March 19, 2021
Things have kicked into high gear over the last couple of weeks in Austin, largely prompted by the winter storms and a desire to reform our energy system to avoid a similar disaster in the future.
Just a week after Winter Storm Uri rolled through Texas, both the House and Senate began a series of marathon hearings to question the Public Utility Commission, Texas Railroad Commission, ERCOT, natural gas companies and electric utilities. Out of those and other ongoing hearings, dozens of bills have been proposed to bring reforms and hopefully prevent a recurrence.
With the new priorities on these reforms, much of the other legislative agenda has come into question. Between that and COVID issues, there’s just not a lot of time on the docket for other conversations.
Even so, those other issues have not gone by the wayside. Bills are now being heard in committee, and things are starting to move forward and look a little more like a typical legislative session. TSCRA’s legislative agenda has been able to stay on track thus far too.
Last week, association leaders were at the Capitol twice to testify before committee. In the House Judicial and Civil Jurisprudence Committee, Director Jay Evans testified in support of a bill to fix farm animal liability after portions of the existing statute were called into question by a Texas Supreme Court Ruling. You can check out more on that issue in an editorial written by Rep. Andrew Murr for The Cattleman magazine. This week, the committee reported the bill favorably in a unanimous vote. The next stop is the Calendars Committee, where it will get scheduled for a vote by the full House.
Last Thursday, TSCRA President Hughes Abell testified before the House Agriculture and Livestock Committee to updated the legislative members on the impacts of Winter Storm Uri. He conveyed many of the challenges faced by producers as a result of the weather, including concerns that were raised by many of you with diesel shortages.
As a direct result of TSCRA’s testimony, Chairman of the House Ag Committee Rep. DeWayne Burns took immediate action and filed a bill that would allow for the on-road use of dyed diesel during declared disasters. That bill is still working through the process, so we’ll keep you posted.
Friday of last week was also the bill filing deadline. That means we now have a better idea of everything that may be up for debate this session. Some local bills can still be filed, but as of today, 6,950 bills and joint resolutions have been filed. That’s slightly down from last session, when there about 8,000, but it’s still a lot to wade through for a legislature that must also deal with COVID-19 and major electricity reforms.
Hearings continued this week with more TSCRA testimony. On Wednesday, Director Dustin Dean testified before the House Public Health Committee. He supported legislation from Rep. Brad Buckley to define beef in statute as coming from cattle, not a laboratory or high-processed concoction of synthetic or plant-based ingredients. That bill is still waiting for a committee vote, which could come as early as next week.
TSCRA staff have also been highly involved in a number of other bills. Most notably, we have supported several bills to improve access to rural broadband, and continue working on others to ensure property rights aren’t infringed during the expansion of those broadband services. Also included were bills on prescribed burning liability, rural economic development, liability for truck drivers, and a bill to create a criminal offense for intentional damage to an animal or crop facility.
There will be a lot more on tap for next week too. Several water bills will be up for hearing, along with municipal regulation bills, tax bills and others. The Senate will hear the Texas Animal Health Commission Sunset bill on Monday, and we also expect to testify on a bill regarding import-export facilities.
In the interest of brevity, there’s a lot I’ve glossed over, but rest assured we will keep up the good fight here in Austin and have another update soon!
Until next time.
Jeremy Fuchs is Texas & Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association’s director of public affairs.