Legislation filed to better regulate noise in unincorporated Harris County

Law enforcement officials in Harris County could have additional tools to address noise pollution if a new law is passed by the Legislature this session.

State Rep. Patricia Harless, R-Spring, filed House Bill 153 in November after hearing numerous complaints from constituents about music and noise in her district. In particular, noise from the Something Wicked Festival at Sam Houston Race Park in late October generated multiple concerns from nearby residents.

"The bass and the music was very loud," Harless said. "It was on a Saturday night and Sunday night until 2 in the morning. I was getting literally hundreds of calls [from] as far as Huntwick [Forest]."

Unlike the city of Houston and other municipalities, Harris County does not have the power to pass ordinances. Instead, county governments in Texas can only pass regulations that have first been approved by the state Legislature. Therefore, the county can only rely on the state's noise ordinance to police noisy disruptions.

"It's not that you can't have noise, it's that you can't have noise above a certain decibel level," said Barbara Thomason, president of the Houston Northwest Chamber of Commerce. "It's no different than what the city of Houston has, and I think it's a good thing to have."

Harless said she filed a much broader bill in 2007 regarding noise and loud music, but it was unsuccessful. The new legislation designates noise cannot be more than 85 decibels heard at a distance from 50 feet or more outside a property. HB 153 would affect counties with 3.3 million people or more, or Harris County.
"You don't want to give counties too broad an authority for what you do on your private property."
-State Rep. Patricia Harless

"In rural Texas where there's fewer people, you may have a concert out in a pasture that nobody hears," Harless said. "You don't want to give counties too broad an authority for what you do on your private property."

Electricity and gas utility companies are exempt from the legislation, even though large generators often make noise louder than 85 decibels. This exemption is necessary because if a company is issued a citation, turning off a generator could cut electricity, power and other utilities.

Oil and gas companies have expressed concerns about the legislation as well since drilling a well for an oil and gas pipeline can also create loud noise.

The city of Houston's noise ordinance allows for 65 decibels during the day down to 58 decibels at night, which Harless said she believes is too low.

"We wanted something that would sustain damage," she said. "Our intention was mainly just music and loud noise when neighbors are playing [music] over 85 decibels. Then the police could issue a citation."