Photo: Terry Alexander
The Texas Legislature
In Texas we have a part-time legislative system. Our State Legislature meets every other year for 140 days in Austin. The 85th Session will run January 10, 2017 through May 29, 2017. The Governor has an option at the conclusion of each regular session to call a special 30 day session to resolve specific agenda items.
Texas Legislature Online is the official Web resource for bill tracking, schedules, committee progress, and member information. You can sign up to receive “alerts” regarding committee meetings and actions regarding bills you choose to track.
The last day to file bills (other than local) was March 10. By the filing deadline 7,702 bills had been filed, and as of that date, any bill that has been approved by their assigned Committees may be voted on by either chamber of the Legislature.
The budget reduction related to tax cuts and revenue shortfalls will produce a climate in which bills with a price-tag will find little purchase in appropriations committees.
The Texas Hill Country Region:
“All previous settlers of this region learned how the land and its resources, particularly water, could only support so many people, a certain quantity of livestock or a particular industry before its quality and quantity would be impacted. For all who choose the Hill Country as their home, an opportunity exists to accommodate existing needs without compromising the ability of future populations to meet their needs.” ~ Milan Michalec, HCA President 2013
The Hill Country Alliance (HCA) strives to serve as the “go-to” resource on issues related to the Texas Hill Country. Our region is blessed with a unique economy dependent on the charm and character of our towns, allure of our water features, beauty of our hills and landscapes and the generations of people who care for our heritage ranchlands. HCA strives to build support for sensible strategies to deal with tremendous amount of growth pushing away from Austin and San Antonio, in a way that protects our valuable and fragile natural resources for future generations.
85th Texas Legislative Session – 2017
The 85th Legislature regular session is complete and the Governor has spoken.
Hill Country Alliance tracked about 250 bills this session on a variety of topics important to our region’s health including special district creation (MUD, WCID, etc) groundwater, eminent domain, parks funding, local control, and chronic wasting disease in our white tail deer population. Of those, there were about forty water oriented bills filed in the House and Senate — most of which died in Committees.
A few were benign language clarifications or process clean-up bills, some were filed on behalf of the protection of our resources, and many were filed to move the needle toward looser volume restrictions and export permitting.
HCA participated with an array of individuals and organizations including those interested in property rights (eminent domain reform), healthy state parks, rainwater harvesting, groundwater protection, and river health to protect the natural assets that make the Hill Country a prosperous and beautiful place to live.
HCA reported On, In Favor, or Against a number of bills in Committee hearings. We crafted and delivered written and verbal testimony directly to Committees, and made numerous calls to Committee and Hill Country Caucus members on behalf of healthy water systems in the Hill Country.
The session in a nut-shell:
Only a few of many natural resource bills made it past the Governor’s desk. Some were good, and most bad bills were thwarted along the way.
What’s new for the Hill Country Caucus in the 85th Legislature:
- Kyle Biedermann R defeated incumbent Rep. Doug Miller in the primary and won the general election for House District 73 (Comal, Kendall, and Gillespie Counties).
- Dawn Buckingham R (District 24: Bandera, Kerr, Gillespie, Blanco, Llano, SW Travis, Burnett, and north) has won the retiring Senator Troy Fraser’s Senate seat.
- Diana Arevalo D (116: West Central Bexar) replaced Rep. Trey Martinez-Fisher.
- Representative Lyle Larson (R San Antonio) has replaced retiring Representative Jim Keffer as House Committee on Natural Resources Chairman.
- House and Senate Committees have been shuffled
- No changes:
- Senator Donna Campbell R (25: Hays, Comal, Kendall, N. Bexar)
- Senator Carlos Uresti D (19: Bexar, Medina, Uvalde, Kinney, Real, Edwards, Val Verde, west into the Trans-Pecos)
- Senator and Agriculture Water and Rural Affairs Chair Charles Perry R (28: Kimble, Mason, Menard, north to Oklahoma)
- Senator Kirk Watson D (14: Travis, Bastrop)
- Senator Jose Menendez D (26: Central Bexar)
- Senator Judith Zaffirini D (21: SE Travis to the Valley)
- Representative Andrew Murr R (53: Bandera, Medina, Real, Edwards, Kerr, Kimble, Mason, Llano)
- Representative Jason Issac R (45: Blanco, Hays)
- Representative Tracy King D (80: Uvalde south to Zapata) (Natural Resources Committee)
- Representative Paul Workman R (47: W. Travis) (Natural Resources Committee)
- Representative Donna Howard D (48: West Central Travis)
- Representative Lyle Larson R (122: NW Bexar)
- Speaker Joe Strauss R (121: North Central Bexar)
- Representative Marsha Farney R (20: Burnett, Williamson)
- Representative Rick Galindo R (117: West Bexar)
- Representative Ina Minjarez D (124: West Central Bexar)
- Representative Justin Rodriguez D (125: West Central Bexar)
The Legislature’s Interim Reports to inform the 2017 Legislature have been published. Interim Reports contain the questions for further investigation (Interim Charges) as posed by the Lieutenant Governor and Speaker of the House, contextual background information, invited testimony excerpts, and the Committees’ recommendations on how the legislature should address upcoming issues.
