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State Advocacy

 

State Legislative Agenda, 87th Session

The City of Austin’s 87th State Legislative Agenda reflects the City’s priorities for efficient and cost-effective government services that foster Austin’s prosperity, sustainability and safety.  The City of Austin supports legislation that enhances City services, reduces the cost of providing services, prioritizes a prosperous business climate and improves the quality of life for its residents.  The City of Austin opposes legislation that strips Austin residents of their right to self-governance, increases taxpayer costs for City services that residents rely on, undermines the principle of home rule, negatively affects the City’s financial ability to act in the best interest of its residents, or imposes on Austin taxpayers the burden of paying for State mandates or collecting revenues for the State.

87th Legislative Session Recap

The City of Austin is proud of the work accomplished during the 87th Texas Legislature. Below you will find a recap of the testimony and largest issues that your community advocates tackled this session. 

Support for Austin Police Retirement System

Prior to the 87th Legislature, the Austin Police Retirement System was in need of fundamental changes to the member and City contribution rates in order to improve the financial health and sustainability of the system, to protect the benefits of our current, retired, and future officers, and to put reasonable protections in place for taxpayers. These necessary changes required legislative action. HB 4368, the mutually agreed upon bill between the City of Austin and APRS, passed the legislature unanimously.  The final bill that passed was a win-win for the participants of the retirement system and the City of Austin. 

Austin Chief Financial Officer, Ed Van Eenoo, testified on HB 4368*

  • Testimony begins at 12:00 in video. 
*Note: CFO Van Eenoo testified against the bill before APRS agreed to enter negotiations with the City of Austin. The City amended  its position to be supportive of the bill in its final form. 
Support for Investments in Cloud Computing

Prior to the passage of SB 58, local governments could finance computer hardware, but not cloud computing services.

With the passage of this City of Austin initiated legislation, the City will be able to realize long-term cost savings for the taxpayer by being able to finance cloud computing services. This bill also allows the City to invest in technology that will result in increased security for our employees and residents.  

Protecting Austin's Sound Ordinance

There was an effort during the regular session to preempt the City of Austin, and only the City of Austin's, local sound ordinance. HB 3813 was filed to set the specific parameters of our local sound ordinance in a way that would have deteriorated the quality of life for our residents downtown and throughout the City. The City's current sound ordinance provides flexibility for establishments in certain areas of the City while maintaining a proper quality of life for our residents. With the help of residents, business owners, and other community advocates, the City of Austin opposed this legislation and ultimately, prevented the bill from passing. 

Entertainment Services Director Brian Block testified against HB 3813 to House Culture, Recreation, and Tourism Committee

  • Testimony begins at 46:07
Protecting Barton Springs

HB 1683 as originally filed would have removed the ability for any City to initiate or participate in lawsuits involving an oil or gas company or pipeline company without losing state grant funding. 

The issue for the City of Austin is that it holds multiple permits from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that allows the operation of Barton Springs, which is both home to two native endangered Texan salamander species.  A requirement in our federal operating permit for Barton Springs requires Austin to participate in regional actions that may affect the quality and quantity of water in the Edwards Aquifer.  Austin complies with that requirement in order to maintain its permit by providing comments and participating in permit actions for pipelines. Not complying with federal requirements as HB 1683 originally stipulated would have put Austin’s operating permit in jeopardy. This could have forced Austin to close Barton Springs. 

Ultimately, the City of Austin was able to amend the bill that clarified the language to ensure that Barton Springs was not impacted and could remain open. 

  • Watershed Protection Department Environmental Director Chris Herrington testified on HB 1683 to House Energy Resources Committee
Medicaid Reimbursement

Prior to the Medicaid Managed Care environment, local health departments were able to receive reimbursement for services provided to Medicaid clients. Senate Bill 73, which will be effective September 1, 2021, directs the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) to establish a separate provider type for local public health entities – including local health departments -  for purposes of enrollment as a provider for and reimbursement under Medicaid. 

By establishing local health departments as a provider-type recognized by Managed Care Organizations (MCOs), SB 73 allows local health departments to be reimbursed for the services they are already providing to Medicaid recipients.  SB 73 is not an expansion of Medicaid.  Austin Public Health leadership submitted written testimony in support of the legislation.

