POST SESSION REPORT FOR TXD 6-21-2021
The 2021 legislative session has come to a close (87th for those counting). While all legislative sessions are unique, this version may eventually prove to be more unusual than normal. I use “prove to be” because we probably are not quite finished despite the May 31st deadline having come and gone.
There are a number of unanswered questions (depending on to whom you listen) that might be considered unfinished business for the Texas legislature. Without question, they will need to return in a special session early this fall to pass redistricting legislation. The necessary information is still being developed by the Federal government and they must wait for receipt of that data to complete their work.
In addition, a number of “high profile” partisan issues were left unresolved that the Governor could include as issues to be addressed during some future special session. As a reminder, the Governor calls a special session and determines the issue(s) to be discussed. A special session lasts no more than 30 days and he may call as many as he wants. With the June 20th deadline for signing, vetoing or allowing to become law without signature now passed, we have a more complete picture of this past session and what the future may hold.
The Governor vetoed 20 bills including a line-item veto of Article X of the state budget. The vetoed bills represent an interesting variety ranging from bail reform and increasing the offense of hazing to use of hypnotically induced testimony in a criminal trail and unlawful restraint of a dog. By far one of the more interesting vetoe is the line-item veto of Art. X of the upcoming state budget. A governor targeting the Legislature’s budget would be unprecedented in Texas history, according to the Legislative Reference Library of Texas. The only other comparison would be in 1971 when Governor Preston Smith vetoed all appropriations made for the second year of the 1972-73 biennial budget and forced the legislature to redo the budget for that year during an already planned upcoming special session.
In addition to funding the two chambers of the Legislature, Article X of the state budget also funds nonpartisan agencies that are crucial for policymaking, including the Legislative Reference Library, which conducts research for the Legislature; the Legislative Budget Board, which develops policy and budget recommendations and provides fiscal analyses for legislation; the Legislative Council, which helps draft and analyze potential legislation; the State Auditor’s Office, which reviews the state’s finances; and the Sunset Advisory Commission, which reviews the efficiency of state agencies. The Governor vetoed this section in response to the Democrats breaking quorum during the waning days of the legislative session to defeat a proposed election bill.
This veto will not impact these expenditures until the new budget comes into effect on September 1, 2021.
As of today, the Governor has not yet decided on a date for the Special Session. It is assumed that he will call the Special Session sometime after July 4th but nothing definitive yet.
While we tracked a number of bills during the legislative session our main interest was passage of SB 601 (Perry/Burrows) SB 601 passed the Senate by a vote of 31-0 and the House by 143-0. It is unusual for water centric legislation to pass unopposed but with a great author/sponsor it always helps. While the bill was amended in the House the bill went to conference and the amendment was removed. For the most part the bill passed as originally drafted. The Governor signed SB 601 on June 18th and because of the language and the overwhelming support in both House and Senate the bill goes into immediate effect.
This was not really a “water centric” legislative session. (For good or ill)
Besides SB 601, the only other “water” bills we were tracking that actually passed and signed were:
- HB 1322
Requiring agencies to publish brief summary of proposed rules on website
- HB 1904
To ensure that equity that can no longer be used under the water infrastructure fund (WIF) can be used for other programs in the Texas Water Development Fund II (DFund II)
- HB 1905
Relating to relieving regional water planning groups of certain duties.
- HB 2361
Amends the Health and Safety Code to include projects that reduce flaring emissions and other site emissions among the projects for which the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is required to give preference in awarding grants under the new technology implementation grant program
- SB 669
Relating to certain reports created by the Texas Water Development Board.
- SB 905
Directs the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to create a direct potable reuse document so that entities will be able to understand the process for having such a project. It does not create new rules or permitting.
Unless something dramatic changes, there do not appear to be any possible water issues that would be included in any of the likely upcoming special sessions.
The legislative session has only 40 days remaining. What began as a unique session because of the Covid pandemic evolved into something quite a bit different because of the severe winter weather that struck the state in mid-February. A statewide power curtailment along with public water supply interruptions posed significant problems for large portions of the state, including Austin. The legislative session went on hold for several days in mid-February, delaying any and all legislative activities.
The word that seems to best describe this session is WEIRD. All legislative sessions are odd or even strange in their own ways. But this one is just weird.
Having said that, we have now fallen into something of a normal, if not accelerated pattern more akin to past legislative sessions. The Senate has passed their version of the budget and the House will consider its version on Thursday, April 22nd. With the influx of federal money, initial budget concerns appear now to have been unfounded. There are still significant amounts of federal funds to be distributed, how remains to be seen.
It is certain that the legislature will return for a special session sometime this fall to consider redistricting. The delay in receipt of the national census numbers is the cause of this situation. Right now, this issue appears to be the only matter that will not be addressed during the regular session.
More specifically, our support for the Produced Water Consortium legislation (SB 601 Perry) is moving through the process and should be voted out of the House committee on Natural Resources on Thursday April 22nd. We have had 2 good hearings. Steve Walden spoke on behalf of TXD and very effectively represented our position in both hearings. In addition, experts from a number of other organizations have added additional expert testimony. Even some of the environmental organizations have “grudgingly” been neutral on the bill cautiously agreeing that something productive needs to be done with this resource. My guess is ultimately they will be opposed but not as vocal as usual.
With only 40 days left bills will begin to die at an alarming rate. Pre-determined deadlines in both Houses ensure a steady decline in the issues and bills that still wait to be considered. So far, our priorities appear to be on track and moving in the right direction.
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