- Senate Committee on Agriculture, Water, and Rural Affairs Interim Report (with letters of reservation signed by three Committee members attached.) Read the entire Interim Report here.
- House Committee on Natural Resources Report here.
85th Legislative Session: Policy Priorities for the Texas Hill Country
The Hill Country region has significant economic value for Texas because of its unique natural features, river producing aquifers, heritage ranches, culture, beauty and quality of life assets.
The economy of the Hill Country and its land values are dependent upon a clean, plentiful water supply. Amidst a rapidly growing Texas and an enduring drought, we face the challenge of balancing water needs of rural farms and ranches, with growing urban communities. Fundamental to that challenge is the need to protect both the long-term health of our fragile water systems and the property rights of landowners.
In order to sustain water supplies we must realize a water policy framework that protects the health and flow of groundwater, springs, and streams and recognizes natural water catchment boundaries, commonly referred to as watersheds.
Our rivers are over-allocated, and groundwater levels and spring flows are declining. Now is the time for a more innovative, protective and conservative approach to water planning policy.
HCA recommends the following policy objectives to the 85th Texas Legislature:
• Recognize the physical relations between surface-water and groundwater and integrate water planning and management strategies to reflect this connection.
• Defend and enhance the authority of local Groundwater Conservation Districts (GCDs) and their ability to manage and conserve groundwater in accordance with the best available science.
• Dedicate state funding to incentivize the protection and stewardship of land by private landowners in critical Hill Country water catchment areas in order to maintain the essential role of land in capturing, cleansing and storing our water supply.
• Prioritize water conservation as the most effective, economical, and reliable method to address unmet water needs as identified in regional and state water plans.
• Protect water quality by providing more local oversight for industrial and commercial activities in fragile Hill Country riverbeds, floodways and floodplains.
• Encourage the use of grey water and rainwater harvesting systems in new and existing residential, commercial, and institutional developments.
• Enhance funding levels to conduct and support research that expands knowledge of the state’s water resources and how to best manage those resources, including the implementation of Water IQ.
• Appropriate funding for Texas Parks through the dedication of sporting goods tax revenue to Texas Parks and Wildlife.
• Defend local control and local ordinance decision making authority so that Hill Country communities can protect private property values, natural resources and quality of life as population continues to increase throughout the region.
• Reform eminent domain to ensure fairness for landowners
HCA Bill Listing – 85th Texas Legislature
GOOD for the Hill Country:
HB 1019: Keough MUD Reform
Requires MUD voters to have at least one-year residency before ability to vote for District creation or too be eligible to vote in an election authorizing a district’ first issuance of bonds payable wholly or partly from ad valorem taxes
HB 1334: Isaac Rainwater Tax Rebate
Explicitly excludes all installed Rain Water Harvesting equipment from ad-valorem tax evaluation and appraisal.
HB 1423: Isaac Billboard Prohibition
Extends list of billboard prohibition to include Highway 150 and FM 1826 in Hays County
HB 1471: Murr Wildlife Management
Includes Predation Control as eligible as land for appraisal for ad valorem tax purposes as qualified open-space land on the basis of its use for wildlife management.
HB 1536: Farrar Green Stormwater Infrastructure
Defines, initiates research, and implementation of “green stormwater infrastructure” that reduces and treats stormwater at the source using vegetation, soils, and other elements and practices to restore some of the natural processes required to manage stormwater.
HB 2005: Larson Aquifer Storage and Recovery
Relating to the duty of the Texas Water Development Board to conduct studies of and prepare and submit reports on aquifer storage and recovery.
