April 29, 2022, Number 17

Download the full .pdf version here: TML Legislative Update Number 17

u.s. supreme court upholds cities' ability to regulate off-premise signs

On April 21, 2022, the Supreme Court of the United States issued an opinion in the case of City of Austin v. Reagan Nat’l Advert. of Austin, LLC. In a welcome ruling for cities, the Supreme Court upheld the City of Austin (Austin) sign ordinance’s distinctions between on-premise and off-premise signs in the face of a free speech challenge.

Austin passed a sign ordinance, which prohibits the installation of new off-premise signs but grandfathers existing signs. Under the ordinance, on-premise signs, but not off-premise signs may be digitized.

Reagan National Advertising of Austin, LLC (Reagan), an outdoor advertising company, applied for permits to digitize some of their off-premise billboards, which Austin denied. Reagan sued Austin, arguing that the on-premise/off-premise sign distinction was a violation of the First Amendment’s free speech guarantees. Reagan argued that Austin’s regulation was content-based and therefore subject to “strict scrutiny,” which would require the city to show that the regulation was narrowly tailored to achieve a compelling governmental interest – an exceedingly high bar. Austin argued that the sign regulation at issue was location-based and content neutral and therefore subject to, at most, “intermediate scrutiny” requiring it to be “narrowly tailored to serve a significant governmental interest.” While the district court held in Austin’s favor that the sign distinction was content neutral, the court of appeals reversed, finding that the on-premise/off-premise distinction was content-based on its face because a city official needed to read a sign’s message to determine whether the sign was an off-premise sign.

The Supreme Court reversed the appellate court’s ruling. The Supreme Court held that because Austin’s ordinance only asks the reader to make content-neutral, location-based determinations, the ordinance is not subject to strict scrutiny. Ultimately, the Supreme Court concluded that off-premise sign regulations are subject to intermediate scrutiny, and remanded the case back to the trial court to determine whether Austin’s ordinance meets the intermediate scrutiny test. TML will continue to monitor this case.

slfrf project and expenditure report deadline is tomorrow

The State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (SLFRF) Project and Expenditure Report is due tomorrow, April 30, 2022 for all SLFRF receipts. An NEU User Guide has been created to assist recipients with logging into Treasury's Portal. More information on the SLFRF program can be found here, including the latest version of the Compliance and Reporting Guidance. For any questions or additional information, please email SLFRP@treasury.gov.

tml testifies at committee hearings

This week, TML testified in the House Committee on State Affairs hearing on H.B. 5, relating to the expansion of broadband services to rural areas. Interested city officials can view the testimony by clicking on the April 26 hearing of State Affairs here (testimony begins at the 1:48 mark).

The League also submitted written testimony to the Senate Local Government Committee on two interim charges relating to bond elections and ballot propositions.  

house and senate committee interim hearings

The Texas House and Senate Committees have begun their committee work to study interim charges outlined by Speaker Phelan and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick. Below is a full list of committee hearings set to hear certain city-related charges. All hearings will be held at the Texas Capitol unless otherwise indicated. If a committee has newly posted notice and was not included in last week’s edition of the Legislative Update, it is indicated as such.

Senate Transportation Committee

The committee will meet on May 3 at 9:00 a.m. to hear invited testimony only on the following interim charges:

Safety: Study the contributing factors leading to fatal crashes and make recommendations to prevent and reduce traffic fatalities and serious injuries.

Alternatively Fueled Vehicles: Review the Texas Department of Transportation’s plan for federal funding related to alternatively fueled vehicle infrastructure development. Examine the increase of private and public owned alternatively fueled vehicles registered in the state and make recommendations for road user fee fairness between alternatively fueled vehicles and gasoline and diesel vehicles.

Information on the hearing can be found here.

House Committee on Homeland Security and Public Safety

The committee will meet on May 3 at 10:00 a.m. to hear invited testimony only on the following charges:

Monitor the agencies and programs under the Committee’s jurisdiction and oversee the implementation of relevant legislation passed by the 87th Legislature. Conduct active oversight of all associated rulemaking and other governmental actions taken to ensure the intended legislation outcome of all legislation, including the following:

  • House Bill 3712, relating to the training of and policies for peace officers; and
  • Senate Bill 24, relating to the procedures required before a law enforcement agency hires a peace officer.

Study incidents of law enforcement injuries and fatalities to determine those situations that pose the greatest risk to law enforcement. Make recommendations on best practices for increasing and preserving the safety and security of law enforcement officers, including those undercover.

Compare incident crime reporting requirements with those of other states and determine whether a standardized reporting requirement should be implemented for Texas law enforcement. Study opportunities to modernize and improve local and statewide data collection and dissemination throughout the criminal justice system to promote transparency and ensure uniform data collection processes.

Information on the hearing, including how to submit electronic comments and watch the hearing, can be found here.

