November 20, 2020 Legislative Update
FROM WASHINGTON, D.C.
With the general election now over, Washington is focused on negotiations for FY 2021 appropriations bills. Senate Republicans and House Democrats seem optimistic that they can come to a deal. The federal government is currently being funded at FY 2020 levels through a Continuing Resolution that expires Friday, Dec. 11. If Congress cannot pass a new appropriations bill for President Trump to sign before then, they will likely pass a second CR that expires after President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20. The calculus for both parties is focused on the two Senate runoffs in Georgia scheduled for Jan. 5, since the outcome of those races will determine the Senate majority in the new Congress. Finally, further COVID-19 stimulus is not expected this year.
The 87th Session of the Texas Legislature begins on January 12, 2021, but bill prefiling began on November 10. When it comes to transportation related topics, we have seen numerous safety bills filed, and handful of transportation funding bills, and one high-speed rail bill. See the “highlighted bills” section below for summaries of these and other bills of interest.
Texas Speaker of the House Race
With the legislative session right around the corner, and former Speaker Dennis Bonnen out of office, many are speculating on the next Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives. Representative Dade Phelan, a moderate Republican representing an East Texas district near Beaumont and Galveston, has been recognized as an early contender for the position. Phelan has served as Chairman of the influential State Affairs Committee. Phelan also claims that he already has the votes cobbled together through his relationships with both his fellow Republicans and Democrats from around the state. However, Texas GOP Chair Allen West has come out against Phelan’s candidacy as Speaker. Even with West’s pushback, Phelan has established himself as the frontrunner to become the next Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives.
Texas Transportation Commission
The November Texas Transportation Meeting generated no items related to North Texas.
HB 113 (Oliverson): Relating to peer-to-peer car sharing programs.
This bill would create Chapter 113 of Business and Commerce code, “Peer-to-Peer Car Sharing Programs.” This bill defines many important terms related to the operations of car sharing services. This bill does not limit the liabilities of the owner of the vehicle or the borrower. This bill attempts to establish liability in the event of an accident. This bill establishes that both the driver and the owner must have car insurance and a person who is borrowing a car must have a driver’s license. Additionally, a car sharing program must check to make sure that the vehicle being borrowed does not have any recalled parts.
HB 114 (Toth): Relating to restrictions on certain state agency actions relating to high-speed rail projects.
HB 114 would prohibit any state agency from issuing any permits required for a high-speed rail project or negotiate any agreements with private entities for right-of-way access to the project unless the project has all necessary federal approvals and permits for the construction of the project beforehand.
HB 207 (Lopez): Relating to the rates of the state gasoline and diesel fuel taxes; increasing tax rates; authorizing a change in tax rates.
This bill would increase the state gasoline and diesel fuels taxes from 20 to 22 cents per gallon. The bill additionally indexes both taxes to the US Department of Labor’s Consumer Price Index.
HB 427 (King): Relating to imposing an additional fee for the registration of electric and hybrid vehicles.
HB 427 would impose an additional fee of $200 for an electric vehicle and $100 for a hybrid vehicle due at the time of registration or renewal of registration of the vehicle and in addition to other fees imposed under Chapter 502 of Transportation Code. Revenue from the new fees would be deposited into the State Highway Fund.
HB 442 (Israel): Relating to the prima facie speed limit on certain streets and highways.
This bill would establish that on streets other than alleys in urban districts speed limits of 30 mph or lawful. 25 mph are also lawful if the street is located in a residential district in a municipality and is not officially designated or marked as part of the state highway system.
HB 443 (Israel): Relating to requiring the operator of a vehicle to stop and yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian.
This bill would establish that vehicle operators must stop and yield to pedestrians when the vehicle has a green light and a pedestrian has been given a “walk” signal.
HB 554 (Lopez): Relating to the operation of a motor vehicle passing a pedestrian or a person operating a bicycle.
HB 554 would require operators of passenger motor vehicles to remain at least three feet away from cyclists while passing. This bill would also require operators of commercial vehicles to stay at least six feet away from cyclists while passing. When possible, vehicles must move over a lane to pass cyclists.
SB 42 (Zaffirini): Relating to the use of a wireless communication device while operating a motor vehicle.
This bill defines terms related to wireless communication devices. SB 42 would provide: (1) that a vehicle operator commits an offense if the operator uses a portable wireless communication device while operating a motor vehicle, unless the vehicle is stopped outside a lane of travel; and (2) for an affirmative defense (except for a person under 18 years of age or by a person operating a school bus with a minor passenger on the bus) for the use of a portable wireless communications device: (a) in conjunction with a hands-free device; (b) to contact emergency services; or (c) that was mounted in or on the vehicle solely to continuously record or broadcast video inside or outside of the vehicle.
SB 149 (Powell): Relating to the prosecution of the offense of operation of an unmanned aircraft over certain facilities
SB 149 would restrict unmanned aircraft from operating over or near a military installation. SB 149 would classify military installations as “critical infrastructure.”
MONITORED BILLS LIST
A table of bills related to the RTC Legislative Program can be found here.
The Texas Legislature is currently in prefiling. The US Congress bill list shows only bills with action since the last legislative update. US Congress | Texas Legislature
RECENT COMMITTEE HEARINGS
On Nov. 18, the House Transportation Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials held a hearing titled “Examining the Surface Transportation Board’s Role in Ensuring a Robust Passenger Rail System.” Under new rules set by its last reauthorization, the Surface Transportation Board has jurisdiction to settle some disputes involving commuter rail when providers are seeking access to freight railroad tracks and services. However, outside of these narrow circumstances, the STB lacks jurisdiction over much of the commuter rail industry. For example, a commuter railway cannot bring a dispute before the STB, only freight rail and AMTRAK can. The rules regarding STB authority over passenger and commuter rail can be expanded through a new Surface Transportation Board Reauthorization Act.
UPCOMING COMMITTEE HEARINGS
There are no upcoming committee hearings.
The Senate Committee on State Affairs will meet on Monday, December 7 at 10:00 am to hear invited testimony on the following interim charges:
- Study how governmental entities use public funds for political lobbying purposes. Examine what types of governmental entities use public funds for lobbying purposes. Make recommendations to protect taxpayers from paying for lobbyists who may not represent the taxpayers’ interests.
To view Committee Hearings for the Texas Senate click here:
To view Committee Hearings for the Texas House click here: