PCG EMAIL SERVICES: Texas Capitol Reports - March 13, 2015

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Fri Mar 13 14:25:10 CDT 2015


Texas Capitol Reports
by David Oefinger
 
Issue 6
March 13, 2015
 
 
Comptroller's Office Hires ES Expert
 
The Texas Comptroller's office has announced that it has hired a respected expert to head up its endangered species management team.  Robert Gulley will serve as the agency's director of economic growth and endangered species management, a newly created position.
 
Gulley is a native of San Antonio and has a Ph.D. in anatomy and has conducted neurobiology research at the National Institutes of Health.  He is described as passionate about science policy, an attitude that eventually led him to law school and a job defending the United States from endangered species lawsuits at the Justice Department.
 
Gulley has been successful at bringing major players together to work toward common goals.  In 2007 he was charged with the responsibility of implementing the Edwards Aquifer protection plan.  In that effort he brought together diverse interest groups like the Sierra Club, the city of San Antonio, farmers and river authorities to address the issue.
 
Among other things, Gulley will be closely monitoring monarch butterflies that need the milkweed plant to survive.  The plant, though, is a pest in farm fields.  And industries and cities that depend on available water supplies are in direct competition with mussels that need the water to survive.
 
Many Texans may not be aware, but in 2011 the Texas Legislature passed a law that placed endangered species under the purview of the comptroller's office.  Lawmakers noted that endangered species rulings almost always impact industrial activity which in turn affects the state's economy.  They felt that the logical choice for the endangered species responsibility should go to the Comptroller's office.
 
With the hiring of Gulley, Hegar is clearing his own path to addressing endangered species issues. Both Hegar and Gulley have expressed a desire to separate the issue from politics.
 
"I believe the development of good science is really going to be central," Gulley said in an interview. "We're here to assist and educate."
 
Bill Would Transfer ES Powers to TDA
 
A bill introduced by Mary Gonzales (D-El Paso) would transfer certain powers and duties related to endangered species from the comptroller to the commissioner of agriculture.  HB 2582 was introduced on 03/09/2015 and has not yet been referred to committee.
 
Ground Water Debate Heats Up in Central Texas
 
A Houston-based company, Electro Purification, plans to pump up to five million gallons of water daily from the Trinity Aquifer, and sell it to some of Austin's neighboring cities.  The plan has gone beyond controversial as many Hays County residents have become outspoken critics of the effort.
 
Electro Purification's pumping actions in the area are now unregulated.  There are several bills being introduced in the Texas legislature, however, that would place the company's well fields under regulatory authorities.
 
Another issue of concern is the eminent domain authority of the Goforth Special Utility District, which provides water to some 20,000 people living just outside of Buda, Texas.  The District wants to buy three million gallons of water a day from Electro Purification, and that could necessitate running pipelines in areas outside the Utility District's boundaries. 
 
Bill Would Grant Authority to TDA
 
A bill has been introduced in the Texas Legislature that would grant the Department of Agriculture the authority to employ and commission peace officers as investigators.  HB 1270 by Allen Fletcher (R-Tomball) states that "the department may employ and commission peace officers as investigators to assist the department in performing its duties.
 
The bill is currently in the House Committee on State Affairs and was considered on 03/11/2015.  The proposal has left as "pending" in the Committee.
 
Pesticide Disposal
 
HB 2548 by Phil Stephenson (R- Wharton) relates to the disposal of agricultural pesticides.
 
The proposed legislation establishes a Pesticide Education Program and directs that the Texas Department of Agriculture and Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service coordinate to develop and implement a program to educate the public, including rural and horticultural pesticide applicators, on the proper use and disposal of pesticides.  The program must include instruction by Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service agents and specialists on proper container handling and preparation to comply with federal law.
 
 
The bill also establishes a Pesticide Education and Disposal Fund that is funded by directing that 51 percent of the fees collected under Section 76.044, Agriculture Code (pesticide registration fees) be deposited to the Pesticide Education and Disposal Fund.  Money from the Fund would be used to support the associated education activities, as well as to contract for the services of contractors that are licensed in the disposal of hazardous waste under Section 401.202, Health and Safety Code, to implement the pesticide waste and container collection activities.
 
The bill was filed on 03/06/2015 and has not yet been referred to committee.
 
Animal Welfare Bill Filed; Referred
 
SB 970 by Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) would establish an Animal Welfare Commission to study and provide recommendations to the legislature regarding a host of animal welfare issues, including the regulation of exotic animals; inspection of animal shelters; regulation of veterinarians; management of coyote populations in urban areas; welfare of circus animals in the state; and, efficacy of trap, sterilize, and return programs.
 
While the bill in its current form only establishes the commission to study various animal related issues, it is also seen as a possible avenue to future legislative reform that would give the new agency added powers. It is feared that … as with most government agencies and commissions … the commission would eventually grow in size, scope, authority and responsibility, and eventually creep its way into agricultural settings.
 
The bill was filed on 03/03/2015 and was referred to the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Water & Rural Affairs.
 
