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Legislative Accomplishments

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86th Legislative Session

 

Major House Bills Authored and Passed by Representative Phelan
 

House Bill 1177 protects Texans from being charged with the unlawful carrying of a handgun while evacuating from an area during a state of disaster or while they are returning to that area by allowing them to legally transport their lawfully owned handguns for 7 days without a License to Carry.

 

House Bill 1397 authorizes the Public Utility Commission of Texas to approve a rider submitted by a non-ERCOT utility for an electric generation facility. The goal of a rider is to reduce regulatory lag—the time period between the date that infrastructure is placed in service and the date a utility may start recovering its investment.

 

House Bill 1576 allows Medicaid recipients to receive better transportation services for their healthcare needs by allowing rideshare companies such as Uber and Lyft to provide nonemergency medical transportation services. This new public / private partnership option will ensure better outcomes - a better healthcare outcome for the patient, a better delivery of service outcome for the provider, and a better return on investment outcome for the taxpayer.

 

House Bill 1941 grants authority to the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division to take action under current statute to stop a freestanding emergency room from engaging in unconscionable pricing, only when the price is 200 percent over the average hospital charge for a similar service. A court may impose up to $250,000 in civil penalties when a freestanding emergency room charges an elderly Texan an unconscionable price for emergency care. This applies to hospitals that are not federally approved to be a Medicare provider.

 

House Bill 2439 prohibits any governmental entity from using a building code or other local ordinance powers to mandate vendor driven and product specific mandates in construction. This legislation does not impact a homeowner association’s aesthetic control and it does not prohibit a local government from including local amendments in their building codes.

 

House Bill 1256 implements a process that allows employers of first responders direct access to the first responders' immunization information in the event of a disaster. The employee must provide written consent before their employer is granted access to their immunization registry, and they may withdraw consent at any time. Previously, only health care providers, schools, and public health departments have access to these records in the Department of State Health Services ImmTrac2 registry.

 

House Bill 1418 creates a system whereby emergency medical personnel receive information about their immunization status from ImmTrac2, an immunization registry system, when they seek certification or recertification. This legislation allows first responders to be more easily and quickly informed of their vaccination status, which is helpful in the case of a natural disaster. The ImmTrac2 registry is an opt-in program.

 

House Bill 2784 allows industrial construction, utility and manufacturing companies access to workforce training funds. This legislation establishes a grant program under the Texas Workforce Commission encouraging companies to develop their workforce by offering earn-while-you-learn apprenticeship programs. The apprentice must be trained through an accepted program, receive a recognized craft certification, and be hired as a full time employee. Companies could receive grants of up to $10,000 per apprentice for their training expenses incurred but cannot be reimbursed for the required wages. 

 

Major Senate Bills Sponsored and Passed by Representative Phelan
 

Senate Bill 30 requires local taxing entities to write more transparent and detailed ballot language for propositions to issue bonds or impose or increase a tax. This requires taxing entities to list out each specific purpose for which bonds are being approved. These bond proposals must be printed on the ballot as separate propositions, allowing each issue to be put up for voter approval to be considered individually. The ballot must also list the rate of any tax that will be increased or imposed should that proposition gain voter approval.

 

Senate Bill 64 increases the Texas Department of Information Resources’ oversight of agency cybersecurity, assists local entities in responding to cyber breaches, helps grow the cybersecurity workforce pipeline, and seeks to secure the electric grid.

 

Senate Bill 986 provides much needed assistance and guidance for local governments in issuing contracts related to disaster response. It requires the Comptroller of Public Accounts to update the contract management guide to include contract standards and information for contracts related to emergency management.

 

Senate Bill 1152 ends the double taxation occurring on our cable bills. When telecommunication providers install lines in a city’s right-of-way they must pay the city for the right to occupy that right-of-way. This tax is passed onto the consumer. Because of outdated and duplicative laws, when that provider sends both telephone calls and video over the same line, they are taxed twice for the same line in the same right-of-way. This legislation requires a provider to pay the city the larger of the two taxes, but not both. By eliminating this double taxation, it is estimated cable subscribers across Texas will save approximately $150 million each year. 

 

Senate Bill 1213 allows the Public Safety Commission to enter into a land swap agreement with a large industrial company in Orange County as long as the exchangeable property is within ten miles of the existing office/property and has a facility that the commission determines is comparable to the existing office/property.

 

Senate Bill 1414 defines the process that landlords must follow when charging late fees. As in other industries, late fees are commonly charged when payments are not made on time. These fees may be an alternative to more drastic actions, such as a lien, lawsuit or eviction. Ambiguity in the current statute has led to uncertainty on how to comply with the law, as well as expensive and time-consuming litigation. This legislation clarifies existing law, continues to protect tenants from unreasonable late fees and creates more certainty for apartment owners. 

