ISSUES & POLICY Where We Stand
Landowners Win in Some Areas, Suffer Setbacks in Others
During the 86th Texas Legislative Session, which ended May 31, 2019, 7,420 pieces of legislation were filed. Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association (TSCRA) leaders, members and staff were actively involved with and tracked 799 bills, approximately 11 percent of the total filed.
TSCRA publicly registered a position on 106 bills, with 25 of those ultimately being passed by the legislature and sent to the Governor.
Two pieces of legislation that were priority issues for ranchers and landowners did not make it to the Governor’s desk — eminent domain reform, which we supported, and central filing, which we opposed.
Eminent domain reform setback
The Senate overwhelmingly passed meaningful reform legislation with S.B. 421, authored by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst. The bill was heavily negotiated before it was passed by the Senate, and negotiations continued once the bill was sent to the House.
In the final days of negotiation, when consensus with opposition groups was imminent, S.B. 421 was abruptly taken from the House sponsor by Rep. Tom Craddick, who rewrote the bill in a manner that was not just meaningless for property owners, but actually could have worsened many of the problems that already exist.
Nonetheless, TSCRA allowed the legislation to move forward with hopes that the bill could be fixed in the conference committee process, where the House and Senate work out the differences between their versions of a bill.
The Texas Senate offered compromise language that implemented much needed improvements for property owners while resolving the issues raised by private condemning entities. All five Senate negotiators quickly signed the conference report, but unfortunately the House appointed a slate of extremely pro-energy legislators, led by Craddick, who refused to sign the conference committee report, killing the legislation in the final days of the legislative session.
TSCRA President Bobby McKnight says, “For years, thousands of property owners across Texas have asked for real, meaningful eminent domain reform. We are disappointed that despite these pleas, eminent domain reform was not accomplished this legislative session.
“The author of S.B. 421, Senator Lois Kolkhorst, has been an outspoken champion for Texas property owners and deserves tremendous credit for her tireless work to protect our private property rights through the legislative process,” he says.
“The real victims in the process,” McKnight explains, “are the hardworking Texas property owners who remain saddled with an unfair eminent domain process that gives every advantage to condemnors. Those private, for-profit condemnors will continue to operate with zero accountability or transparency. The voice of Texas property owners was loud and consistent, but the oil and gas lobby and industry-backed lawmakers killed real reform.
“We thank Sen. Kolkhorst for her unwavering support, as well as Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, who personally oversaw Senate negotiations, and the many other Senators and Representatives who supported our efforts. We look forward to continuing our fight to provide Texans with the fairness, transparency and accountability they deserve when confronted with the taking of their property through eminent domain,” McKnight says.
Central filing bill did not advance
The other key bill that did not advance to the Governor dealt with central filing. TSCRA was opposed to the central filing legislation, and a study on the same topic. Sen. Bob Hall and Rep. Ken King authored both bills.
Implementation of a central filing system would force anyone who purchases an agriculture product in Texas to pay a registration fee and register as an agricultural buyer with the state.
Under this system Texans would have to do a title search on an online database each time they purchase an agricultural product. This type of system would also shift the liability of the lending bank and borrowing producer to all purchasers of agricultural products.
For these reasons TSCRA worked to ensure that a central filing system was not passed into law.
Here is a small sample of the types of landowner and rural resident issues we weighed in on during this session and that ultimately made it to the governor’s desk.
Residents ability to vote on city annexation
H.B. 347 — Rep. Phil King/Sen. Brian Birdwell (SIGNED INTO LAW)
During the 85th Legislative Session major reforms were made to the annexation process. S.B. 6 ended forced annexation by municipalities in counties with populations of 500,000 or more so that residents can vote whether to be annexed. However, these reforms applied to only 11 of Texas’ 254 counties. H.B. 347 extends S.B. 6’s annexation reforms statewide. H.B. 347 removes the “tier” designations from statute, thereby providing property owners in all counties, regardless of population size, the same protections against forced annexation.
Ag land can be considered in home equity loan process
H.B. 1254 — Rep. Jim Murphy/Sen. Kelly Hancock (SIGNED INTO LAW)
Questions have been raised regarding whether property is eligible to be designated for an agricultural use if the property secures a home equity loan. H.B. 1254 resolves this confusion by confirming the eligibility of land to be designated for such use.