Land Eligible for Open-Space Land Designation
 
HB 1900 by Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin) relates to the eligibility of land appraisal for ad valorem tax purposes as qualified open-space land.  The proposal would change the provision for qualifying open-space land to assist urban agricultural operations.  Under the bill, the appraiser may consider the cumulative effect of all agricultural uses of a tract of the land, and ensures that "uncommon" agricultural production methods qualify under the degree of intensity test for appraisal as open-space.
 
The bill states that "a chief appraiser shall distinguish between the degree of intensity required for various agricultural production methods, including organic, sustainable, pastured poultry, rotational grazing, and other uncommon production methods or systems."
 
Guidelines will be drawn for determining under what conditions the cumulative effect of multiple agricultural uses of a tract of land meets the degree of intensity generally accepted in the area.  Those guides will be developed by the comptroller, in cooperation with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service and individuals selected by the comptroller who represent appraisal districts, and individuals selected by the comptroller who represent affected producers.
 
The bill was filed on 03/11/2015 and has been referred to the House Committee on Agriculture and Livestock.
 
Protecting Insured Motorists from Law Suits by Uninsured Motorists
 
HB 820 by Ed Thompson (R-Pearland) would prevent uninsured motorists who are in an auto accident from suing the other motorist, if the other motorist has insurance.  There are exceptions, however, in the case where the insured motorist is intoxicated, caused injury through a willful act or omission or gross neglect, they fled the scene of the accident, or were in the process of committing a felony at the time of the accident.
 
The bill was filed on 01/21/2015, was referred to the House Committee on Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence on 02/23/2015 and was heard and left pending in committee on 03/03/2015.
 
Coming up...
 
March 13, 2015 (today) (60th Legislative Day)  Last day for filing bills and joint resolutions other than local bills, emergency appropriations, and bills that have been declared an emergency by the governor.
 
March 24, 2015 Cotton Day at the Capitol sponsored by Texas Cotton Producers, Inc.
 
April   , 2015 Texas Agriculture Council's "Taste of Texas" (pending)
 
April 15, 2015 First day that a senator may place five bills or resolutions on the Senate Intent Calendar
 
May 11, 2015 (119th day) Last day for house committees to report house bills and house joint resolutions.
 
May 12, 2015 (120th day) Deadline for house to distribute last House Daily Calendar with house bills and joint resolutions.
 
May 13, 2015 (121st day) Deadline for house to distribute last House Local and Consent Calendar with consent house bills.
 
May 14, 2015 (122nd day) Last day for house to consider house bills and joint resolutions on second reading on House daily or Supplemental Calendar.
 
May 15, 2015 (123rd day) Last day for house to consider consent house bills on second and third reading and all third reading house bills or joint resolutions on House Supplemental Calendar.
 
May 20, 2015 (128th day) Deadline for house to distribute last House Local and Consent Calendar with local house bills.
 
May 22, 2015 (130th day) Last day for house to consider local house bills on second and third reading.
First day senate can consider bills and resolutions the first day they are posted on the Senate Intent Calendar.
 
May 23. 2015 (131st day) Last day for house committees to report senate bills and joint resolutions.
 
May 24, 2015 (132nd day) Deadline for house to distribute last House Daily Calendar with senate bills and joint resolutions.
 
May 25, 2015 (133rd day) Deadline for house to distribute last House Local and Consent Calendar with senate bills.
 
May 26, 2015 (134th day) Last day for house to consider senate bills and joint resolutions, other than local and consent, on second reading n House daily or Supplemental Calendar.
 
May 27th, 2015 (135th day) Last day for house to consider local and consent senate bills on second and third reading and all senate bills or joint resolutions on third reading on House Supplemental Calendar.
 
Last day for senate to consider all bills and joint resolutions on second or third reading
 
May 28, 2015 (136th day) Midnight deadline for house to distribute senate amendments.
 
May 29, 2015 (137th day) Last day for house to act on senate amendments.
 
Midnight deadline for senate to print and distribute senate copies of conference committee reports on tax, general appropriations, and reapportionment bills.
 
Last day for senate committees to report all bills and joint resolutions.
 
May 30, 2015 (138th day) Midnight deadline for house to distribute house copies of all conference committee reports.
 
Midnight deadline for senate to print and distribute senate copies of all conference committee reports on bills other than those on tax, general appropriations, and reapportionment and all house amendments to senate bills and joint resolutions that did not go to a conference committee.
 
May 31, 2015 (139th day) Last day for house to adopt conference committee reports or discharge house conferees and concur in Senate Amendments.
 
Last day for senate to adopt conference committee reports or concur in house amendments.
 
June 1, 2015 (140th day) Last day of 83 Regular Session. Corrections only in house and senate.
 
Regular Session Ends
 
June 21, 2015 (20th day following final adjournment of Regular Session) Last day governor can sign or veto bills passed during the regular session.
 
August 31, 2015 (91st day following final adjournment of Regular Session) Date that bills without specific effective dates (that could not be effective immediately) become law.
 
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