  • Assistant City Manager Stephanie Hayden-Howard submitted written testimony in support of SB 73 to Senate Health & Human Services Committee
Opposition to Employee Protection Preemption 

The City of Austin currently maintains city ordinances that provide important protections to our workforce such as ordinances that require 10-minute water breaks every 4 hours in the extreme Texas heat, "ban-the-box" and fair chance hiring ordinances that protect formerly incarcerated citizens during the job application process, and prohibitions for small businesses discriminating against their workers based on sex, race, religion, gender, gender identity, and HIV status. SB 14 would have preempted these ordinances, and failed to pass during the Regular legislative session. 

SB 14 was also included in the Governor’s Call for the Second Called Special Session. The bill died on a point of order.

  • Civil Rights Officer Carol Johnson testified against SB 14 to House State Affairs Committee
    • Testimony begins at 51:19
Winter Storm Uri 

Winter Storm Uri was a major focal point for the 87th Texas Legislature due to the questions the storm brought about regarding the reliability of Texas power grid. Immediately following the storm, Austin Energy was invited to provide testimony before the House and Senate regarding their response to the storm. Their testimony focused on how Austin Energy was integral in stabilizing the power grid with the utility’s diverse generation portfolio, and how the City’s utility worked closely with ERCOT and the PUC to avoid a catastrophic grid failure.

Ultimately, the legislature passed SB 3, which provides new legal requirements for certain entities, including utilities, as well as a legislative directive to establish new regulations and collaborative efforts to help better prepare for, prevent, and respond to weather emergencies and associated power outages.

  • Austin Energy General Manager Jackie Sargent testified to the Senate Business and Commerce Committee regarding the Winter Storm Uri Response
  • Austin Energy General Manager Jackie Sargent testified to the Senate Business and Commerce Committee regarding the Winter Storm Uri Response
  • Austin Water Director Greg Meszaros testified to the House Urban Affairs Committee regarding the Impact of Winter Storm Uri on Municipal Water Utilities
    • Testimony begins at 48:03
Support of Austin Energy 

The City of Austin is committed to providing reliable and safe energy for Austin's residents through its oversight of Austin Energy. Legislation was filed during the 87th Legislative session that would have deregulated Austin Energy, as well as put our municipally owned utility into a perpetual rate review. The passage of these bills would have resulted in increased costs for Austin Energy customers, which is why the City of Austin opposed these efforts. Ultimately, no bills impacting Austin Energy or its customers passed into law during the 87th Texas legislature. 

Equity in Taxation and Disannexation

Various bills were filed this session that would have allowed certain neighborhoods in Austin to disannex from the City, leaving the cost of providing services to these neighborhoods to other Austin taxpayers. Various representatives from City departments such as the Austin Police Department (APD), Fire Department (AFD), and Watershed Protection Department (WPD) testified against this group of bills. Ultimately, all of these bills failed to pass.

SB 659 and HB 1653 - Lake Austin Disannexation 

  • AFD Chief Joel Baker testimony against Lake Austin Disannexation bills to Senate Local Government Committee
    • Testimony begins at 41:20
       
  • WPD Environmental Officer Chris Herrington testimony against Lake Austin disannexation bills to Senate Local Government Committee and testimony to House Land and Resource Management Committee
    • Testimony to Senate Committee begins at 54:54
    • Testimony to House Committee begins at 4:55:14
       
  • APD Chief Data Officer Jonathan Kringen testimony against Lake Austin disannexation bills to House Land and Resource Management Committee
  • AFD Assistant Chief Rob Vires testimony against Lake Austin disannexation bills to House Land and Resource Management Committee

SB 1499 and HB 3827 - Lost Creek Disannexation

  •  AFD Chief Jeff Kennedy testimony against Lost Creek disannexation bills to Senate Local Government Committee
  • APD Chief Data Officer Jonathan Kringen testimony against Lost Creek disannexation bills to Senate Local Government Committee

HB 3519 and SB 1992- West Rim Disannexation 

  • WPD Environmental Officer Chris Herrington against West Rim disannexation bills testimony to House Land and Resource Management Committee

.

Opposition to Preemption of Local Strategies to End Homelessness 

Multiple bills targeted the City's and County's ability to address homelessness in their communities, many of which were aimed directly at the City of Austin’s efforts. 

Just a month after Austin voters approved Proposition B, the Legislature passed HB 1925, the ‘camping ban’ bill, which makes it a Class C misdemeanor for persons experiencing homelessness to camp on City-owned land unless that land is approved by the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs. Council Member Casar and Homeless Strategy Officer Dianna Grey testified against the bill. 

Other legislation seeking to undermine the City’s ability to create housing for individuals experiencing homelessness failed to pass.  Among other things, SB 646 & HB 1803 would have required cities to obtain county approval prior to purchasing a property or converting a City-owned property “to house homeless individuals,” creating significant barriers and bureaucracy around the City’s efforts to create more housing for individuals experiencing homelessness. 

