UTILITIES, TRANSPORTATION, AND ENVIRONMENT

H.B 1174 – Sewer Backups: provides that: (1) a city may pay actual property damages caused by the backup of the city's sanitary sewer system regardless of whether the city would be liable for the damages under the Texas Tort Claims Act; and (2) the bill does not waive governmental immunity from suit or liability.

H.B. 1433 – TCEQ Water Quality Fee: increases from $75,000 to $100,000 the maximum amount of the annual fee imposed by the TCEQ on wastewater discharge permit holders and water users, and requires an annual adjustment reflecting the change in the consumer price index (CPI), up to a maximum of $150,000.

H.B. 1937 – Energy Assessment Zones: authorizes a city to create a voluntary property assessment in order to finance energy efficiency improvements on certain types of property.

H.B. 2063 – Groundwater/Sovereign Immunity: authorizes a groundwater conservation district to sue a city, but does not explicitly waive a city’s sovereign immunity.

H.B. 2333 – Mineral Leases: provides that a city may enter into a lease for an oil, gas, or mineral interest in a street, alley, or public square (not including a public park) if the lease prohibits the lessee from using the surface of the land for drilling, production, or other operations.

H.B. 2527 – Commercial Fertilizer: this bill: (1) requires a person to hold a certificate of registration from the Texas Feed and Fertilizer Control Service in order to produce, store, transfer, or sell ammonium nitrate material; and (2) preempts any city ordinance relating to the regulation of commercial fertilizer.

H.B. 2572 – Gas Pipelines: provides that a gas corporation has the right to lay and maintain lines over, along, under, and across a public road, a railroad, railroad right-of-way, an interurban railroad, a street railroad, a canal or stream, or a municipal street or alley only if: (1) the pipeline complies with all safety regulations adopted by the Railroad Commission of Texas, all federal regulations relating to pipeline facilities and pipelines, all rules adopted by the Texas Department of Transportation or the Railroad Commission of Texas, and all federal regulations regarding the accommodation of utility facilities on a right-of-way, including regulations relating to the horizontal or vertical placement of the pipeline; and (2) the owner or operator of the pipeline ensures that the public right-of-way and any associated facility are promptly restored to their former condition of usefulness after the installation or maintenance of the pipeline. The bill also provides that the right described above, relating to the use of a municipal street or alley, is subject to the payment of franchise charges and fees in accordance with state law. Further, the bill provides that in determining the route of a pipeline within a municipality, a gas corporation shall consider using existing easements and public rights-of-way, including streets, roads, highways, and utility rights-of-way if the use is economically practicable, adequate space exists, and the use will not violate any pipeline safety regulations. Finally, the Texas Department of Transportation may require the owner or operator of a pipeline to relocate the pipeline at the owner or operator’s expense in most cases.

H.B. 2667 – Plumbing Fixtures: provides that: (1) certain plumbing fixtures, such as shower heads, faucets, toilets, and others must meet detailed water-saving performance measures; and (2) the governing body of a city or county by ordinance or order may allow the sale in the city or county of a urinal or toilet that does not comply with the bill’s requirements if the governing body finds that to flush a public sewer system in a manner consistent with public health, a greater quantity of water is required because of the configuration of the drainage systems of buildings located in the city or county or the public sewer system.

S.B. 129 – Neighborhood Electric Vehicles: requires that, in order to be legal on a street, a neighborhood electric vehicle must: (1) be able to attain a maximum speed of 35 miles per hour; and (2) be driven at a maximum of 35 miles per hour, or the speed limit, whichever is less.

