Welcome to the 86th Legislative Session

The 86th Legislative Session officially commenced on January 8, 2019. This session started with far fewer fireworks than the finale of the 85th regular session, which ended with a fist fight on the House floor and physical articulation of battle lines. The big questions rolling into the 86th were, who was going to be the Speaker of the House and could the top three lawmakers, Speaker of the House, Lt. Governor, and Governor work together to propose and pass meaningful legislation for the State of Texas?

On January 8th, Speaker Dennis Bonnen was unanimously elected as the Speaker of the House and made quick work of proving himself as an astute and senior lawmaker garnering respect from the political spectrum in Texas. Speaker Bonnen has served in the House since he was elected at 25 years old in 1997. His reputation, experience, and hired staff suggest he's willing to work with Republicans and Democrats to advance good legislation for the state of Texas. Contributing to Speaker Bonnen's apparent likeability between Texas Democrats and Republicans includes his experience working under three different Speaker of the Houses, one Democrat and two Republicans, Pete Laney, Tom Craddick, and Joe Strauss respectively. Gauging by Speaker Bonnen, Lieutenant Governor Patrick, and Governor Abbott's press conference on January 9th, it appears the top three lawmakers will work together on day-to-day issues facing Texans instead of getting sidelined and mired in social issues that the majority of Texans do not view as high priority issues, as the outcome of the November elections would suggest. When twelve House seats turn and one Senate seat changes, it's likely that the voters are sending a message to our state lawmakers. It appears OUr top three in Texas are listening, for now. The top issues outlined at the January 9th press conference include property tax reform, school finance reform and teacher's pay, and flood planning and mitigation as precipitated by Hurricane Harvey and the central Texas floods of late 2018. Flood planning and funding was also seen as a high priority item through the extensive Harvey Interim charges and reports.

The House Committee rules were adopted on January 9, and do not provide any major changes to House committees that are impactful to the water quality industry. One change to note is the House Natural Resources subcommittee on Special Districts was abolished as was the Special Purpose Districts Committee. The Senate rules also passed on January 9. Of notable change is the separation of Agriculture from the previous session's Senate Agriculture, Water, and Rural Affairs Committee. With agriculture spinning off into its own committee, we will see a streamlined committee with a narrower focus and mandate to address water and rural issues.

We eagerly await committee assignments, which should be out very soon, but it looks likely that Representative Lyle Larson out of San Antonio and Senator Charles Perry out of Lubbock will retain their Chair positions of House Natural and Senate Water and Rural Affairs Committees respectively. We should soon know who will Chair House Environmental Regulations Committee and Senate Natural Resources Committee, which will hear any biosolids bills referred to committee hearings. WEAT and TACWA maintain a tracking table of high priority legislation to the water quality industry. Tracking can be found at: www.weat.org/legislative-issue... and includes bills reprinted below:

Several high priority bills dealing with flood planning and funding have been filed at the time of writing this. Some bills include those filed by Sarah Davis, HB 274 and Dade Phelan, HB 478. HB 274 would create the Disaster Reinvestment and Infrastructure Planning Revolving Fund to provide loans and grants to political subdivisions for infrastructure repairs. Funding would be administered by the TWDB and come from federal and/or state money. HB 478 would create a flood insurance fund, while prescribing nine sources of revenue, and listing six scenarios in which the fund could be activated. These bills are no doubt a few in a handful that will be filed to address flood planning and the requisite flood funding. HB 26 filed by Will Metcalf is also a direct outcome of Harvey and would create the Texas Dam Release Alert System to be activated on behalf of a dam operator to warn potentially affected persons of possible floods. With flood planning, funding, and warning systems comes studies. SB 179 by Borris Miles speaks to the establishment of a task force to conduct a comprehensive study on flood control infrastructure for Harris County. Other issues giving rise to filed bills include Cybersecurity measures and legislation addressing attacks as seen in HB 351 by Cesar Blanco and SB 64 by Jane Nelson. There are a number of refiled bills as well dealing with environmental racism as seen in SB 180 by Borris Miles, and designation of navigable waterways as seen in HB 298.

Lawmakers have indicated there is an appetite to address other water quality issues including the ongoing tension and undeniable connection between groundwater and surface water and the differences in adjudication. The alluvial wells issue did show itself as an item addressed in the interim as flows and water rights will need to be informed by wells that inevitably pull from rivers and streams. Biosolids and domestic septage land application are also processes that lawmakers are grappling with and determining how best to address complaints. As noted in previous articles, this is an perennial issue that garners attention and bills filed. Seven bills were filed in the 85th Session and we will likely see bills in this session as well. It is important to note that the TCEG is in the middle of rulewriting and has draft language as determined through stakeholder meetings, informal comments, and understanding of issues it will present for formal comments in the spring of 2019. Major issues the TCEQ will address in its rulewriting include buffer zones, impermissibility grit and grease addition to treated Class B, clarify storage and staging, administrative changes, and additional clarifications. Another major issue that seems to be bandied about for discussion is the incentivization of technology to treat produced water, therefore giving rise to greater produced water reuse and keep produced water in the water cycle. At the time of writing this, we do not have further details on the shape of potential studies, resolutions, or pieces of legislation, but this is an issue that is getting attention and could bring with it filed bills.

Be sure to stay tuned for more from the front of the 86th legislative session, and an update on Federal Issues as they churn through a government shutdown. Noteworthy federal issues include (finally) a new Water's of the U.S. (WOTUS) definition, passage of the Farm Bill, what EPA will do with PFAS and PFOA, and EPA's response to the Office of the Attorney General's report on biosolids. Be sure to catch the latest on state and federal regulatory and legislative issues at Texas Water on Wednesday, April 3. And for bi-weekly legislative updates, subscribe to WEAT's legislative updates by sending "subscribe" in the subject line of an email to julie@weat.org. Looking forward to seeing those in the water quality industry at Texas Water, April 2-5, Houston, Texas. Until then!

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