Legislative Update—On Tuesday, August 15, the Texas House adjourned from the first special session of the 85th Texas Legislature, with three days still prescribed on the session’s calendar. This move, which the Senate reluctantly joined in hours later, signaled defeat for the ambitious special session agenda laid out by Governor Greg Abbott and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick. When he ordered this special session, Governor Abbott called for legislators to address twenty issues; the session ended with the Governor signing fourteen bills that had been sent to his desk. Not included in those fourteen bills were the two that he and Lt. Governor Patrick invested the most time and energy in promoting – property tax reform and transgender bathroom regulations.
The property tax reform proposal was unsuccessfully debated and negotiated during the regular session this spring,. The special session found the House and Senate once again unable to reconcile their visions for the reform. The Senate’s original proposal sought to restrict the annual growth of property taxes by instituting an automatic election of municipal officials whenever they raised property taxes by more than a certain amount. The House never concurred with the mandatory nature of the elections, and so the bill never found the consensus it needed to pass in the regular session. Similar divides prevented the proposal from passing in the special session. The House acquiesced to the automatic election provision, but wanted the threshold for triggering them to be a property tax increase of greater than 6%. The Senate wouldn’t budge on 4% (half of the current statutory threshold of 8%). In the end, despite Governor Abbott declaring this his top priority issue for the special session, the two chambers could not come to an agreement.
The other hot-button issue that failed this session – restrictions on transgender Texans’ access to public bathrooms – did so with considerably less debate. The Senate, driven by Lt. Governor Patrick’s intense personal fixation on the issue, hurried through the public hearing process to pass their version of the bill within days of beginning special session. The House never even referred their version to a committee.
Most of the special session legislation that passed and was signed by the governor addressed abortion healthcare coverage and public school finance. Two bills also addressed property rights, albeit in highly specific, narrow means. One provided for greater flexibility for landowners to dispose of trees on their property, the other allows for affected Texans to vote on municipal annexations. A handful of bills related to agriculture – such as the TGSA-backed pesticide disposal bill – were filed and received hearings, but never advanced to the Governor’s desk.
Governor Abbott released a statement saying that he was pleased with the outcome of the special session, which makes it difficult to gauge whether or not he intends to call another one for the residual issues. Another special session may be pending regardless of the Governor’s intentions, however. Recently, another federal judge ruled that Texas’s congressional district maps were drawn with racially discriminatory intent. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton challenged the ruling, but if the state’s challenge fails they may be required to convene a special session to redraw two districts (Lloyd Doggett D-Austin and Blake Farenthold R-Corpus Christi) before the 2018 elections.
Commissioner Miller Calls for Fee Reductions–As a result of the efficiencies and cost savings under his administration, Texas Ag Commissioner Miller has directed agency staff at TDA to find cuts in fees administered by his office.
“I’ve been able to achieve some cost savings and managed our budget well, so just like a business, we’re passing that along to our ag producers and taxpayers by way of fee reductions,” said Commissioner Miller. “Our primary mission at the Texas Department of Agriculture is to ensure that our ag producers and the ag industry are successful and thriving. As we know, when Texas agriculture succeeds, all of Texas succeeds.”
Commissioner Miller has directed staff to identify the fee cuts as soon as possible. The fee reductions require a rule change and, as such, will include a public comment period where ag producers and industry stakeholders will have an opportunity for input.
WOTUS Comment Period Extended—The public comment period deadline on the Waters of the United States rule has been extended to September 27. The flawed WOTUS rule, which threatened the livelihood of farmers and ranchers all across the nation, was halted by both a federal district court and federal court of appeals for reaching beyond the law. Earlier this year, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a proposal that would eliminate the 2015 WOTUS rule and allow the agency to develop a rule that doesn’t create a huge regulatory burden for agriculture. We encourage you to submit comments to the EPA in support of this repeal. You may submit your comments here: http://bit.ly/2vJePfV
New Rules for Agricultural Product Purchase Contracts— The Texas Legislature passed a new bill, the Producer Protection Act, effective September 1, that changes rules for purchase contracts for agricultural products. The bill was sponsored by Representative Dustin Burrows and Senator Charles Perry. It was signed by Governor Abbott on June 15, 2017 and takes effect September 1, 2017. Essentially, the new legislation does two things. First, it requires a contract to state whether it is an acreage or quantity contract. Second, it imposes limitations on lawsuits filed against producers using acreage contracts. Although the discussion around this bill centered on cotton, it applies to all agricultural products, so all producers and purchasers in Texas need to be aware of the law and the changes it makes. On the most practical level, purchasers and producers entering into ag product purchase contracts after September 1 should review their contract (particularly if using prior forms) to ensure that the agreement conspicuously states whether it is an acreage or quantity contract. Both producers and purchasers should also understand the limitation on filing suit against a producer for an acreage contract. For purchasers, this means that they likely cannot file a lawsuit against a producer who negligently fails to deliver all production under an acreage contract. For a producer, it is important to understand that if he or she knowingly fails to deliver all production as required, litigation is still a possibility under the law. This first appeared in Texas Agriculture Law. To read the article in its entirety, click here.
Export Report—Exports were very strong this week with China, Japan and Taiwan committing to purchase 1.7 million bushels of 2016/2017 sorghum and China, Japan and Mexico committing to purchase 5.4 million bushels of 2017/2018 sorghum. This commitment brings total purchases of new crop sorghum to 16 million bushels, 7.7 percent of the USDA target two weeks before the beginning of the marketing year. Gulf basis strengthened on these commitments with spot sorghum prices increasing to 119 percent of corn or $4.69 per bushel. Interior basis remains weak on large crop expectations, but northern plains and Mississippi River sorghum bids are higher than those of corn in many cases.