BLOG: 85th Texas Legislature Update

The last day of the 85th Texas Legislature is Monday, Memorial Day. We’ve been following scores of bills throughout the session. Here’s a quick update on a few of the more important ones.

• Several bills, including House Bill 237 by Rep. Rafael Anchia and House Bill 642 by Rep. Larry Phillips, had called for a name change for the Texas Railroad Commission. This would have helped to clear up public confusion about the agency, which does not have responsibility for overseeing railroads but does oversee gas utility rates. These bills failed to get traction during the session, and are now considered dead.

House Bill 1818, by state Rep. Larry Gonzales, is the Railroad Commission “Sunset” bill. That is, the bill authorizes the continuation of the agency for several more years, and also spells out various adjustments to the agency’s operations. However, House Bill 1818 does not include several recommended reforms — such as the use of independent administrative law judges for the adjudication of gas utility cases — that were included in versions of this bill during previous legislative sessions. HB 1818 was adopted by both the Texas House and Texas Senate and signed by the governor.

House Bill 931, if signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott, will help expand the state’s network of hike-and-bike trails, but at virtually no cost to political subdivisions for the underlying land. This is because the legislation responsibly waives some of the legal liability that utilities would otherwise face for allowing their land to be used for public recreational purposes. The legislation has been adopted by both the House and Senate, although differences remain between the two versions. A number of city groups support this legislation.

Senate Bill 1004, which has drawn objections from city groups, sets forth various guidelines for the deployment of antennas and other telecommunications equipment in municipal rights of way. SB 1004 has been adopted by the House and Senate and now heads to Gov. Greg Abbott for his signature.

House Bill 1427, by Rep. Pat Fallon, would have clarified the proposition that a city’s zoning authority extends over electric cooperatives just as it would for any other business operating within city limits. This legislation was adopted by the House Urban Affairs Committee, but then stalled. It is now considered dead.

Senate Bill 735 would require the Public Utility Commission to establish a schedule under which it periodically reviews the fairness of electric utility rates. It also includes other changes to rate-setting procedures that, taken collectively, would be something of a mixed bag for consumers. Senate Bill 735 has been passed by both the House and Senate and sent to the governor.

Senate Bill 83, by state Sen. Bob Hall, calls for the creation of a task force to review potential risks to the state’s electric grid infrastructure from cyber and electro-magnetic attacks. The legislation has been approved by the full Senate, but then stalled in the House. House Bill 787, which is similar to SB 83, has been adopted by the Texas House, but then stalled in the Senate. Both bills failed.

Senate Bill 1976 would ensure the continuation of a process whereby the Public Utility Commission identifies low-income electric and telecommunications ratepayers. This is important because such customers are eligible for various customer protection benefits. This bill has been approved by both the House and Senate and sent to the governor. The Texas Coalition for Affordable Power, a coalition of cities, supports this bill.

 

— R.A. Dyer