HB 1925 and SB 987– Public Camping Ban

  • Austin City Council Member Greg Casar against public camping prohibition bills to House State Affairs Committee
  • Austin Homeless Services Officer Dianna Grey against public camping prohibition bills to House State Affairs Committee
  • Austin Homeless Services Officer Dianna Grey against public camping prohibition bills to Senate Local Government Committee

SB 646 & HB 1803 Purchase/Conversion for Homeless Housing

  • Austin Homeless Services Officer Dianna Grey & Housing and Community Development Officer Mandy DeMayo Written Testimony against hotel conversion bills to House Urban Affairs Committee
     
  • Austin Homeless Services Officer Dianna Grey against hotel conversion bills to Senate Local Government Committee
Reimagining Public Safety 

Numerous bills targeted local governments’ control over their own budgets, specifically with regards to law enforcement funding. While the majority of these bills failed to pass, the Legislature ultimately passed two ‘defunding’ bills, with one impacting large cities, such as the City of Austin.

HB 1900 prohibits municipalities with a population over 250,000 from decreasing police department appropriations as compared to the larger of the previous two budget cycles.  Penalties for a “defunding municipality” include, among other things, dis-annexation elections, a prohibition on annexations, a decrease in sales tax distribution, and caps on property tax and utility rates. 

HB 1900 – Local Police Funding

  • Austin City Council Member Greg Casar against HB 1900 to House State Affairs Committee
  • APD Interim Chief Joseph Chacon against HB 1900 to House State Affairs Committee
 
Opposition to Community Censorship

Community advocacy is the act of local governments (cities, counties, and school districts) hiring advocates to serve and represent their constituents before the legislature. With SB 10 and HB 749 failing to pass during the regular legislative session, the effort to ban community advocates in Texas was unsuccessful. The failure of these bills represents a win for all of our residents who are served by community advocates. 

Community advocates are an important tool for local governments that help City's amplify local values on local issued considered by the legislature. These advocates are also a great return on investment - for example, the costs associated with hiring community advocates in Austin equates to .00028% of the total City budget. The City of Austin fully supports transparency on community advocates. 

This tool is especially important to level the field at the Legislature. Many private and nonprofit entities who do not agree with the policies adopted by the residents of our City would still have the ability to advocate at the capitol regarding local issues. Preserving the City’s ability to advocate for the policies developed and supported by Austinites means preserving Austin.

General Advocacy
  • Support of the Army Futures Command Funding in SB1 and HB 1 - Written Testimony from Economic Development Director Veronica Briseno

     

  • Testimony on Impact of COVID-19 on Local Governments - Oral testimony from APH Director Stephanie Hayden-Howard - Testimony begins at 49:51
     
  • Testimony in favor of SB 709 (Texas Commission on Fire Protection Sunset)  - Oral Testimony from Austin Fire Department Chief Joel Baker to Senate Local Government Committee - Testimony begins at 49:30 
     
  • Testimony in favor of SB 897 (Texas Commission on Fire Protection Composition) - Oral Testimony from Austin Fire Department Chief Joel Baker to Senate Local Government Committee  - Testimony begins at 1:06:23
     
  • Testimony against SB 23 - Written Testimony from Interim Austin Police Department Chief Joseph Chacon
     
  • Testimony against HB 610 (Super Preemption) - Written Testimony from APH Director Stephanie Hayden-Howard 
     
  • Testimony for HB 442 (Prima Facie Speed Limit) - Written Testimony from Austin Transportation Department Rob Spillar
     
  • Testimony against HB 2438, HB 2695, HB 3021, and HB 3935 (Defunding bills) from APD Interim Chief Joseph Chacon to House Ways and Means Committee - Testimony begins at 1:53:27
     
  • Testimony against SB 1437 (Property Tax Efficiency Audit) -  Written Testimony from Austin Chief Financial Officer Ed Van Eenoo to Senate Local Government Committee 
     
  • Testimony against HB 3398  (Texas Commission on Fire Protection Sunset) - Oral Testimony from AFD Chief Joel Baker to House Urban Affairs Committee - Testimony begins at 1:23:04
     
  • Testimony against SB 1947 (Municipal Building Permits) - Written Testimony from Assistant Director of Development Services Beth Culver

State Regulations and Other Communications

Below you will find a list of communications regarding state regulations in which the City of Austin has submitted comment.