News & Press: Member Update

End of Legislative Session Looms

Wednesday, May 3, 2017  
Posted by: Michael Hancock
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Member Update

May 1, 2017





The last day of the Regular Session of the 85th Legislature will be May 29, which means that the usual end-of-session pileup is in full swing. Here is an update on a variety of issues ACEC Texas is involved with or tracking:


Transportation Funding: In 2015, Texas voters overwhelmingly approved the transfer of up to $2.5 billion per year in state general sales tax revenues to the state highway fund. These monies begin to flow in 2018. Under the constitutional language, the Legislature has some ability to interrupt up to half of the Prop 7 transfers if a super-majority determines that there are other more important uses of the money. Although Appropriations Committee Chair John Zerwas filed legislation earlier in the session to interrupt the transfer, it seems likely at this point that the highway funds will be protected. To some extent this issue is caught up in differences of opinion between the House and Senate over how to balance the state budget. The Senate has proposed to delay the transfer by one day in order to push it into the next fiscal biennium, but the impact of that maneuver in the short term would be negligible. Nevertheless, until the budget is approved the funding is not certain.


Duty to Defend/Standard of Care: In 2015, the Legislature passed legislation protecting A/E firms from unfair and uninsurable duty to defend and heightened standard of care provisions in contracts with local government entities. HB 3021 by Rep. Dade Phelan expands those protections to cover state agencies. HB 3021 has been approved by the House Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Committee and is awaiting action by the full House.


Disclosure of Controlling Interest by Government Contractors: Last session, in the name of transparency, the Legislature passed legislation to require all government contractors to disclose who has the controlling interest in their companies, as well as who assisting in getting or negotiating the contract. The legislation has created a massive paperwork burden, with well over 100,000 forms filed; some ACEC Texas members have filed hundreds of forms with redundant and duplicative information. ACEC Texas has supported efforts to simplify this process by creating an annual filing (HB 1610 by Rep. John Kuempel). Rep. Giovanni Caprigilione (R-Southlake) filed legislation that would actually make the problem worse, by adding civil penalties. Rep. Capriglione has made clear that he does not particularly care about the burden on businesses, which he thinks is not significant. At present, both bills are pending in the House General Investigating and Ethics Committee, chaired by Rep. Sarah Davis, and it seem unlikely that either will pass.


Reporting of Relationships Between Vendors and Local Officials: Similarly, the last Legislature also passed requirements for reporting of relationships between vendors and local officials (particularly entertainment) that have proven to be confusing and ambiguous. HB 2473 by Rep. Sarah Davis would clarify some of those requirements. The bill has been approved by the House General Investigating and Ethics Committee and is awaiting consideration by the full House.


Public Information Act: For several years member firms have chafed at having proprietary information submitted to owners in responses to RFQs released in open records requests. A recent Texas Supreme Court decision in the Boeing case created some grounds for protecting that information, but several bills have been filed reversing that decision. SB 407 by Sen. Kirk Watson would provide that any information submitted in a contracting process would be public when the procurement is completed. ACEC Texas supports the release of a final contract, but opposes SB 407 as it currently stands. The bill has passed the Senate and is pending in the House Government Transparency and Operation Committee, chaired by Rep. Gary Elkins.


TxDOT Sunset: The DOT sunset bill - SB 312 by Sen. Robert Nichols and Rep. Larry Gonzales, has been generated very little heat this session, reflecting a lessening of legislative irritation at the agency. It has passed the Senate and been approved by the House Transportation Committee, but is likely to attract a variety of negative amendments on a number of subjects - such as toll policy and high-speed rail - when it comes to the floor.


Comprehensive Development Agreements: HB 2861 by Rep. Larry Phillips authorizes work on a number of CDAs by TxDOT and regional mobility authorities. It has been approved by the House Transportation Committee and awaits House action.


Tort Issues: HB 1053 by Rep. Morgan Meyer, which reduces the statute of repose from 10 years to 5 years after substantial completion of a project, is pending in committee appears to be dead for this session. HB 2422 by Rep. Mike Schofield, which provides some minor strengthening of the certificate of merit statute, has been approved by committee and is awaiting House debate. Other issues, such as a "right to cure," still have some life.


Other: End-of-session deadlines start to kick in May 11, the deadline for initial House consideration of House bills. (The House has until May 23 to consider Senate bills.) So the next three weeks will be hectic. Bills that seemed to be dead can be resurrected as amendments to other bills. Some major issues such as limitations on local government taxes, municipal annexation, limitations on eminent domain, and others have yet to be debated in the House and will consume considerable time when they are.



Calendar of Events

  • May 17-18: ACEC Texas Business Practices Forum, with separate IT, HR, and Financial Professionals Sessions, The Woodlands
  • June 22-24: ACEC Texas Summer Public Affairs Conference, Telluride, CO

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