HOUSE COMMITTEES RELEASE INTERIM REPORTS
The following is a brief summary of additional city-related interim report provisions that have been released. The reports are available online at
House Agriculture and Livestock Committee
- Charge 1: Evaluate the role of community gardens and urban farming efforts that increase access to healthy foods and examine the possible impact that state and local policies have on the success of programs of this type. Determine the feasibility of policies to support these efforts, especially in high-population areas. (Joint charge with the House Committee on Urban Affairs.)
According to the report, it is not uncommon for Texas cities to prohibit individuals from operating a business out of a single family home. These ordinances can have the effect of quelling potential urban farmers. In Frisco, for instance, the city council voted last year to specifically ban all cottage food production operations from a home.
Generally, Texas does not offer economic incentives for urban farmers. During the 82nd Regular Session, House Bills 2995, relating to an exemption for urban farms from payment for wastewater service, and 2998, relating to ad valorem tax relief for urban farms and green roofs, did not receive hearings. (Note: Similar legislation has been filed in 2013 in the form of H.B. 254.)
- “Local entities should be encouraged to use resources available at Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service for guidance in developing future polices and guidelines for urban agriculture and community gardening, including policies and guidelines for adjustments of wastewater system facility charges.”
- “The legislature should examine economic incentives as a way to promote urban agriculture and community gardening. This should include re-examining taxing strategies such as appraisal methods and procedures for land designated for agricultural use.”
- “Cooperatives should be encouraged between local landowners, farmers, and utilities to allow the use of vacant or underused lands in urban and suburban areas. Particular attention should be paid to issues surrounding the limitation of liability for landowners for injury or damage resulting from the use of the land.”
- Charge 2: Study the wildfire response performed by the Texas A&M Forest Service and cooperating state agencies. Examine specifically how state laws and regulations could be enhanced to improve response effectiveness across the state. Study both the available causes of wildfires and mitigation and make recommendations as needed.
The report states that Texas has more than 60,000 active firefighters; more than half of them are volunteers. Volunteer fire departments respond to 90 percent of the wildfires in Texas—and they do it with little to no money and a staff made up almost completely of volunteers. There are only 139 out of more than 1,200 departments that are full-paid departments.
- “Encourage the legislature to restore funding for grants to the Volunteer Fire Department Assistance Program and Rural Volunteer Fire Department Insurance Program. Last session, the Assistance program was cut 54.2 percent, and the Insurance program was cut $100,000 for the biennium. This action will not require any new tax or fee revenues.”
- “Review the current statute on liability protections extended to private individuals and companies aiding the state in emergency response. Private companies are interested in using their personnel and equipment to assist Texas Forest Service with wildfire suppression on property adjacent to theirs; however, they are concerned about potential liability issues.”
- “Consider providing workers’ compensation coverage for Regional Incident Management Team (RIMT) and Texas Intrastate Fire Mutual Aid System (TIFMAS) resources. Most members of these teams are not employed by a state agency and are not covered under the state's workers' compensation insurance. A legislative change to allow RIMT and TIFMAS personnel similar coverage to that provided to Texas Task Force 1 members (Education Code 88.303) would address this issue.”
- “The legislature has consistently funded response costs during the legislative session following emergency events. Changes in the billing processes and prompt pay requirements for out-of-state resources make the current funding process problematic, especially with resources obtained through federal contracts or from other states. Consider setting aside an amount of funding proper to the occurrence of disasters so that funds would be available, should they be needed, to provide for emergency response cost reimbursement in a more timely fashion. This will not result in additional costs to the state, but rather a change in when funding occurs.”
- “Work with the USDA on the bidding process concerning the use of local resources to help quicken response times and to reduce the need for out-of-state resources.”
House Land and Resource Management Committee
- Charge 3: Examine the effectiveness of the Texas Private Real Property Rights Preservation Act (Chapter 2007, Government Code).
The Act is what is known as a “pay or waive” law. That means that – if cities were made subject to it, and if a property owner claims that a city regulation reduces the value of his property – a city would have three choices: (1) pay the alleged damages; (2) waive the regulations; or (3) litigate the claim.
