Herman: Rural? You only thought you know what that means

As you perchance have noticed, the Texas Legislature did not legislate this year. This is good because it saved us from who knows what. This is bad because we’ll never now what kind of entertainment we missed.

By way of reminder, the Texas Legislature meets in regular session only in odd years. Long ago, odd years were deemed the appropriate ones for our lawmakers, even the odd non-odd ones, to convene.

But while our state lawmakers didn’t make state laws this year, there’s always stuff to be done as a result of stuff done in previous legislative years. Some of it is important. Some if it seems not quite as important.

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The Texas Legislative Council’s research division recently researched something that’s apparently a bit confusing, or at least conflicting, in state law and rules. It’s in a 28-page report with the fetching title “Definitions of ‘Rural’ in Texas Statutes and the Texas Administrative Code as of April 2018.”

If that’s not clear enough, here’s the opening line in the introduction: “This publication compiles definitions of ‘rural’ found in Texas statutes and state agency rules.”

Yes, you and I have our own definitions of rural. For some, it’s a population thing. For some, it’s an accent thing. For some, it’s whether local driving directions include phrases like “the third dirt road on the right.”

For the Texas Legislative Council, this is serious bidness.

“Maps are included for 18 of the definitions of ‘rural,’” we’re told.

And there’s more: “In some instances, the terms used in a definition may be different from, although presumed equivalent to, terms in the maps’ data sources. One notable example is the term ‘municipality.’”

Fine. But how many definitions of rural can there be? Turns out, in Texas laws and rules, the answer is 46.

For example, in the section of the government code dealing with “requirements for the adoption of state agency rules that would have an adverse economic effect on small businesses, micro-businesses or rural communities,” a rural community is “a municipality with a population of less than 25,000.”

On the higher end, state law concerning hospital reimbursements says a rural hospital is one in a county with 500,000 or fewer residents.

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In a section that allows some physicians to provide drugs, a rural area is one “in which there is no pharmacy within a 15-mile radius of the physician’s office and which is within either a county with a total population of 5,000 or less … or a city or town, incorporated or unincorporated, with a population of less than 2,500. … But not including a city or town, incorporated or unincorporated, whose boundaries are adjacent to an incorporated city or town with an equal or greater population.”

And the definition gets even more specific in when it comes to substance abuse programs: “Rural border is the area that extends 62 miles north of the Texas-Mexico border and encompasses 32 counties as described in the United States-Mexico La Paz Agreement of 1983.”

In other instances, it’s not a numbers deal. A section of state code dealing with rural physician recruitment says “Rural community means a rural area as defined by the Department of Agriculture.”

It doesn’t expressly say so, but I think that means an area in which residents don’t see anything odd about Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller. Or it might be the dirt road thing.

Sometimes the definition of rural is plain-spoken simple and beyond challenge, such as a Texas Parks and Wildlife code section about state assistance for local parks: “Rural area means any area not included in an urban area.”

Ditto for public transportation funding: “Rural area is a nonurbanized area.”

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