Greetings from the Capitol! While things have settled down around here since the end of session, there are some important updates that I would like to share with you. Many of the bills that were passed during the 82nd session of the Texas Legislature went into effect September 1. Below is a list of some of these new laws that took effect on September 1.
- House Bill 1 was the budget for the State of Texas for the 2012-2013 fiscal years, which run from September 1 – August 31. I authored this bill and worked tirelessly all session to get it passed. Despite beginning the session facing an unprecedented shortfall, we were able to pass a balanced budget that funds our schools, universities, and state agencies without imposing any new taxes on the citizens of Texas.
- Senate Bill 18 overhauled the process of eminent domain in Texas. This law created a statutory prohibition against a government or private entity taking land that was not for a public use. Government entities are now required to make a reasonable offer for property, to allow a land owner to buy the property back at the government’s purchase price if the land is left unused, and to pay relocation expenses for displaced property owners. I have always been a strong advocate of private property rights (I authored a similar Eminent Domain reform bill last session) and am proud we were able to take action to protect the freedom and rights of property owners in Texas.
- Senate Bill 332 dealt with vested ownership interest in groundwater beneath the surface of land, the right to produce that groundwater, and the management of groundwater in this state. In 1904 the Supreme Court of Texas ruled that a landowner has an ownership interest in the groundwater beneath their property. Recently, landowners’ interest in groundwater below the surface has come into question in the courts. These changes clearly define that a landowner owns the groundwater below the surface of the landowner’s land as real property. This is another example of protecting private property owner’s rights here in Texas.
- House Bill 274 enacted a modified loser-pays rule that allows winning parties to recover litigation costs in breach of contract suits or if a judge grants a motion to dismiss. The Texas Supreme Court shall also create a procedure for the early dismissal of certain civil claims and expedites the discovery process for cases with claims between $500 and $100,000. This will help decrease the number of frivolous lawsuits and free up Texas courts to tackle more important issues.
- Senate Bill 321 ensured that an employer may not prohibit an employee who lawfully possesses a firearm or ammunition from transporting or storing the firearm or ammunition in a locked, privately owned motor vehicle in a parking area the employer provides for employees. The new law excludes the lots of private or charter schools, non-employer owned gas or mineral leases, and company-owned vehicles unless the firearm is necessary for employee’s duties.
- House Bill 33 sought to increase textbook affordability at higher education institutions. Both public and private colleges and universities are now required to provide a list of the retail price of all texts for each course offered, and to get the list to students no less than a month before the semester. This allows students to find the best deals on the required and recommended texts and helps make college more affordable for all Texans.
- House Bill 451 created the “Don’t Mess with Texas Water” program to place signs on major highway water crossings that provide a toll-free hotline to report illegal dumping. The program provides a method for combating the rising incidence of illegal dumping in Texas’ waters, but is optional for local governments to participate, allowing for financial flexibility and local control.
- House Bill 675 amended current law relating to football helmet safety requirements in public schools. Previously, the University Interscholastic League did not have any rules regarding the age of a helmet or how often it must be reconditioned. The new law bans the use of helmets that are 16 years old or older and requires helmets older than 10 years to be reconditioned at least every two years. This law strikes a delicate balance between local control and ensuring the health and safety of high school football players statewide.
State Representative Jim Pitts, House District 10.