Legislative efforts to curtail local environmental rules faltered


Highlights

Bills to overturn single-use bag bans and tree ordinances fail to get traction.

Feral hog bait study bill, a measure supported by environmentalists, also dies.

Five months ago, conservative lawmakers had high hopes of loosening environmental regulations, especially those enacted by progressive-minded cities like Austin.

In the 2015 legislative session, lawmakers passed a measure overriding the city of Denton’s voter-approved ban on hydraulic fracturing, a type of gas drilling. This year, conservative Republicans had bag bans and tree ordinances in their sights.

But as the Legislature wrapped up its biennial confab on Monday, the committee room floors were littered with conservative-minded bills that never made it anywhere. Two bills that would have targeted Austin and some other Central Texas cities were:

Senate Bill 103, which would have barred a city from regulating bags offered at retail checkout counters. The measure, filed by Sen. Bob Hall, R-Rockwall, who won election as part of a tea party wave in 2014, authorizes a business to provide a bag “made from any material” at the point of sale. It never came up for a vote in committee.

SB 782, by Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, would have limited the mitigation fee that a local government can impose on a landowner for removing trees greater than 10 inches in girth. Testimony was not taken, let alone a committee vote.

It could be that the action taken on fracking in 2015 left lawmakers less likely to take action this time around. That activity “sucked up most of the air and energy around pre-emption,” said Robin Schneider of Texas Campaign for the Environment.

In a modest victory for environmentalists, House Bill 3482, by Rep. Gina Hinojosa, D-Austin, a bill that clarifies that local governments can pass single-use bag ordinances, was approved by the House Urban Affairs Committee. It didn’t progress further, however.

Legislation targeting bag bans failed to gain traction for at least the third session in a row, suggesting lawmakers are more likely to tackle local control issues if deep-pocketed industries are involved — such as oil and gas or ride-hailing service companies Uber and Lyft — or if it’s a hot-button issue — such as transgender bathroom use or “sanctuary city” policies.

Here’s a roundup of other environmental bills and their fates:

• A measure that would have protected ExxonMobil in an ongoing dispute about whether it had misled investors on the dangers of climate change wasn’t given a committee hearing. HB 420, by Rep. James White, R-Hillister, would have barred a defendant’s theories on climate change from being used as evidence in a fraud or deceptive practice case.

• A series of bills that appeared designed to water down oversight on groundwater pumping in the Hill Country — and to help a politically connected property owner — were essentially shelved after the American-Statesman shed light on them.

HB 2802 would have repealed a law subjecting the Lower Colorado River Authority and a host of other river authorities to sunset review. River authorities said the reviews are costly; critics of the authorities said the reviews are necessary for the purpose of transparency. It passed the House but died in the Senate.

HB 3451 by Rep. Lynn Stucky, R-Sanger, would have required a study on the impact of poison proposed for use on feral hogs before its use is allowed. The bill was prompted by a backlash to Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller’s pronouncement in February that a new bait would hasten the “feral hog apocalypse.” An unusual coalition of hunters and environmentalists coalesced, worried the bait, which was laced with warfarin — used as rat poison and as a blood thinner in humans — could jeopardize wildlife. The measure passed the House but was left pending in a Senate committee.



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