Recommendation: “While the legislature and the committee greatly value the rights of private property owners in Texas, when the act was originally passed in 1995, the legislature exempted municipalities from inclusion. Since that time, little has changed to believe the legislature would reverse its position that the Private Real Property Rights Preservation Act include municipalities. We remain cautious of the unintended consequences on municipalities using legitimate public policy oriented regulations.”
- Charge 4: Examine current regulatory authority available to municipalities in their extraterritorial jurisdiction. Make necessary legislative recommendations to ensure a proper balance between development activities and municipal regulations.
The Texas Association of Builders testified that abuses of regulatory authority in the extraterritorial jurisdiction through over-reaching ordinances can increase the cost of housing, because developers are unable to develop small lots or have to comply with costly regulations.
Recommendation: “The committee does have concerns regarding excessive and abusive regulations that impede or deny property owners their right to develop land as they see fit. However, the committee feels these regulations should be addressed with targeted, local bills brought by members who represent the area affected by the regulations. Any statewide solution could have unintended consequences on communities other than those imposing unreasonable regulations.”
House Committee on Culture, Recreation, and Tourism Committee
- Charge 5: Recommend approaches to improve long-term funding for state park acquisition, development, and maintenance.
The report contains a detailed history of the funding for state and local parks in recent times. According to the report, local communities depend on the grant programs administered by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department for acquisition and development of parkland to meet the growing population in Texas. Local parks have many benefits attributed to them, including financial benefits, as well as social benefits. Some estimates show that local parks also lead to the creation of 45,623 jobs through their maintenance and operation activities, capital investments, and direct tourism, as well as $6.44 billion in visitor spending. However, the different grant programs that play a vital role in funding activities associated with local parks are underfunded.
Recommendation: “Support legislation that would dedicate 94 percent and 6 percent of the tax revenue received from the sale of sporting goods to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the Texas Historical Commission, respectively…[and]…provide additional funding for the grant programs administered by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department for local park projects and acquisition.”
House Committee on Economic and Small Business Development Committee
- Charges: Examine the state's efforts to encourage new business growth and retain existing businesses in order to strengthen our state's economy. Determine whether a consolidated approach to statewide economic development would be more effective. Examine current economic development programs available in urban areas in Texas and other states. Report on successful programs and make legislative recommendations for innovative economic development programs. (Joint with the House Committee on Urban Affairs.)
This report is slightly unusual in tone. Here is an excerpt from it:
“You’re not being paranoid. They really are out to get us. And we’re helping them do it... Other states are in an arms race with Texas. They want our businesses, and they will do whatever it takes to get them. That includes incentives. Incredible incentives, crazy incentives. We’ve built a beautiful gingerbread house with our incentives, and we've lured them in. But other states are working to make their gingerbread houses more alluring.”
The report concludes with this: “The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is now. – Chinese proverb.”
- “Although expansion of small businesses is crucial to growing our economy, monetary government involvement should be targeted toward those small businesses that actually want to grow. When considering policies for these types of businesses, lawmakers should not consider the entire universe of small businesses. Rather, lawmakers should narrow their focus to specific businesses, such as those actively seeking venture capital. And of those businesses, the sample should be confined to those businesses with new and innovative technologies that have the potential to become a major player.”
- “The Tax Code allows cities and counties to establish reinvestment zones and enterprise zones, and allows cities, counties, and school districts to offer tax abatements and tax increment financing to qualified businesses. These local entities must continue to be given that flexibility by the state, in order to be proactive toward achieving their own economic development goals.”
- “Chapter 313 agreements [school value limitations] must be continued to attract large, manufacturing facilities. If it needs to be tweaked, tweak it. But don’t let it expire in 2014.”
- “Texas should maintain the portion of the hotel-motel tax for the benefit of tourism marketing. The $30-million investment generates about $3.7 billion in tourism spending, returning $190 million back to state coffers – nearly a seven-to-one return on investment.”
- “Current incentives should be maintained, and funding enhanced where appropriate.”