 

Senate Bill 1640 prohibits members of a governmental body from skirting the Texas Open Meetings Act by restoring the “walking quorum prohibition”. This ensures all deliberations occur in a public forum rather than a series of small, private gatherings to avoid a quorum.

 

Senate Bill 2208 allows Orange County to use its current Hotel Occupancy Tax revenue to build a pavilion at the county boat ramp and any related infrastructure including sidewalks, lighting, and fencing that will be used to promote local tourism in Orange County.

 

HIGHER EDUCATION VICTORIES

Lamar State Colleges Tuition Reduction: The state budget provided an additional $17.3 million to reduce tuition and fees at Lamar State College Port Arthur, Lamar State College Orange and Lamar Institute of Technology.

Lamar Institute of Technology

Formula Increase: $8.1M/59.8%

New Truck Driving Academy: $1.1M

Lamar State College Orange

Formula Increase: $4.8M/50%

Maintains Hold Harmless: $870,000

Lamar State College Port Arthur

Formula Increase: $7.6M/68.5%

Maintains Hold Harmless: $1.7M

Lamar University

Formula Increase: $1M/1.5%

Maintains Harmless: $6M

New Center for Midstream Management: $1.9M

Hurricane Harvey Damage Repairs: $1.4M

 

85th Legislative Session

 

House Bills Passed by Representative Phelan

 

House Bill 1260 creates a shrimpers offloading license for non-Texas commercial shrimpers in order to unload their federal water catches in Texas. Previously, no new licenses were being issued because of a moratorium for Texas Gulf licenses. This victory added an additional 1 million pounds of shrimp into the Texas Economy.   

House Bill 1657 amends the occupation code to change the dates by ten years for the voluntary registration for interior designers. 

House Bill 1661 allows a candidate in a local election who seeks to remove his or her name after the deadline to sign a waiver that would allow them to remove their name and prevent a political subdivision from wasting money on an election in which a candidate wishes to withdraw from the race and not continue an election.  

House Bill 2771 would have eliminated a fee collected by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for an Onsite Wastewater Permit. The fee began being collected in the 1980s by the Onsite Wastewater Research Council and was intended to be issued as grants to different entities for wastewater use and reuse research. When the Council was up for sunset review and abolished in 2011, TCEQ assumed the responsibilities and continued to collect the fee but failed to award any grants. The Senate would not allow the bill to continue through the legislative process as a fee elimination but rather obligate TCEQ must use the funds for its intended purpose.

House Bill 3018 prohibits an out of state insurance agent from selling or issuing a windstorm and hail policy in Texas unless that agent's home state (where the license is held) allows a Texas agent to sell such a policy as an insurer of last resort. Louisiana passed legislation only allowing Louisiana agents to issue policies in their state and so this bill creates reciprocity.

House Bill 3021 expands the protections against a contractual duty to include "defend".
Previously, a state governmental entity could not require an architect or engineer to indemnify or hold harmless the state for claims resulting from the negligent acts of the governmental entity or its employees.


House Bill 3781 clarifies the purposes and uses of the Lifetime License Endowment fund to be used only for managing the fish and wildfire resources on the state to allow capital expenditures relating to acquiring, constructing, and purchasing transportation items, equipment, and IT. This legislation frees up around $8 million in the biennium to be used to help meet some of the replacement transportation needs for Game Wardens. The Texas Parks & Wildlife Law Enforcement division was in great need of funds to help replace vehicles and boats that had been damaged or worn down in Operation Strong Safety on the Border, and this legislation helps provide those funds. 

 

House Bill 7 requires municipalities who impose a tree mitigation fee for tree removal to allow that person to apply for a credit for tree planting to offset the amount of the fee. The bill provides flexibility, supports property rights, and reduces financial and administrative burdens associated with tree removal. This legislation also prohibits fees from being assessed against residential properties with existing one or two-family homes and allows for other residential properties to be eligible for a tree planting credit of at least 50% of the fee charged by the municipality and non-residential structures may be eligible for a credit of at least 40%.


Senate Sponsored Bills Passed by Representative Phelan
 

Senate Bill 347 (companion to House Bill 3027) mandates that regional water planning groups be subject to the Open Meetings and Public Information Act. This allows for more transparency and gives the public an opportunity to provide input.

Senate Bill 693 (companion to House Bill 1188) seals the deal on moving to protect children who ride a school bus everyday by requiring all new school buses purchased by a school district, with a model year of 2018 or later, to be equipped with three-point seat belts. If a school district deems themselves financially unable to meet the standard, that school district’s board must hold a public vote to opt themselves out of the requirement.

Senate Bill 1105 (companion to House Bill 3027) abolishes the used oil recycling account, transferring its balance and revenue dedications into the water resource management account. The water resource management account has seen lower than expected balances of late and is at risk of depletion. Transferring the unneeded used oil account funds makes the water account reliably sound.