S.B. 686 – Gas Pipelines: this bill applies to a natural gas pipeline located or proposed to be located in: (1) a county in which a part of the Barnett Shale natural gas field is known to be located; (2) a county that is located in the boundaries of a metropolitan planning organization; or (3) the corporate limits of a city. The bill provides, among other things, that a gas utility is entitled to lay, maintain, and operate a natural gas pipeline through, under, along, or across a controlled access state highway only if: (1) the pipeline is subject to the jurisdiction, control, and regulation of the Railroad Commission of Texas and subject to safety standard requirements pertaining to gas pipeline facilities and transmission lines for the transportation of gas; (2) the pipeline complies with all applicable state rules consistent with the bill and all applicable federal regulations on the accommodation of utility facilities on the highway or right-of-way, including rules and regulations relating to the horizontal and vertical location of the pipeline; and (3) the highway and associated facilities are promptly restored to their former condition of usefulness after the installation or maintenance of the pipeline, as applicable, is complete. The bill provides that TxDoT may require a gas utility to relocate a facility at the cost of the gas utility to accommodate construction or expansion of a highway or for any other public work unless the gas utility has a property interest in the land occupied by the facility to be relocated. The bill may not be construed to limit the authority of a gas utility to use a public right-of-way under any other law, and the bill may not be construed to affect the authority of a city to regulate the use of a public right-of-way by a gas utility under any other law or to require payment of any applicable franchise fee.

S.B. 769 – Electric Utilities: this is a complex electric rate bill that enables a deregulated electric utility to obtain recovery of system restoration costs that are caused by certain natural disasters. The bill: (1) provides that system restoration costs may be recovered outside of a traditional rate case by the use of securitization financing to recover those costs; (2) defines "system restoration costs" as reasonable and necessary costs that are incurred by an electric utility due to any activity conducted in connection with the restoration of service and infrastructure associated with electric power outages affecting customers as the result of any weather-related event or natural disaster that occurred in calendar year 2008 or thereafter; (3) provides that system restoration costs include mobilization, staging, and construction, reconstruction, replacement, or repair of electric generation, transmission, distribution, or general plant facilities; (4) provides that, to the extent a utility receives insurance proceeds, governmental grants, or any other source of funding that compensate it for system restoration costs, those amounts shall be used to reduce the utility's system restoration costs recoverable from customers; and (5) provides for detailed implementing procedures, including Public Utility Commission oversight. (Note: Cities that have been affected by a natural disaster since 2008 and that are served by a deregulated electric utility should review the provisions of this bill carefully.)

S.B. 926 – Red Light Cameras: prohibits a city from imposing a civil penalty on an emergency vehicle for running a red light that is monitored by a red light camera, but clarifies that a city may take disciplinary action against an employee that operates an emergency vehicle in violation of city policy.

S.B. 1354 – Plumbing: provides, among other things, that a person is not required to be licensed to perform plumbing, other than plumbing performed in conjunction with new construction, repair, or remodeling, on a property that is located inside a city that is within a county that has fewer than 50,000 inhabitants and that: (1) has fewer than 5,000 inhabitants; and (2) by municipal ordinance has authorized a person who is not licensed to perform plumbing. The bill also provides that a city that requires a plumbing contractor to obtain a permit before the person performs plumbing shall by telephone, fax, or e-mail: (1) accept permit applications; (2) collect required fees; and (3) issue the required permits. Finally, the bill provides that: (1) if drawings of proposed plumbing work are required by a city, the city shall specify how drawings are to be submitted; (2) a person who is required to obtain a permit is not required to pay a plumbing registration fee or administrative fee to a city; and (3) a plumbing contractor must register, electronically or in person, with a city that requires registration before performing plumbing regulated by the city.

S.B. 1410 – Residential Fire Sprinklers: makes various changes to the requirements to obtain a state plumbing license. Of interest to cities, the bill provides, among other things, that: (1) a plumbing inspector who meets the requirements of the State Board of Plumbing Examiners may inspect a multipurpose residential fire protection sprinkler installation; (2) the board may certify "multipurpose residential fire protection sprinkler specialists"; (3) notwithstanding any other provision of state law, after January 1, 2009, a city may not require the installation of a sprinkler system in a new or existing one- or two-family dwelling; (4) a city may allow a multipurpose residential fire protection sprinkler specialist or other contractor to offer, for a fee, the installation of a fire sprinkler protection system in a new one- or two-family dwelling; and (5) a multipurpose residential fire protection sprinkler specialist may install a sprinkler system in a new or existing one- or two-family dwelling in a city described by numbers 3 or 4 above.

The Legislative Process

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