's halfway point behind us, the pace is only going to get more frenzied from here on as lawmakers wade through a record number of bills – 7,892 as of the morning of March 24, of which more than 2,800 affect county government. TAC's Legislative Services team is tracking them all. Find them here.
Additional legislative resource materials can be found at www.county.org/legislative.
What happens at the Capitol affects counties. Stay up to date by joining TAC's Tuesday Morning Breakfasts in person or online each week at 7 a.m. Register here.