The Texas Legislature meets the first 140 days of each odd numbered year. During that time, they are obligated by the Texas Constitution to pass a biennial state budget, making the budget the biggest priority of the legislative session. While other states divide their sessions into legislative and budget sessions, the Texas legislature conducts all of its business during these 140 days. Should the legislature fail to act on an issue deemed of import to the Governor, the Governor may call a special session for a dedicated purpose. All legislation passed during the special must be germane to the call. In other words, Texas lawmakers have a very small window of opportunity in which to draft, debate, and pass bills. But their ability to influence legislation isn’t limited to the sessions.
Plenty of work happens during the interim; if stakeholders don’t pay attention, they can find themselves a few steps behind when the gavel falls to open the following legislative session.
During the year and half that separate regular sessions, the Speaker of the House and the Lt. Governor issue Interim Charges, assignments for members of their respective chambers to hear public and invited testimony, conduct research and submit reports on issues deemed important by the leader of each chamber. These reports are then considered by lawmakers as they start to draft and consider legislation.
Stakeholders can be involved in the interim process in many of the same ways we advocated during a legislative session, by offering testimony, either oral or written, providing research, talking with members directly, and offering legislative solutions. Below is a sample of some of the issues we are following on behalf of Texas business and our clients:
Senate Interim Charges
Business Personal Property Tax: Study the economic dynamics of the current business personal property tax. Consider the economic and fiscal effects of increased exemptions to the business personal property tax, versus its elimination. Following such study, make recommended changes to law.
Why it matters: Texas lawmakers have historically supported policy that doesn’t overburden businesses with tax obligations. But as lawmakers continue to look for opportunities to reduce the tax burden for property owners, the business community should remind lawmakers that offsetting decreased property taxes with an increase in business taxes would upset the Texas miracle.
Eminent Domain: Examine current law regarding the balance of private property rights and continued improvement in oil and gas infrastructure. Make recommendations to ensure stability between private property owner protections and emergent oil and gas infrastructure.
Why it matters: For the last 3 sessions, the legislature has considered policy that would increase construction time and costs for pipeline construction, in an effort to protect the rights of landowners. Industry leaders have worked with the legislature to advocate for policy that would balance landowner rights with the state’s interest to move oil and gas, only to ultimately to legislation described as “watered down” and fail. Industry will be involved in interim talks to make sure that lawmakers understand the impacts of what their proposed legislation would have on industry’s ability to move oil and gas.
Electricity: Assess the electricity market in Texas. Examine changes in customer demand, such as on-site storage, distributed generation, and electric vehicles. Study the usage of “non-wires alternatives,” including energy storage, and recommend legislative changes if needed. Identify barriers to the electric market at the state or local level. Make recommendations to maintain grid reliability and encourage the continued success of the electric market.
Why it matters: Legislative intent is to prepare for a more reliable electric grid, providing stability to the electric market. If done well, all Texans will benefit.
House Interim Charges
Workforce development: Study the adequacy of the workforce currently available to the industries responsible for energy production and how state policies may facilitate investment in public infrastructure and workforce development. Examine the labor needs within oil and gas exploration, production, and transportation to identify workforce gaps and the resulting effects on industry expansion, economic growth, and increasing population.
Study Texas’ current and future workforce pipeline structure, with a focus on input from the state’s largest industries and middle skill employers. Examine what skill gaps exist within our state; identify methods of improving regional coordination and alignment between industry, the public workforce system, public schools, higher education institutions, and community based organizations to create college and career pathways; and provide recommendations to overcome barriers in the workforce pipeline and to enhance career path options.
Why it matters: As the Texas economy has strengthened, especially in the oil and gas industry, the business community has been looking for opportunities to incentive workforce development at high schools and community colleges. These two charges provide industry with an opportunity to work with members in advance of the rushed legislative session to identify meaningful solutions to workforce challenges.
Infrastructure of energy producing counties: Study the growth challenges of energy producing regions in Texas and the impact energy explorations and production have on state and county roads, infrastructure, health care, education, and public safety. Make recommendations for statutory and regulatory changes to improve public safety, alleviate volume of truck traffic, mitigate strains on local infrastructure, and better manage adverse impacts on communities in energy sector areas of the state.
During the 2019 Legislative Session, lawmakers passed the County Transportation Infrastructure Fund, which dedicates a portion of oil and gas severance tax for road and infrastructure improvements in the state’s most active energy producing counties. This charge encourages the legislature to consider additional resources for building up roads, schools, hospitals, and other infrastructure needs in these areas of high production.
Infrastructure to support international trade: Study the state’s seaport infrastructure and the infrastructure at land ports of entry to facilitate international trade and economic growth. Examine seaport infrastructure and the auxiliary rail and roadway needs connected to each port as well as the port’s ability to keep pace with oil and gas production. Make recommendations to maximize the economic flow of goods and products to and from seaports and study the feasibility and economic impact of dredging and widening Texas ports in order to remain competitive in international trade. Examine the infrastructure at international border ports of entry in Texas and identify transportation-related impediments to international trade that negatively impact the state. Make recommendations to reduce border wait times, facilitate economic growth, and expedite trade.
Why it matters: Infrastructure to support land and sea movement of commodities will make for more efficient movement of goods, connecting suppliers to international consumers.
Eminent Domain: Review, in coordination with the Office of the Attorney General, the efficacy of the Landowner’s Bill of Rights (LBoR) in explaining to landowners the eminent domain condemnation process and their rights and responsibilities under Chapter 21 of the Property Code. Identify any omitted information which can enhance the landowner’s understanding of the condemnation process and determine whether any other changes should be made to the document to make it more user friendly. Determine whether it would be beneficial for the legislature to be more prescriptive in statute with the mandatory contents of the LBoR.
Study property owner’s rights in eminent domain to examine and make recommendations on what should and should not constitute an actual progress to ensure the right of property owners to repurchase property seized through eminent domain by a condemning entity.
Why it matters: Similar to the Senate charge on eminent domain reform, Industry will be involved in interim talks to make sure that lawmakers understand the impacts of what their proposed legislation would have on industry’s ability to move oil and gas. But the House charges are limited in scope and might help lawmakers get to the heart of the conflict between landowners and potential condemnors.