Texas Legislature

Vote YES to Prop 1 and 2 on November 2nd!

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A complete fact sheet for Prop 1 and 2

A vote November 2 to approve Proposition 1, the Aquifer Protection Initiative, will continue the successful program for protecting the aquifer and our drinking water for the future.

  • Proposition 1 re-authorizes a 1/8-cent sales tax in San Antonio to raise $90 million for land acquisition to permanently protect significant portions of the watershed that contribute to the aquifer.
  • Land protected for the aquifer protects wildlife habitat, preserves our Hill Country heritage and sustains our economic base, while keeping our water safe.

A vote November 2 to approve Proposition 2 for Creekways Hike & Bike Trails will continue the successful program for creating linear parks along San Antonio’s creeks and rivers.

  • Proposition 2 re-authorizes a 1/8-cent sales tax in San Antonio to raise $45 million for land acquisition and construction to expand our spectacular trail system along the Salado and Leon creeks as well as locations along the city’s West Side creeks.
  • Expansion of greenways to the city’s West Side creeks will help revitalize surrounding neighborhoods and provide important drainage improvements.
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81st Legislative Session Recap

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GEAA’s lobbyist, Jeff Heckler, has provided a summary of our legislative efforts for the 81st Session. Donations to GEAA’s legislative program are welcome and needed to ensure that we are set for success during the next session.

Read his full text below:

Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance
81st Texas Legislature

Overview
Several dynamic scenarios characterized the 81st legislative session: 1. An abnormally collegial House of Representatives suddenly imploding over a controversial voter identification bill – killing several hundred bills in its aftermath; 2. A $9 billion budget deficit which had appropriators scrambling; and 3. A reluctance on the part of the Legislature to wrangle with the time-honored developer / environmental debates.

The session ended abruptly, leaving many issues unresolved, including dozens of bills affecting renewable energy, transportation reform and many bills important to GEAA members. GEAA’s aggressive legislative agenda fell short of expectations, but we were not alone in that regard. The good news is that bills we opposed died ignominious deaths and GEAA was able to solidify its position as a credible player in the legislative realm.

The most notable change this year was the openness of the House of Representatives, due mostly to the leadership of Speaker Joe Strauss R- San Antonio. At all times, GEAA had access to all levels of the House leadership and staff. Because of GEAA’s great work in the past, members and their staffs gave us unfettered access, which accorded us numerous opportunities to make our case.

That said, the Legislature seemed in no mood to referee the developer / water quality debates featured so prominently in past legislatures. That was puzzling to us given the importance of water quality in Texas – now underscored by severe drought conditions in many areas of the state. That was never more evident when we advocated for HB 595 by Rep. David Leibowitz, D-San Antonio and SB 822 by Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio. These bills would have protected the aquifer by prohibiting the discharge of sewage effluent into any water in the Contributing or Recharge Zones.

Clearly, GEAA and its array of outstanding witnesses carried the day in the House Natural Resources Committee with cogent and lucid arguments based on scientific facts. Curiously, the developer lobby did not show enforce like they usually do and their arguments were weak, in our opinion. Yet the bills did not move out of committee, in spite of yeomen’s efforts by Leibowitz and Van de Putte.

We saw the same dynamic play out with Rep. Mike Villarreal’s, D-San Antonio grandfathering legislation, HB 2506 that limited grandfathered rights to five years after submitting an application. The bill never made out of committee.

Successes
GEAA had a significant role in bottling up the recurring regulatory takings bill by Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston. This bill is filed every session and is a direct assault on impervious cover standards and a municipality’s right to govern itself.

We also had a major role in defeating the legislation that would have made it significantly more difficult to gather signatures for municipal referendums.

HB 3265 by Rep. Patrick Rose, D-Dripping Springs, that would have given counties over the aquifer the ability to create land development regulations. As you know, it has been challenging to convince lawmakers on the notion of county ordinance making authority of any kind. Two county authority bills by Rep. Valinda Bolton, D-Austin and Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio never even received a committee hearing. The Rose bill, however, did make out of committee and was received by the House Calendars Committee that schedules bills for floor debate. Most likely this legislation died when the debate over voter ID stopped the process in its tracks. Even still, the progress was encouraging.

Rose’s rainwater collection bill, HB 4299, did make through the House and was on the Senate Intent Calendar, when the Senate shut down due to frustration with the House. This bill stood an excellent chance of passage.

One excellent bill we advocated vigorously for did pass: SB 1414, by Sen. Tommy Williams, R-Woodlands that regulates renegade quarry operations. We are very proud to have contributed to this bill’s passage.

Summation
The Texas Legislature chose to not engage in many issues vitally important to us, but it is clear that attitudes will be impelled to change based on that fact Texas may be facing persistent drought conditions. These issues cannot be ignored for much longer and GEAA has a well-earned presence at the table when it does. It is encouraging that GEAA made large strides at the legislature by enhancing its reputation. GEAA was relied upon repeatedly as an invaluable resource.

Where To Go From Here

  1. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality will be going though Sunset Review. This is a legislative process to ascertain whether an agency is still relevant. It is also an opportunity to advance major reforms. We can link with other likeminded groups and individuals to craft an agenda and strategy to advocate these reforms. The time between legislative sessions is where the rubber usually meets the road.
  2. Interim Studies: We have an opportunity to raise the profile of certain issues in the legislative arena by requesting a House or Senate committee to conduct an interim study. Committee Chairman will be assembling interim study requests soon and submit them to the Speaker and the Lt. Governor. Leadership will approve or disapprove the requests in November or December 2009. This is a valuable tool in that the legislature can examine issues outside the frenetic nature of the legislative session.
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81st Legislature Status

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With two weeks left of the 81st Legislative Session, we need to do all that we can to promote the bills that managed to make it out of committee! Here’s a list of bills that we’re still watching:

SB 1414 Williams – Quarry Registration and Inspection
Requires registration of a quarry operation with the TCEQ prior to beginning extraction activities, and annual renewal of registration as extraction activities continue. TCEQ will annually conduct a physical survey of the state to identify all quarry operations in Texas and ensure that each operation is registered. Additionally, TCEQ will inspect each quarry operation for compliance with environmental laws and rules (specifically those pertaining to water and air quality) at least once every three years. TCEQ will establish inspection fees of no more than $1,000 per year, and a penalty fee of no less than $5,000 and no more than $10,000 for failure of a quarry operation to register.
Status: Referred to Natural Resources; Passed as substituted 4/16/09, received by House from Senate 4/17/09, reported favorably without amendments 5/14/09

HB 3543 Lucio III – Watershed Protection
Creates Don’t Mess with Texas Water program to prevent illegal dumping that affects the surface waters of this state.
Status: Referred to Natural Resources; Passed as amended 5/05/09, received by Senate from House 5/05/09, referred to Natural Resources 5/06/09, reported favorable without amendment 5/12/09, placed on Local & Uncontested Calendar 5/12/09

HB 2919 King, S. – County Authority
Give counties limited power to regulate land use around military facilities.
Status: Referred to Defense & Veterans’ Affairs; Passed by House 5/14/09 and received by Senate 5/15/09, referred to Senate Veteran Affairs & Military Installments 5/18/09

HB 4299 Rose – Promotion of Rainwater Harvesting
Rainwater harvesting system technology for non-potable indoor use and landscape watering will be incorporated into the design and construction of each new state building with a roof measuring at least 10,000 ft2 that is located in an area of Texas in which the average annual rainfall is at least 28 inches. Each municipality and county is encouraged to promote rainwater harvesting at residential, commercial, and industrial facilities through various incentives. The Texas Water Development Board will hold quarterly training seminars on rainwater harvesting for the members of the permitting staffs of municipalities and counties (mandatory attendance for certain cities and counties). HB 1818 also includes the tax exemption text from HB 225/1816.
Status: Referred to Natural Resources; Committee Substitute for HB 4299 passed by House on 5/14/09 and received by Senate from House on 5/15/09, referred to Senate Natural Resources 5/18/09

SB 338 Van de Putte – Resource Conservation
Requires large grocery stores to offer affordable reusable bags for sale.
Status: Referred to Business & Commerce; Passed as substituted and received by House from Senate on 4/09/09; Referred to House Environmental Regulation 4/16/09

HB 179 Creighton; SB 275 Nichols – Commercial Injection Wells
Calls for suspension of the permitting process for any pending application of underground injection wells until any new rules are adopted.
Status: Both referred to Natural Resources Committee; HB 179 reported favorably as substituted and placed on General State Calendar 5/11/09; SB 275 reported favorably as substituted, passed by Senate on 4/30/09, received by House from Senate on 5/01/09, and reported favorably without amendments 5/14/09

SB 752 Davis, W. – Commercial Injection Wells
Prohibits the Railroad Commission from issuing a permit for an underground injection well if a local government has determined that an area is unsuitable due to its proximity to a water table, and notifies the TCEQ or RRC as applicable.
Status: Referred to Natural Resources Committee; Passed as substituted 4/21/09 and received by House from Senate 4/22/09, referred to House Natural Resources 4/28/09, reported favorably without amendment 5/5/09, House committee report sent to Local & Consent Calendar 5/08/09

HB 300 Isett – Sunset Review for TxDOT
GEAA supports HB 300 in essence. TxDOT has failed to develop a comprehensive approach to addressing the state’s transportation needs that goes beyond dependence on roads as main arteries; take into consideration and address the full environmental and other social impacts of its road projects; and provide for meaningful and effective public involvement in shaping the agency’s decisions. HB 300 as filed will not cure all of TxDOT’s ills, but it is an important start.
Status: Referred to Transportation; Passed with MANY amendments 5/11/09, received by Senate from House and referred to Transportation & Homeland Security 5/12/09, scheduled for Public Hearing on 5/18/09

Bills we do NOT support:

HB 1669 Callegari – Power to grant CCNs
If a municipality refuses to provide service to property located in the municipality’s ETJ, a retail public utility may apply to the commission for a CCN to serve the property. The commission can grant the certificate irrespective of whether the municipality consents to the certification.
Status: Referred to Natural Resources; Passed as substituted and amended 5/14/09, received by Senate from House 5/15/09, referred to Senate Natural Resources 5/18/09

HB 1741 King, T. – Artificial Recharge Compensation Guidelines
Relating to recharge of the Edwards Aquifer. Apolitical subdivision that causes artificial recharge of the aquifer is entitled to withdraw the measured amount of water it recharged, less an amount that accounts for recharge water discharged through springs and water that compensates the authority in lieu of users’ fees. The subdivision is also entitled to compensation by the authority for the cost of operating any facility that causes artificial recharge, regardless of its primary function. This bill, created to achieve a worthy goal: that of funding much needed repairs for the Medina Dam, would result in raising the pumping caps enforced by the Edwards Aquifer Authority by designating recharge credits for the water recharged at the Medina Dam site – not a good idea.
Status: Referred to Natural Resources; Passed as substituted 4/30/09, received by Senate from House 5/01/09, referred to Senate Natural Resources 5/06/09, Public Hearing on 5/12/09, now pending.

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