Photo: Texas Capitol, by Al Braden
We’re in the painful sometimes exhilarating (but mostly painful) final days of the Texas legislative session. Deal making, backstabbing, deceit, and arm twisting are all in vogue. As hundreds of bills fail to meet deadlines, lawmakers are attempting to graft their priority legislation onto other bills as amendments, while opponents of bills that are moving are using tactics such as points of order to try to stop them during floor debates. Sometimes this takes the form of vengeance (you killed my bill?! Well then I’m going to kill your bill!), and collateral damage (bills that die because they are on the calendar behind a bill that is targeted that eats up the clock at the deadline). It can be heartbreaking and sickening to witness. So can bad votes from members you thought were on your side. Let’s start with good news though.
UPDATE 1: Our priority energy legislation to address skyrocketing electricity prices and grid instability is still alive. Senate Bill 258 (raises the energy efficiency goal for Texas), as well as SB 114 (better demand response programs) and SB 2453 (better building codes), have been scheduled for a hearing in House State Affairs this Wednesday! If they are voted out of committee by Thursday they still have a chance to be on the House floor by Saturday the last day to pass a senate bill on second reading. Your phone calls, emails, and tweets have really helped! If you have five minutes, please call Speaker Phelan’s office and ask him to support these bills! He has tremendous influence over whether this bills gets through the House or not.
UPDATE 2: HB 5, which would recreate a massive corporate polluter subsidy, has been referred to the Senate Business & Commerce Committee, where it has sat since May 9. Rumor has it the fate of this bill is caught up with many other energy bills (including the $18 billion SB 6, bills related to the so-called “performance credit mechanism”, as well as the good energy bills mentioned above and others), and the sparring between Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Speaker of the House Dade Phelan. Don’t be surprised if all of these bills fail to pass but get added to a special session agenda. Thus far it has not received a hearing in the senate.
UPDATE 3: Sadly, the Texas Legislature failed to act to address nurdle pollution. Though we were able to get a committee hearing on HB 4144, which would have made clear to TCEQ that they have the authority to include pre-production plastics in their surface water quality standards, the progress stopped there. We will not stop advocating for action, though. Stay tuned for a new action alert and ways to engage and pressure the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to do their job!
UPDATE 4: We haven’t written much about it in these updates, but there is a terrible bill snaking its way through: SB 471. This bill would, in a nutshell, give discretion to the TCEQ to not investigate complaints from members of the public about potential violations. Uh, what?? We just went through an 18 month Sunset process in which TCEQ was found to be a “reluctant regulator.” They were found to not have a good relationship with the public in general, were frequently criticized for failing to follow up on citizen complaints, and enforce the laws often in a way that provided more discretion to the company potentially violating the laws than the public. Unfortunately, after it failed to get voted out of committee initially, some arm twisting of Rep. Keith Bell and a re-vote resulted in its passage 5-4. It has not yet been referred to the House Calendars Committee but we are watching this closely. Read our written testimony here.
UPDATE 5: Today on the House floor, we expect the House to approve SB 1648 and SJR 74 by Reps. Parker and Walle that would dedicate $1 billion for new state parks. After years of virtually no funding for land acquisition, the move to set aside part of the state surplus would be a tremendous bipartisan victory for recreation. [UPDATE: They just passed!]
UPDATE 6: Tomorrow, SB 1397 by Sen. Schwertner, better known as the TCEQ Sunset bill, will likely be approved on the House floor. While a modest bill that falls short of the real reform needed, Sierra Club is supporting the bill for the modest improvements it makes in enforcement and public participation. Our testimony can be found here.
To learn how we got here, check out our past legislative updates here.