Penalties reduced for removing land from open-space valuation
H.B. 1743 — Rep. Tracy King/Sen. Brandon Creighton (SIGNED INTO LAW)
The additional tax and interest imposed on open-space land or timber land when a change in use occurs is outdated and excessive. H.B. 1743 reduces this tax burden by decreasing the back-taxes owed from five to three years and decreasing from seven percent to five percent the annual interest rate added to that additional tax.
Cleaning and restoration after wind power facility leaves
H.B. 2845 — Rep. Terry Canales/Sen. Brandon Creighton (SIGNED INTO LAW)
Given the possibility for wind power facility owners to abandon their equipment if they go out of business or do not have adequate funds to remove the facility at the end of its lifespan, H.B. 2845 requires that they include a provision in the lease to remove equipment and restore the surface of the land to its original condition, and post a bond or other financial assurance to cover the cost of removal and restoration.
TSCRA opposed complication to groundwater ownership
H.B. 3246 — Rep. Drew Darby/ Sen. Kelly Hancock (Filed Without Signature)
H.B. 3246 is the only bill of the Session that TSCRA opposed that was still sent to the Governor.
This bill establishes that when fluid oil and gas waste is produced, it becomes the property of a person who treats that waste for some other form of beneficial use. This would apply unless otherwise expressly provided by a legally binding document, including an oil or gas lease and a surface use agreement.
TSCRA believes this policy stance further complicates groundwater ownership in Texas.
Unless the groundwater rights have been severed from an estate, groundwater belongs to the surface owner. This position was previously passed by the Texas Legislature and upheld through the court system.
Fluid oil and gas waste contains groundwater.
TSCRA believes the transfer of this water without consent of the surface owner directly contradicts current law, especially in instances where the surface estate and mineral estate are separately owned.
We have raised these concerns with the Governor’s office along with other property owner groups.
Partially because of these concerns, Governor Abbott will not sign the bill, nor will he veto it because of overwhelming support by both the Senate and House of Representatives. Note that this bill has been filed without a signature, meaning the bill will become law even without the Governor’s signature.
TAHC quarantined land not penalized for property tax purposes
H.B. 3348 — Rep. Ryan Guillen/Sen. Chuy Hinojosa (SIGNED INTO LAW)
Landowners whose land qualifies for special appraisal for property tax purposes as agricultural or open-space land should not be penalized if the Texas Animal Health Commission has established a temporary quarantine for fever ticks on that land. H.B. 3348 provides for the continued eligibility of such land to be appraised as agricultural or open space land and eases the burden on landowners and streamlines the process of keeping their agricultural exemption.
TSCRA Special Ranger LTC application requirements
H.B. 3706 — Rep. Jay Dean/Sen. Bryan Hughes (SIGNED INTO LAW)
Recently, a streamlined handgun license application process and fee reductions were made available for active and retired peace officers but were not applicable to active and retired railroad peace offices and Special Rangers of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association. H.B. 3706 extends these benefits to those officers, both active and honorably retired.
Use existing electricity easements to increase rural access to broadband service
S.B. 14 — Sen. Robert Nichols/Rep. John Kuempel (SIGNED INTO LAW)
One of the most pressing current challenges for rural Texas is the lack of access to high speed Internet. S.B. 14 will make high-speed Internet more available to rural Texans by authorizing Texas electrical cooperatives and their affiliates to deploy broadband to their members using the cooperatives’ existing electricity easements. Though some initial concerns were raised, TSCRA worked with the bill author and stakeholders to address those issues so TSCRA could support the legislation.
More public information about extraterritorial jurisdiction
S.B. 1303 — Sen. Paul Bettencourt/Rep. Cecil Bell (SIGNED INTO LAW)
Property owners in a municipality’s extraterritorial jurisdiction are affected to a certain degree by municipal regulation. Concerns have been raised regarding a lack of communication and information available to the public regarding an expansion of municipal territory through an annexation and the resulting extension of a municipality’s extraterritorial jurisdiction. S.B. 1303 addresses these concerns by setting out requirements relating to maps of the actual or proposed boundaries of an extraterritorial jurisdiction of a municipality and notices to impacted landowners related to expanding the boundaries.
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