HB 2240: Lucio III Conservation Financing
Requires that financial assistance provided to water providers under this chapter shall include conditions that require the recipient to have a water conservation program in place that includes enforceable time-of-day limitations on outdoor watering by its customers.
HB 2943: Larson Watershed Conservation Easements Vetoed by Governor
Authorizes the use of money in the state water pollution control revolving fund to purchase conservation easements for water quality.
HB 3417: King, Tracy O. Exempt Well Protection Died in Senate
GCDs must consider the effects of any new or altered permit on exempt wells.
HB 3166: Lucio III Aquifer Sustainability by TWDB Rule
“Modeled sustainable groundwater pumping” is the maximum amount of groundwater that the executive administrator determines may be produced in perpetuity from an aquifer on an annual basis using the best available science. and including “modeled sustainable groundwater pumping” in the list of hydrological conditions considered by the aquifer planning authority (GMA) in developing an aquifer’s Desired Future Condition.
SB 627: Schwertner Eminent Domain Reform
Provides for more property owner power to negotiate eminent domain proceedings
SB 696: Perry Surface Water Models Update Died in Committee
Relating to a requirement that the TCEQ obtain or develop updated water availability models for certain river basins.” BRAZOS RIVER BASIN, GUADALUPE RIVER BASIN, SAN ANTONIO RIVER BASIN, TRINITY RIVER BASIN by December 1, 2020.
SB 741: Kolkhorst Eminent Domain Reform
Allows just compensation for eminent domain takings to include profit percentages and/or royalties from pipeline’s service.
SB 742: Kolkhorst Eminent Domain Reform
Protects property owners’ rights by requiring the delineation of the provisions and requirements of eminent domain provisions on a property. If enforced, this requires a level of transparency that does not currently exist for these projects, and sets limits on abuses by the condemning entity.
SB 781: Zaffirini Aquifer Protection: Waste Water Discharges
Prohibits solid waste dumps on the recharge zone of any major aquifer that serves as a water supply for cities of over one million residents that are over 100 miles from the gulf.
SB 2026: Rodríguez Green Stormwater
Defines, initiate research, and implementation of “green stormwater infrastructure” that reduces and treats stormwater at the source using vegetation, soils, and other elements and practices to restore some of the natural processes required to manage stormwater.
BAD for the Hill Country:
HB 614: Leach Surface Water Rights
Tightens the procedure and time frame in which the TCEQ must respond to a permit application, and restricts SOAH Court remedies to dispute with party status restrictions.
HB 1135: Workman Impervious Cover Died in Committee
Limits local government ability to protect natural systems through zoning by prohibiting impervious cover requirements without compensation to the property owner.
HB 1523: Workman Travis Co. Special Utility District Died in Committee
Creates a Southwest Travis Co. Special Utility District that has the power of eminent domain, ability to take over existing water providers.
HB 2758: Geren Local Control: Seed Regulation
A political subdivision may not adopt an order, ordinance, or other measure that regulates agricultural seed, vegetable seed, weed seed, or any other seed in any manner, including planting seed or cultivating plants grown from seed. <SB 1172 by Senator Perry>
HB 2854: Paddie White Tail Transport allowance Died in Committee
TPWD may not deny authorization to trap, transport, and transplant breeder white-tailed deer between certain sites.
HB 3677: Isaac Groundwater District Dissolution Died in Committee
HEART OF TEXAS AQUIFER DISTRICT in Blanco, Burnet, Comal, Hays, and Kendall Counties (excluding the EAA, the BSEACD, and Plum Creek Districts) by dissolving those districts. Directors will be appointed by each county’s Commissioners Court. No provisions made for extensions of existing management, revenue, etc. No GCD directors or managers were consulted in this legislation.
HB 2855: Paddie White Tail Microchip Died in Committee
Instead of using a tattoo to identify a breeder deer under Subsection (c) or (d), a deer breeder may identify a deer by using a department-approved microchip implanted under the deer’s skin. Would make it more difficult to identify captive-bred deer.
HB 3827: Biedermann Chronic Wasting Disease Died in Committee
The TPWD shall pay the costs associated with testing breeder deer for chronic wasting disease instead of the breeder.
HB 3832: Biedermann Chronic Wasting Testing Financing Died in Committee
Breeder deer affected by chronic wasting disease. The TPWD shall make a payment to a deer breeder in an amount not to exceed $3,000 for each breeder deer that is destroyed because it has CWD.
