Tree bill hits potentially fatal roadblock

Legislation to limit the ability of local governments to regulate trees ran into a roadblock Saturday when House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, returned House Bill 7 to the Senate, saying it had been inappropriately changed by senators.

With only four days remaining in the special session, the move leaves HB 7 in danger of being left behind.

The original bill created tree planting credits to offset local tree mitigation fees — “the sole purpose” of HB 7, Straus said in a written notice to the Senate.

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But when the bill arrived back in the House, senators had added a ban on cities regulating trees and vegetation in their extraterritorial jurisdiction. A Senate amendment also prohibited cities from regulating the removal of trees that are less than 10 inches in diameter.

Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham and the Senate sponsor of HB 7, said the changes were made to bring the bill closer in line with the wishes of Gov. Greg Abbott, who pressed the Legislature to void all tree-removal ordinances by local governments.

But, Straus wrote, the changes are not germane to the bill, which relates only to tree mitigation fees. Allowing the changes to remain could make the bill vulnerable to challenges from the floor.

The bill was returned to the Senate around 5 p.m. Saturday, and no action was taken before the Senate recessed until Sunday evening.

All work in the special session must be completed by midnight Wednesday.

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