Senate Finance Committee

The committee will meet on May 4 at 10:00 a.m. to hear invited and public testimony on the following interim charges:

Inflation: Review and report on the impact of inflation on units of local governments’ revenue collections and property taxpayers’ tax bills, including the homestead exemption.

Information on the hearing, including how to register and testify at the committee hearing, can be found here.

Senate Water, Agriculture and Rural Affairs

The committee will meet on May 10 at 9:00 a.m. to hear invited and public testimony on the following charges:

Water Utility Infrastructure: Evaluate the state’s water infrastructure. Study and make recommendations on options to upgrade and update water infrastructure to address deferred maintenance, disasters, and water loss.

Water Supply: Review and make recommendations to complete specific projects identified in the 2022 State Water Plan. In light of recent changes to the global economy, consider the current regulatory process regarding innovative technology solutions to water supply needs, such as marine desalinations, and make recommendations for their improvement.

Information on the hearing, including how to testify at the committee hearing, can be found here.

Senate Finance Committee

The committee will meet on May 17 at 10:00 a.m. to hear invited and public testimony on the following interim charges:

Property Tax Relief: Examine and recommend ways to reduce Texans’ property tax burden. Review and report on proposals to use or dedicate state revenues in excess of the state spending limit to eliminate the school district maintenance and operations property tax.

Tax Exemptions: Examine Texans’ current tax exemptions and report on whether adjustments are merited because of inflation or any other factors.   

Information on the hearing, including how to register and testify at the committee, can be found here.

*NEW* Senate Business and Commerce

The committee will meet on May 18 at 9:00 a.m. to hear invited and public testimony on the following interim charges:

Cybersecurity: Review current state and federal laws regarding cybersecurity protections and requirements for local governments, state agencies, and critical industries of our state. Make recommendations for legislation to improve resilience and protection against cybersecurity attacks and ensure the privacy protection of the citizens of Texas.

Information on the hearing, including how to register and testify at the committee hearing, can be found here.  

federal infrastructure bill updates

In November 2021, the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) was signed into law. The IIJA is altogether a $1.2 trillion bill that will invest in the nation’s core infrastructure priorities including roads, bridges, rail, transit, airports, ports, energy transmission, water systems, and broadband.

The League will monitor state and federal agencies and work with the National League of Cities (NLC) to access the latest information relating to the IIJA. We will be providing periodic updates in the Legislative Update on resources for Texas cities on how to access IIJA funding for local infrastructure projects.   

Department of Transportation (USDOT)

On April 21, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) released implementation guidance on the Carbon Reduction Program (CRP) funded by the IIJA, which funds eligible projects designed to reduce transportation emissions. The IIJA provides roughly $1.3 billion in CRP funding nationwide in each of the next five years. 65 percent of a state’s CRP apportionment must be used in the following areas in proportion to their relative shares of the state’s population: (1) urbanized areas with a population greater than 200,000; (2) urbanized areas with a population of at least 50,000 but no more than 200,000; (3) urban areas with population between 5,000 and 49,999; and (4) areas with population of less than 5,000. Texas will receive over $123 million in fiscal year 2022 in CRP funding. 2022 allocations to metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) in Texas over 200,000 can be found here, and 2022 allocations to MPOs between 50,000 and 200,000 can be found here.   

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)

The FAA recently announced a notice of funding opportunity to apply for $20 million in fiscal year 2022 Airport Infrastructure Grants for the FAA Contract Tower Competitive Grant Program, which provides grants to eligible airports for airport-owned airport traffic control tower projects. Eligible applicants include cities. Applications for funding are due by May 16, 2022.  

The White House

On April 11, the White House released a Bipartisan Infrastructure Law Rural Playbook to help local governments in rural areas navigate the programs funded by the IIJA. According to a press release from the White House, the goal of the playbook is to “provide rural communities with information on the ‘what, when, where, and how to apply’ for funding under the law – so no community needs to hire a lobbyist to access their government.” More information on the handbook and the IIJA’s impact on small communities is available from NLC here.

2022 city tax and budget deadline memos now available

Every year, TML posts a memo containing the annual calendar deadlines for the budget adoption and tax rate setting process. Because the tax rate adoption procedure varies depending on the size of the city, two memos are available: one for cities under 30,000 population, and the other for cities with populations of 30,000 or more. Further, within each document, there are two sets of deadlines depending on whether the city’s adopted tax rate will exceed the voter-approval tax rate or not. Whatever the case may be, the deadlines in the document represent the last possible dates for a city to take certain actions related to the budget or tax rate in 2022. Cities should act well in advance of the calendar deadlines, if possible.   


TML member cities may use the material herein for any purpose. No other person or entity may reproduce, duplicate, or distribute any part of this document without the written authorization of the Texas Municipal League.