HB 3833: Biedermann White Tail Ownership Died in Committee
Ownership of breeder deer. Converts breeder deer ownership to breeders and away from the state (and its ability to protect the common herd).
HB 3835: Biedermann Chronic Wasting Testing Financing Died in Committee
Breeder deer affected by chronic wasting disease. The TPWD shall make a payment to a deer breeder in an amount not to exceed $3,000 for each breeder deer that is destroyed because it has Chronic Wasting Disease.
HB 3846: Murr San Saba River
Creates a San Saba River Water Rights Plan, locating, assessing, and assembling research on stream gains and losses, geology, flows, rainfall, and evaporation rates by irrigators in Menard County. Would cede water rights controls from the TCEQ to those irrigators and provide no representation from downstream rights holders.
HB 4045: Cortez Needmore Ranch carve out from Barton Springs Aquifer District Died in Committee
Provides that a district shall issue permits without notice or opportunity for hearing to the owner of a parcel of land that contains greater than 1000 contiguous surface acres and is included in the territory of two or more groundwater conservation districts (Needmore Ranch in Hays County for example). A permit issued pursuant to this section shall authorize the production of a volume of groundwater on a per acre basis equal to the greatest amount of groundwater authorized under permits previously issued by the district receiving the permit application by calculating the per acre-foot per acre volume authorized.
HB 4122: Kacal Needmore Ranch carve out from Barton Springs Aquifer District Died in Committee
Removes BSEACD from regulatory authority of Needmore Ranch and grants that authority to HTGCD for the purposes of regulatory evasion. Substitute ALERT: The substitute version removes the requirement that the petitioner obtain approval from the groundwater district accepting the additional land. Also, the bill adds a requirement that in order to transfer into a district, only 20% of the landowner’s land needs to be located within the district. Twenty percent of Needmore Ranch is within HTGCD.
HB 4304: Workman Habitat Protection Areas and Parks Died in Committee
Pertains to Travis County only. Anti-conservation bill to limit parks/Habitat Protection Areas. Would require deleting all public parkland from the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve, contrary to the commitments made in Austin’s and Travis County’s habitat conservation plan and the conditions of their Endangered Species Act permit.
HB 4327: Workman Travis Co. Special Utility District Died in Committee
Creates a Southwest Travis Co. Special Utility District that has the power of eminent domain, ability to take over existing water providers
SB 225: Van Taylor TCEQ Access to Redress
Requires TCEQ to narrow the scope of issues that may be brought before the State Office of Administrative Hearing, and who may be party to those proceedings
SB 782: Campbell Local Control: Trees Died in Committee
No Municipality or County may protect trees within their jurisdiction
SB 786: Nichols Eminent Domain
Prohibits the use of eminent domain for the purposes of parks and or recreation
SB 1006: Nichols Tax Assessment of Research Land
Eliminates land that is used principally as an ecological laboratory by a public or private college or university from qualification for appraisal as qualified open-space land
SB 1172: Perry Local Control: Seeds Signed by Governor
A political subdivision may not adopt an order, ordinance, or other measure that regulates agricultural seed, vegetable seed, weed seed, or any other seed in any manner, including planting seed or cultivating plants grown from seed.
SB 1385: Campbell Local Control: Impervious Cover
Limits local government ability to protect natural systems through zoning — by prohibiting impervious cover requirements without compensation to the property owner.
SB 2254: Hinojosa Needmore Ranch GCD Creation Died in Committee
Creates a Needmore Ranch mini GCD. Excludes Needmore Ranch from regulatory authority from the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District which would allow unfettered aquifer pumping.
SB 1814: Hinojosa Needmore Ranch carve out from Barton Springs Aquifer District Died in Committee
Removes BSEACD from regulatory authority of Needmore Ranch and grants that authority to HTGCD for the purposes of regulatory evasion.
