Priorities for the 2019 legislative session were an item discussed during a special City Council meeting last week.

According to City Manager Robert Camareno, the Texas Municipal League, or TML, called for submissions from local municipalities regarding what they would like to see looked at when the 86th Texas Legislature convenes next year. The TML’s mission is to serve the needs and advocate the interests of cities and city officials.

The council approved submitting requests in five areas.

1. Land control

With the environmentally sensitive Texas Hill Country experiencing rapid growth, local governments have been faced with the challenges of limited land-use control.

Regarding land-control the city of New Braunfels supports legislation that would:

  • promote the continued ability to protect residential neighborhoods from activities that would degrade homeowner property values, including but not limited to the ability to regulate the location and development standards of short-term rentals/vacation rentals/overnight rentals.

  • provide municipalities and the state the authority to collect accurate hotel occupancy tax from overnight lodging entities, including the ability to audit hosts as well as their third-party booking platforms, and to enact stricter penalties on those who do not remit their taxes.

  • provide municipalities the authority to:
    a) regulate sober-living homes in residential neighborhoods through zoning
    b) require local registration of sober-living homes to include the property owner/landlord's contact information as well as tenant listings, and require annual safety and fire inspections of sober living homes
    c) require the issuance of a certificate of occupancy for sober-living homes
    d) require notification of surrounding property owners when a sober-living home is entering a neighborhood

2. Growth

As the nation’s fastest-growing city, promoting orderly, logical and safe development practices is identified as one of the city's priorities. In support of this goal the city of New Braunfels opposes legislation that would undermine the city’s ability to enforce subdivision platting ordinances in the ETJ. However, it champions legislation that would:

  • prevent substandard or unsafe development, infrastructure and housing in the extraterritorial jurisdiction, or ETJ.

  • grant cities the authority to require and issue building permits in the ETJ to ensure safe construction.

  • further limit a city’s ability to annex property, as annexation protects the rights of current city taxpayers who bear the costs of providing services to the region’s growing population.

  • grant Texas counties zoning, land use regulation, building permitting and building inspection authority in unincorporated areas.

During the Aug. 23 special City Council meeting, New Braunfels Mayor Barron Casteel requested the addition of language that would promote good planning practices in unincorporated and ETJ areas near the city limits.

“There are unincorporated areas in Bexar county… little holes that have no city and yet they are San Antonio for all intents and purposes,” Casteel said. “That’s San Antonio all around them, and they have no zoning authority, no regulatory authority.”

City Attorney Valerie Acevedo reinforced the notion, stating that the desire to prevent a “hodgepodge” of regulatory practices within urban areas.

3. Safety

Regarding safety the city of New Braunfels supports legislation that would:

  • authorize a city council to opt-in to requiring residential fire sprinklers in newly constructed single-family dwellings.

  • The city of New Braunfels supports legislation that would reduce the prima-facie
    speed limit from 30 mph to 25 mph.

  • The city of New Braunfels supports legislation that would expand state funding for
    services and programs that ensure access for people with disabilities.

The council moved to remove one item from the list supporting legislation that would include adding parks, recreation centers, community centers and sports complexes within the safe/gun zone classification. Such legislation would allow further restriction of where one could lawfully carry a firearm. Camareno said city staff would eliminate the item from the list and do more research surrounding the issue.

4. Finance

Regarding financial issues Texas cities partner with the state to maintain desired economies and quality of life. However, the city acknowledges they receive little to no state funding to achieve such goals.

As a result the city expressed its opposition to legislation that would impose a stricter revenue cap, limiting the city’s ability to meet the needs of its rapidly growing population with services demanded by the citizenry.

Casteel shared his thoughts on opposing an action from the state comptroller in negotiating sales tax exclusively for the state while excluding collection from counties and municipalities. Specifically he mentioned the controversial topic of sales tax collection for vacation rental properties.

“What if the comptroller just started collecting the state’s portion and told cities, ‘Sorry I can’t help you?’” Castell said. “That’s essentially what is going on with the hotel/motel tax of Air BnB, and I’m talking about the internet portion. Those negotiations will be occurring in the year ahead or two years ahead, and so for them to negotiate specifically a collection only for the state, excluding all municipalities in the state of Texas and counties … I think he’d be somehow breeching his duty of office in collecting only the state’s portion.”

5. Health and wellbeing

With the end goal of saving taxpayer dollars in health care and medical industry costs, the city acknowledges the importance of keeping citizens healthy. In its list of legislative priorities regarding health and wellbeing, the city noted its opposition to any bill pre-empting municipalities from enacting ordinances to protect tree canopies, urban forests or heritage trees.

The city supports legislation that would:

  • reduce the obesity and diabetes epidemics

  • expand state funding for the connection of communities to nature and the outdoors

District 2 City Councilman Justin Meadows said that, in addition to submitting ideas, he would like to see the city do more to promote its important causes.

“I feel called in some ways as a councilmember representing our community to do something more than just send in the legislative priorities, and so I would like to work with you and any staff that you feel appropriate,” Meadows told Camareno during the meeting. He suggested city representatives sit in on relevant meetings at the state Capitol.

Casteel shared similar sentiments.

“We do not enact these rules or policies, and I think that when we do this we should reduce it as a letter to our state senator and our two state representatives and direct it to them as well, requesting them to consider these items,” Casteel said.

City Council unanimously approved the submission of recommendations to the TML with the amendments that were discussed during the meeting. The submission deadline was Aug. 27 at 5 p.m.

According to the TML’s website, the organization’s roots date back to 1913 when Austin Mayor A.P. Wooldridge invited representatives of Texas cities to a convention to consider an association that would serve as a vehicle for allowing officials to confer on municipal issues. New Braunfels was one of 13 Texas cities to answer the call, and the meeting led to the formation of what is now the Texas Municipal League.

The state’s 86th legislative session will begin Jan. 8.