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Deadlines kicking in at Capitol – make or break time for bills

With 19 days left in the 84th Texas Legislature, the first of several House bill deadlines occurs this week.  The last House daily calendar with House bills was printed late Tuesday and if a House bill in the Calendars committee wasn’t on it, it’s dead. Thursday is the last day for regular House bills to be considered on second reading on the House floor. If they don’t get a second reading on the House floor by midnight, they’re dead.  

In either case, House lawmakers with a dead bill will be looking for a suitable bill that’s still moving that can be used as an amendment vehicle.  It’ll be a similar scenario for House consent bills on the Local calendar later this week.   Senate bills that have reached the House are in slightly better shape because House deadlines affecting them don’t kick in until that last full week in May.  In contrast, the Senate has until May 27 to consider all bills on second or third reading.

TAB legislative initiatives are in good position for final passage in both chambers:

HB 2507 by Rep. Kyle Kacal, R-College Station, a measure that would lock in a sales tax exemption for radio stations’ digital transmission equipment, passed the House last week and its Senate companion was approved by the Senate Finance Committee.  The bill provides consistency to state tax policy under which similar equipment purchased by television stations already is clearly exempt from sales tax.  Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, is carrying the bill in the Senate.

HB 2896 by Rep. Tan Parker, R-Flower Mound, a measure advanced jointly by TAB and the Motion Picture Association of America, would clarify the franchise tax liability for companies with operations in other states. It also passed the House last week but has not yet been heard by a Senate committee.

The bill would establish that the Comptroller should attribute revenue from content licensing to the state in which the purchaser is located, rather than where the ultimate viewer is located.  Sen. Paul Bettencourt, is carrying the bill in the Senate.

SB 627 by Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, is waiting for HB 1766 by Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, its House companion bill, to make the final House local calendar for consent bills later this week.   If it does, SB 627 will be swapped for it on the House floor.   If it doesn’t, the House Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Committee will need to forward SB 627 to secure a date on the House floor.  These identical bills address the negative repercussions of the 2013 Neely v. Wilson court ruling that set more than 20 years of case law on its ear and impedes the ability of journalists to conduct investigative reports based on third party allegations – even those made by a regulatory body. 

SB 308 by Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, is also awaiting a date on a House local calendar.   The House Higher Education Committee approved the bill last week.  It would make public the law enforcement records of campus police departments at private universities and colleges.   There are more than 20 such police departments in Texas. 

HB 1764 by Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, was approved by the House Government Transparency and Operation Committee last week, but has had difficulty making a House calendar.   It is still possible that the measure could be added to a germane bill that is still moving.  

This bill would clarify a 2013 law which said that public business, even if it is conducted on private electronic devices or in private email accounts, is public record.  Some public officials, however, are refusing to provide these materials to the governmental body to satisfy the requests for that information.  This bill amends the existing law by requiring a government officer or employee in possession of public records to hand that information over to the governmental body upon request.  It also creates a criminal penalty for not doing so which should be helpful as a deterrent to bad actors.

HB 3997 by Rep. Gary Elkins, R-Houston, was not part of the three bills TAB laid out as newsroom priorities at TAB Legislative Day.   When it became apparent that Rep. Elkins, the chairman of the committee that would hear the bill was open to filing it, Open Government advocates jumped at the chance.  The measure sought to allow the Texas Attorney General to prosecute TPIA and TOMA offenses if the local district or county attorney declined to do so.  The bill had its House hearing in late April but ran into serious opposition from the state’s district and county attorneys.  It officially died on Monday because it was not voted out of committee in time to meet a particular House bill deadline.     

Despite the gloom of that one bill, TAB has also been able to make some progress in either stopping or amending bills that would have made newsgathering more difficult. 

The most recent example of TAB’s efforts to turn lemons into lemonade occurred last week with the House’s passage of HB 2633 by Rep. Ana Hernandez, D-Houston.

In its original form, it would have prohibited the release to the public some information contained in motor vehicle accident reports.   This measure is an attempt to combat barratry and other types of “ambulance chasing”, but left unchanged, it would have punished those in the media who use accident report information to report on bad road conditions, hazardous intersections, etc. 

TAB, the Texas Press Association and the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas sought to amend the bill to provide media access to the complete reports, but were unsuccessful initially.  A contentious House hearing didn’t improve the situation. 

At that point, TAB pursued a floor amendment and with the help of Rep. Travis Clardy, R-Nacogdoches, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, language was successfully amended to make the complete reports available to FCC-licensed radio and TV stations as well as general circulation newspapers.  It does so while still achieving its goal of cracking down on barratry.  

It is important to note that Clardy’s help and Hernandez’ agreement to accept the amendment both came after East Texas and Houston broadcasters weighed in with these two lawmakers at TAB’s behest.   It is yet another example of TAB legislative success due to the efforts of Texas broadcasters to seek help from their local lawmakers.

Questions? Contact TAB's Michael Schneider or call (512) 322-9944.

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