Revenue caps, cemeteries, red-light cameras: 18 bills affecting Sugar Land now that the legislative session is over

Since the 86th Texas legislative session ended May 27, Sugar Land City Council devoted some time during the May 28 workshop meeting to unpacking the implications of certain bills signed into law as well as bills that await Gov. Greg Abbott’s signature.

“The legislative session was hard on cities this time around—one of the hardest that we’ve ever had,” said Rick Ramirez, Sugar Land’s intergovernmental relations manager.

Here are 18 bills that were highlighted during the meeting. Some have been signed into law while others have passed the House and Senate. Abbott has until June 16 to sign bills that have passed through both chambers, otherwise they become effective immediately June 17.

1) House Bill 2/Senate Bill 2: Revenue caps


This was a hot-button issue this session, Ramirez said. The bill sets a 3.5% cap on the rollback tax rate—a calculated rate that divides property taxes into two categories: maintenance/operation and debt service. An automatic election is triggered for cities wanting to exceed that cap.

QUOTE OF NOTE: “That’s going to erode a city’s flexibility that we have to respond to different climates with finance ups and downs,” Ramirez said.

Effective Jan. 1

2) Senate Bill 1152: Right of way rental fees


This allows a company that provides telecommunications and cable services to look at what they are doing statewide and determine which of the franchise fees they pay is the lowest amount. Once that is identified, they do not have to pay that amount to cities. Basically, this allows a company to drop whatever its lowest fee is, Ramirez said.

QUOTE OF NOTE: “The idea is to pass the savings down to the customers, but the cable industry is deregulated so the Texas Legislature cannot guarantee that any of the savings are going to be passed down to customers at all,” Ramirez said.

NUMBER TO KNOW: The bill will result in a minimum financial hit of $267,000 to Sugar Land, with a high of $1.2 million.

Effective Sept. 1

3) House Bill 1631: Red-light cameras


This bill bans the use of red-light cameras, a technology option Sugar Land uses at several intersections in the city. Ramirez said about $952,000 could be lost to transportation safety programs with an equal loss to the Texas Trauma Fund that is disbursed to eligible hospitals to reimburse uncompensated trauma care.

Effective immediately after governor signature or June 17

4) Senate Bill 7: Flood control funding


This bill creates the Texas Infrastructure Resiliency Fund for Hurricane Harvey projects, Ramirez said.

Effective immediately

5) Senate Bill 500: Flood control funding


This bill provides funding for the TIRF created by SB 7. Funding is from the Economic Stabilization Fund, or the Rainy Day Fund.

NUMBERS TO KNOW:
$200 million to the General Land Office for matching funds for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers programs

$273 million to the Texas Water Development Board for matching funds for Federal Emergency Management Agency Hazard Mitigation Grant Program

$365 million to the TWDB for FEMA Public Assistance Grant Program

Effective immediately after governor signature or June 17

6) House Bill 2439: Building finishes


Cities cannot regulate building materials authorized by national building codes with exceptions for historical, cultural or architectural significance.

QUOTE OF NOTE: “The impacts for Sugar Land would be that we have to look at our existing commercial and residential property values that could go down. There would be a disparity between deed-restricted areas and non-deed-restricted areas,” Ramirez said.

Effective Sept. 1

7) House Bill 852: Permit fees


Building permit fees cannot be tied to the value of the building or cost of construction.

QUOTE OF NOTE: “This bill had language in it that made it effective immediately,” Ramirez said. “That means cities all around the state had no way to comply with a reasonable amount of time, so every single city in the state of Texas right now is trying to figure out a way to respond to this bill to get their fees in compliance with the bill.”

The permitting department will approach council soon on how they will move forward in response to this bill.

Effective immediately

8) House Bill 3834: Cybersecurity


This requires training for all employees using a computer to complete at least 25% of their work. The city will have to verify and report on completion of trainings, Ramirez said.

QUOTE OF NOTE: “One good thing is this would be effective immediately after the governor signs, but the Department of Information Resources would need to come up with the approved programs. That hasn’t happened yet. That will need to happen before we can decide which program to buy into,” Ramirez said.

Effective immediately after governor signature or June 17

9) House Bill 3167: Subdivision application permits


Cities must act on a subdivision application within 30 days or it is deemed approved.

QUOTE OF NOTE: “I know that’s currently our practice right now, but this also widens the scope from final plats to preliminary plats, general plans and other types of plans as well, so it kind of expands that out,” Ramirez said.

The bill also allows up to 60 days on permit vesting—secured right for future development—or that is also deemed approved.

QUOTE OF NOTE: “That’s going to have a large impact on developers as they go through the subdivision application process,” Ramirez said.

Effective Sept. 1

10) Senate Bill 2551: Firefighter and police presumption


This expands the types of cancer covered for firefighters under insurance from three to 11 cancers, Ramirez said.

Effective Sept. 1

11) Senate Bill 1582: Firefighter and police presumption


This adds police to the presumption statute for certain diseases and illnesses, not including cancer.

Effective Sept. 1

12) House Bill 477: Debt


This bill requires cities to put more information on debt into ballot language.

QUOTE OF NOTE: “It’s too much information. It’s way too late to inform people about what’s going on at the ballot box,” Ramirez said.

Effective Sept. 1

13) House Bill 440: Debt


A city must post a sample ballot of a general obligation, or GO, bond on the website 21 days ahead of the election. A city cannot issue a GO bond if the weighted average of maturity exceeds 120% of its economic life. This limits ways to use unspent GO bond proceeds.

Effective Sept. 1

14) Senate Bill 30: Debt


This requires a single specific purpose for each bond proposition.

Effective Sept. 1

15) Senate Bill 21: Smoking and e-cigarettes


This bill raises the legal smoking age of cigarettes, e-cigarettes and tobacco products from 18 to 21. It prohibits the sale of products to an individual younger than age 30 without an ID, and product signs in stores must comply. The bill also prohibits free samples of these products.

Effective Sept. 1

16) House Bill 793: Purchasing


This bill provides some relief from a 2017 contracting bill that said businesses could not boycott Israel. This applies to a contract that is between a city and a company with 10 or more full-time employees with a value of $100,000 or more. It also reduces the number of forms the city must obtain throughout the year.

Effective immediately

17) House Bill 2203: Notice of radioactive releases


This requires state agencies and departments to notify local jurisdictions whenever there is a reportable radioactive release. The alert must include the name, quantity and state of matter of the substance being released.

QUOTE OF NOTE: “This is in reference to a [radioactive] release that happened in 2015 at the Thermo Fisher facility. ... The city wasn’t notified at that time, so we spoke with our legislators to see if we could change the law to make it so that the state needs to notify the local jurisdictions,” Ramirez said.

Effective immediately after governor signature or June 17

18) House Bill 4179: Cemeteries in Fort Bend County


This legislation, directly related to the historic remains discovered on a Fort Bend ISD construction site in Sugar Land, allows Fort Bend County to own, operate and maintain a cemetery. It also removes the necessity for a grave marker older than 50 years to be present.

Effective immediately after governor signature or June 17
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By Beth Marshall

Born and raised in Montgomery County, Beth Marshall graduated from The University of Texas at San Antonio in 2015 with a bachelor's degree in communication and a minor in business. Originally hired as a reporter for The Woodlands edition in 2016, she became editor of the Sugar Land/Missouri City edition in October 2017.


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