Senate Bill 1538 85(R) (companion to House Bill 3746) expands permissible uses of the Floodplain Management Fund to include any other activities related to the collection and analysis of flood-related information; flood planning, protection, mitigation, or adaption; and the provision of flood-related information to the public through education or outreach programs.


Senate Bill 1842 85(R) (companion to House Bill 3746) allows for a Class A utility to apply to the Public Utility Commission for an amendment of a municipal utility district's certificate of convenience and is necessary to allow the utility to have the same rights and powers under the certificate as the municipal utility district.

Senate Bill 1963 (companion to House Bill 2775) allows for observations in educator prep programs, other than for classroom teacher certification, to be conducted either on site or using other electronic telecommunications capabilities. It allows the Texas Education Agency to conduct observation of participants in advanced education preparation programs (such as those to become a principal, superintendent, or counselor) remotely through Skype or other technology-enhanced solutions. This decreases regulation, reduces program costs for students and institutions, and increases access to students across the state by allowing institutions to offer online classes.

Senate Bill 2271 (companion to House Bill 4299) creates the Port Neches Improvement District and establishes the board, the rules governing the election of the board, the duties, the powers, bond authority, tax authority, and boundaries of the district. This district allows the city of Port Neches to continue to develop the property along the Ship Channel that has already been proven a success with the beginning of the Wheelhouse.

 

84th Legislative Session

 

Appropriation Support for Southeast Texas Higher Education

 

Through HB 1 and HB 100 all four higher education campuses were granted new capital improvement projects as well as innovative education programs. These buildings and curriculums are vital workforce development tools for Southeast Texas. They support and produce the highly skilled labor force the region profoundly needs.

 

The following items were authorized:

 

Lamar University – Biology & Science Building, Port Management Program, Center for Water & Air Quality

 

Lamar Institute of Technology – Technical Arts Building & Associate of Arts Degree Implementation Program

Lamar State College Orange – Multi Purpose Center, Allied Health Program, Maritime Technology Program, Hurricane Ike Reimbursement Funding

Lamar State College Port Arthur – Vocational Instructional Building, Vocational and Technical and HVAC Program, “Hold Harmless” Funding (offset nursing program loss)

 

Rider #72 in House Bill 1 This budget rider contained in the state budget creates the Office of Complaints, Investigations and Enforcement at the Texas Education Agency to investigate suspected malfeasance and misconduct in public education. In the future, should an individual have a concern regarding improprieties in a school or district, this office will have the ability and expertise to investigate the claims in real time while removing local politics from the equation.

 

House Bill 3106 (Joint Author) allows the Commissioner of the Texas Education Agency the permissive ability to extend the board of managers for up to two additional years after the initial appointment of the new board. This will give school districts, like the Beaumont Independent School District, which have been placed under state supervision, adequate time to perform their duties.

 

House Bill 1979 Fishing tournaments have a significant impact on Southeast Texas by providing revenue and positive exposure to the area. However, due to the brackish nature of the Sabine River and Neches River systems, it is a challenge for largemouth bass to reach the 14-inch legal size. This prevents tournament participants from being able to weigh in a full bag limit thus causing many organizers to look elsewhere to host an event. Southeast Texas has the largest high school team fishing trail in the nation. This bill was an attempt to allow those children the opportunity to fish in tournaments locally. Although the bill did not become law, it did prompt a vigorous and thorough study by the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department. They have already begun researching the waters of Southeast Texas to better understand the ecosystem. Should the data ultimately prove the lack of 14-inch bass in Southeast Texas, we could see a reduction of the slot limit for largemouth bass to 12 inches locally for everybody, not just high school and college tournaments participants. A final decision by TPWD is expected by spring 2016.

House Bill 4213 into SB 1139. If the County Judge of Jefferson County is a licensed attorney, he or she may preside over a county court at law docket in addition to other already prescribed duties.  This allows the county to utilize an existing judge to alleviate a backlog of cases. It saves the citizens of Jefferson County time and tax dollars.

House Bill 2589 amends the Penal Code to lower from 14 years of age to 13 years of which a person is considered a disabled individual for purposes of the offense of aggravated sexual assault. Previously, the aggravated sexual assault section of the penal code defined a minor as younger than fourteen and a disabled individual as older than fourteen. When a victim was disabled and fourteen years of age, the state could not prosecute under this enhanced penalty.  This legislation prevents other victims from falling into this age gap in the future.

 

House Bill 884 transfers deposits from the Child Support Fund to the new Divorce and Contempt Fees Fund. It abolishes the Orange County Child Support Office and transfers all obligations, rights, records, equipment, and personnel of the Orange County Child Support Office to the Orange County Juvenile Board.