ISSUES & POLICY Where We Stand
Our Accomplishments in the 85th Legislative Session
By Richard Thorpe, TSCRA president
During the 85th Texas Legislative Session, 6,800 pieces of legislation were filed. Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association (TSCRA) was actively involved with and tracked more than 800 bills and resolutions, approximately 12 percent of the total filed, on behalf of TSCRA members. TSCRA brought 2 important policy changes to the legislature within the law enforcement arena. Those policies became HB 2817, authored by Rep. Mary Gonzales and sponsored by Sen. Charles Perry. Provisions within the bill ensure that those who criminally kill livestock will be held accountable, and that TSCRA special rangers have the tools necessary to continue their steadfast protection of Texas’ ranchers. That bill was passed on May 26, and at the time of this writing awaits Gov. Greg Abbott’s signature.
Eminent domain was another subject that dominated the association’s efforts during the session. TSCRA, along with the Texans for Property Rights Coalition, brought a reform package to the legislature that became 2 bills, SB 740 by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst and HB 2684 by Rep. DeWayne Burns. The original versions of these 2 bills represented significant progress for landowners and we greatly appreciate the efforts of both Sen. Kolkhorst and Rep. Burns. Unfortunately, late in the session, the bills were allowed to become so watered-down that they no longer fulfilled the commitment we made to our members. We stood our ground and refused to let insignificant legislation pass and be touted as real improvement. We will continue eminent domain reform efforts in the next regular legislative session.
TSCRA also played an active role in opposing many pieces of legislation that ultimately did not pass. This included, but was not limited to, legislation that would have negatively affected the groundwater rights of landowners, created opportunities for animal rights activists, weakened animal disease control efforts, and expanded the legal authority of entities wishing to have more control over the property rights of landowners.Here is a summary of key legislation that TSCRA supported and that passed.
The legislature approved additional funding for the Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC) specifically for control of cattle fever tick outbreaks. This funding totaled more than $7.8 million and included 36 new full-time employees.
House Bill 1257 by Rep. Kyle Kacal and Sen. Brian Birdwell: Increases the penalty to a state jail felony for the whole or partial impairment of property used for flood control purposes, including dams.
House Bill 1643 by Rep. Drew Springer and Sen. Kel Seliger: Classifies certain concentrated animal feeding operations as critical infrastructure, thus allowing for prosecution of individuals who operate an unmanned aircraft over those facilities.
House Bill 2306 by Rep. Ryan Guillen and Sen. Judith Zaffirini: Allows the use of auction proceeds from the sale of abandoned vehicles to reimburse law enforcement agencies for compensation paid to certain property owners who had property damaged in law enforcement pursuits.
House Bill 2817 by Rep. Mary Gonzalez and Sen. Charles Perry: Increases the minimum penalty for the criminal killing of cattle, horses and bison to a third-degree felony and includes language in state law to ensure the continuation of TSCRA law enforcement cattle inspection activities.
Senate Bill 631 by Sen. Dawn Buckingham and Rep. Terry Wilson: Allows for the hearing to also be held in the county where the property was stolen to ease the burden on victims. At present, a judge may hold a hearing to determine the rightful owner of stolen property, but that hearing must be held in the county where the property is being held.
House Bill 2215 by Rep. Four Price and Sen. Borris Miles: Makes changes to the process for the proposal and adoption of desired future conditions for aquifers in a groundwater management area in order to increase stakeholder certainty and better synchronize the five-year joint groundwater and regional water planning cycles.
Senate Bill 864 by Sen. Charles Perry and Rep. Tracy King: Amends current law relating to the procedure for obtaining a right to use state water if the applicant proposes an alternative source of water that is not state water. Requires that notice be provided to a groundwater conservation district whenever a surface water permit at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality proposes to use groundwater as an alternate source.
Senate Bill 1009 by Sen. Charles Perry and Rep. Lyle Larson: Clarifies the items that a groundwater conservation district may consider for an application to be deemed administratively complete and that a groundwater conservation district may only require the current statutorily listed information be included when considering a permit to be administratively complete.
Senate Bill 1430 by Sen. Charles Perry and Rep. Eddie Lucio III: Encourages the development and use of desalinated seawater by allowing existing surface water right holders who begin using desalinated seawater to have the right to expedited consideration of an application to amend their water right to add or move a diversion point. This amended right would only be allowed for an amount of water equal to or less than the amount of desalinated seawater they are using.
Senate Bill 975 by Sen. Brian Birdwell and Rep. Leighton Schubert: Requires that any high-speed rail system implement the same security measures utilized by Amtrak and abide by the same regulations adopted for Amtrak by the Transportation Security Administrations (TSA).
Senate Bill 977 by Sen. Charles Schwertner and Rep. Trent Ashby: Prohibits the legislature and state agencies from making an appropriation related to a high-speed rail project operated by a private entity to ensure Texas taxpayers will not financially support a private project. Exemptions exist for certain federally required environmental duties.
Senate Bill 1172 by Sen. Charles Perry and Rep. Charlie Geren: Prohibits a political subdivision from adopting a measure that regulates agricultural seed, vegetable seed or any other seed in any manner, including planting seed or cultivating plants grown from seed.
House Bill 3198 by Rep. Drew Darby and Sen. Sen. Craig Estes: Requires that the eligibility of land for special open-space appraisal does not end because a lessee under an oil and gas lease begins conducting oil and gas operations over which the Railroad Commission of Texas has jurisdiction on the land, if the portion of the land on which oil and gas operations are not being conducted otherwise continues to qualify for such appraisal.
Senate Bill 1767 by Sen. Dawn Buckingham and Rep. Drew Darby: Entitles a property owner to elect to present evidence and argument at a appraisal roll correction hearing before, after, or between the cases presented by the chief appraiser and each taxing unit and to elect to present the property owner’s case at a protest hearing either before or after the appraisal district. ❚
“Accomplishments in the 85th Legislative Session” is from the July 2017 issue of The Cattleman magazine.