HB 31: Larson
Groundwater Export Permits Groundwater Omnibus Died on Senate side
“Relating to the regulation of groundwater” This bill’s caption is very broad, and it has the potential to be the bucket into which all kinds of amendments may be placed. Although the bill incorporates some parts of TWCA “consensus” legislation on groundwater, it does not track the TWCA bill. “GCDs may not limit export permits and all export permits must enjoy automatic renewal to time limits not less than the time limits of their production permits”. As session neared the end, this bill became a vehicle for many amendments, including language from SB 1392
HB 922: Workman Travis County GCD Died in Senate Chamber
Creation of Southwest Travis County GCD. Changes are being made to this bill, however bill language does not yet satisfy the minimum requirements of a functional GCD (it has a very limited geography and is not adequately funded). Eventually made it over to the Senate with improved language where it got some more language change amendments only to languish and die. However, it was passed at the last moment by being attached to HB 4345 as an amendment —
HB 2851: Workman Onion Creek Flood Control district
Relating to the creation of the Onion Creek Watershed Hays and Travis Counties Flood Control District No. 1; granting a limited power of eminent domain; providing authority to impose assessments and fees but not the ad-valorem authority that most flood control districts in the state require for adequate funding. Although it is supported by homeowners in the Onion Creek subdivision it is opposed by the Buda City Council.
Various MUD / WCID Bills
Municipal Utility District (MUD) and Water Conservation and Improvement District (WCID) bills are usually filed as local legislation at the request of development interests in order to create an administrative and funding vehicle for growth outside of incorporated city limits. These Special Districts bills are often filed without consultation with local stakeholders and without consideration of the ability of local infrastructure systems to accommodate the new population’s public safety, transportation, water and wastewater needs.
There are a number of local Special District bills in the legislature this session and many of them are seeing stiff opposition from county level constituencies who are concerned by the potential for negative impacts on their water supplies and property values.
HB 4273: Isaac N. Hays County MUD 2
Relating to the creation of the North Hays County Municipal Utility District No. 2; granting a limited power of eminent domain; providing authority to issue bonds; providing authority to impose assessments, fees, and taxes.
HB 4278: Workman W. Travis Co. MUD 3
Relating to the powers and duties and election of the board of directors of the West Travis County Municipal Utility District No. 3. (Lake Pointe)
HB 4301: Isaac Driftwood Conservation District
Relating to the creation of the Driftwood Conservation District (MUD and Water Utility); granting a limited power of eminent domain; providing authority to issue bonds, impose assessments, fees, condemnation, roads, and ad valorem taxes. Also, allows for treated stormwater ASR, and would feature a new golf course.
HB 4309: Isaac Driftwood MUD 1
Mandola Tract MUD with usual powers including a water conservation aspect.
SB 914: Campbell Kendall Co. WCID 3
Relating to the creation of the Kendall County Water Control and Improvement District No. 3; granting a limited power of eminent domain; providing authority to issue bonds; providing authority to impose assessments, fees, and taxes. 1,012 acres off Upper Balcones Road, where Bakke Development Corp. plans commercial sites and up to 2,450 new homes known as known as Rocking B Ranch.
SB 2273: Campbell Kendall Co. WCID 4
Relating to the creation of the Kendall County Water Control and Improvement District No. 4; granting a limited power of eminent domain; providing authority to issue bonds; providing authority to impose assessments, fees, and taxes. <See HB 4323: Biedermann> 1,142 acres off Texas 46. 400 to 750 residences, each reported to cost between $500,000 and $2 million.
Legislative News Resources:
While we update our website regularly with Hill Country specific information, Texas Tribune Online is an extremely valuable resource for up to the minute news from the Leg.
The Texas Tribune also has excellent data resources to help you learn more including a directory of elected officials, super PACs, campaign finance sources, explore more on your own at Texas Tribune Data.
Hill Country Alliance Constituent Survey:
HCA conducted a survey of Hill Country constituents in the fall of 2014. Fifty-three percent of the respondents identified themselves as rural, 25% as suburban, and 22% as urban residents.
According to this survey, the two most pressing issues threatening the Hill Country are depleted groundwater resources (81% response) and the threat from unregulated development (66% response).
Respondents supported the use of regulations to limit damage to shared natural resources. A significant majority of respondents (77%) identified with the phrase “Private property rights should be accompanied by government regulations necessary to protect the natural resources of the Hill Country.”
Most respondents support regulations to protect the environment at the local level. In fact, a strong majority of respondents (64%) believe that counties should have the authority to regulate incompatible land use, development density, construction in environmentally sensitive areas, scenic beauty, and water quality.
A strong majority of respondents were willing to pay for long-term conservation goals. Seventy-seven percent of respondents were willing to pay for long-term protection of groundwater resources. Also, the survey revealed a willingness to pay for the creation of new, publicly accessible open spaces (55%) and the permanent protection of private lands (48%).
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