What’s Going on At the TxLege?

Texas State Capitol Building

The Texas Legislature has officially been in session for more than 60 days, which means that now is when the action really begins. During the first 60 days, state lawmakers are allowed to introduce bills, but they can’t vote on most of  them (or hold floor debates). Now that the 60 day mark has passed, all restrictions are off and bills will be debated at a fast pace, which can be pretty hard to keep up with.

That’s why we’ve put together a list of some of the Austin-related bills currently making their way through the Legislature.

But first, let’s go over some of the basics (so that it’s easier for you to follow along).

How a bill becomes a law – It’s probably no surprise that this process is more complicated than can be explained in a few sentences, but here’s the gist. Any senator or representative can file a bill. That bill is then sent to committee, where the committee chair gets to decide whether or not it’s deserving of a public hearing. After the hearing, the bill can be voted through the committee and on to the full chamber.

If the bill ends up getting debated on the floor and passed, then it is sent to the opposite chamber to go through the whole process again. If it passes both chambers, then it is sent to the governor who can allow it to become law or veto it.

Bill Tracking – All bills filed in the Texas Legislature are given a number so that they can be tracked as they flow through the legislative process. Before the number, most bills will also be listed as either an HB or a SB for House Bill and Senate Bill. This simply identifies which chamber the bill came from. You can track the progress of bills, as well as read through them here>>

If you’d like to stay up-to-date on the bills as they move into committees and receive hearings (so that you can go to the Capitol and testify) you can add them to your alert list on the Texas Legislature’s website. Simply click the “Add to Alert List” button in the upper righthand corner of the bill’s page and you’ll never be left out of the loop.

Bill Tracking

Okay, now back the list.

The issue: Plastic bag bans – State lawmakers are once again going after plastic bag bans that have been implemented in many cities across Texas, including Austin. Cities have passed these bans for a number of different reasons, to protect agriculture, livestock, animals, natural resources, and waterways.

The bills: A public hearing for SB 103 (which was authored by Texas State Senator Bob Hall) was held this week. If approved, the bill will bar cities from passing plastic bag bans or instituting policies that charge an extra fee for plastic bags.

At the same time, Austin-area Representative Gina Hinojosa has filed HB 3482, which stands in stark opposition to Hall’s bill. If passed, Hinojosa’s bill would ensure that cities have the right to pass plastic bag bans, as well as to protect those policies in court.

Bag Ban
What’s next?: You can participate in the political process by emailing or calling your elected officials and sharing with them your opinions about SB 103 and HB 3482. Local advocacy organization Texas Campaign for the Environment is also taking the lead on this issue. You can follow along with their calls to action here … or sign their petition here.

Texas Campaign for the Environment will also be hosting a “Grassroots Lobby Day” on Monday, March 27th to visit the offices of state legislators and ask them to support strong environmental policies. You can RSVP for the event (as well as to some lobbying training workshops) here>>

The issue: Ride-hailing Apps – In the past few years several Texas cities (including Austin) have passed regulations on ride-hailing apps like Uber and Lyft, prompting them to leave.

The main point of contention is over fingerprint-based background checks. Uber and Lyft both say that fingerprint-based background checks are overly burdensome (both companies already conduct their own non-fingerprint-based background checks) and interfere with their ability to quickly onboard new drivers and provide a high quality of service. Cities like Austin who have passed ride-hailing rules say that fingerprint-based checks are the safest option, as they’re the only way to ensure that a person really is who they say they are.

The bills: Ride-hailing is a hot topic this legislative session, so several bills have been filed aimed at overturning the many different locally-passed ride-hailing rules throughout the state. Earlier this week, SB 176 and SB 361 received a joint hearing. If passed, they would overturn local ride-hailing rules and replace them with one statewide framework (which would not include fingerprint-based background checks).

A hearing was also held today over HB 100, a similar bill which has been filed in the House.

Uber No Pick Up

What’s next: This issue is likely not going to disappear, so stay tuned as the bills continue to make their way through the legislative process. Once again, you can email or call your elected officials to share your comments on all three of these bills, as well as track their progress on the Texas Legislature’s website.

The issue: Barton Springs – As we told you last week, there has been a lot of discussion in the Texas Legislature over a the request from Dripping Springs for a permit to  to discharge up to 995,000 gallons of treated sewage into Onion Creek each day, a move that could affect water quality at Barton Springs. For a more thorough look into this issue, check out last week’s blog post>>

The bills: Texas State Representative Jason Isaac (Republican from Dripping Springs) filed HB 3004 earlier this month that would effectively prevent Austin from protesting these types of permits in the future.

More recently, Texas State Representative Donna Howard (Democrat from Austin) filed HB 3467, aimed at taking the opposite effect of Isaac’s bill. If passed, Howard’s bill would prevent the state from issuing new permits allowing wastewater to be discharged into any body of water in the contributing or recharge zone of the Barton Springs (or the San Antonio) segment of the Edwards Aquifer.

Barton Springs Pool
Photo by Lars Plougmann, Creative Commons

What’s next?: As you can see on the Texas Legislature’s online bill tracker, both of these bills have only been filed. A hearing has not yet been scheduled for either. You can follow along with their progress by signing up for their alerts on the Texas Legislature’s website.

Another way to get involved is to follow along with local advocacy organizations (like the Save Barton Creek Association) that are already working hard on this issues (and have a lot of really great background and institutional knowledge about how the Legislature works). You can follow along with those efforts and receive their calls to action here>>

Clean Water Action will also be hosting a lobby day on Wednesday, March 22nd, during which they’ll be speaking to state lawmakers about Barton Springs, along with many other environmental issues. Clean Water Action will be posting additional information about how the public can participate in their lobby day sometime in the next few days. You can stay up-to-date by following them on Facebook. 

Want more?

As this year’s legislative session continues, we’ll give you regular updates on some of the biggest bills making their way through the Texas Legislature.

Along with KUT and the Austin Young Chamber of Commerce, we’ll also be cohosting “Texas Legislature 101” on Tuesday, March 28th from 6pm to 8pm at St. Elmo Brewing Company in south Austin. The event will feature information about how our Legislature actually works, as well as a panel discussion with several local state lawmakers. More info>>

If you’d like to receive more thorough updates on eco-related bills coming out of the Texas Legislature, you can also sign up for action alerts from the Alliance for a Clean Texas (a coalition of several statewide environmental organizations, including Clean Water Action, Environment Texas, the Environmental Defense Fund, Public Citizen, the Sierra Club, Texas Campaign for the Environment, and the Texas League of Conservation Voters).

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