More than 100 utility-related bills have been filed thus far during the 85th Texas Legislature. Many of these bills — if adopted — could impact municipal interactions with utilities or even your home utility rates. Here are a few bills that TCCFUI is watching, plus some useful projections from the Telicon legislative tracking service.
- Senate Bill 1004, which has drawn objections from TCCFUI, sets forth various guidelines for the deployment of antennas and other telecommunications equipment in municipal rights of way. SB 1004 has been adopted by the full Senate, but not yet assigned to a committee in the House. The Telicon tracking service reports that 70 percent of the bills that have gotten this far in the process historically become law. An identical companion bill, House Bill 2838 by state Rep. Charlie Geren, has been considered in the House State Affairs Committee.
- House Bill 1427, by Rep. Pat Fallon, re-asserts the common-sense proposition that a city’s zoning authority extends over electric cooperatives just as it would for any other business operating within city limits. HB 1427 would be unnecessary except for a recent legal challenge mounted by two electric cooperatives to a zoning decision in North Texas. HB 1427 has been considered in the House Urban Affairs Committee, but as yet there’s been no vote. The Telicon legislative service says that 32 percent of the bills that get this far in the process historically become law. TCCFUI supports this bill.
- Senate Bill 735 would require the Public Utility Commission to establish a schedule under which it would periodically review the fairness of electric utility rates. It also includes other changes to rate-setting procedures that, taken collectively, would be something of a mixed bag for consumers. Senate Bill 735 was approved by the full Senate on April 19. Telicon reports that 70 percent of the bills that get this far in the process historically become law.
- House Bill 2576, by state Rep. Senfronia Thompson, removes an expiration date of a provision in current law under which the Public Utility Commission has authorization to consider certain sorts of electric rate cases. Although this change seems arcane, it nonetheless is important because it could keep the door open to a steady stream of rate hikes in the future. The House State Affairs Committee gave this bill the go-ahead on April 27. Currently, the Telicon service reports that 51 percent of the bills that have made it this far historically become law.
- Senate Bill 83, by state Sen. Bob Hall, spells out a number of potentially expensive measures to strengthen the grid against cyber and electro-magnetic attacks. The Senate Business and Commerce committee adopted the bill on April 25. Telicon reports that 44 percent of the bills that have made it this far historically become law.
- Senate Bill 1976 would ensure the continuation of a process whereby the Public Utility Commission identifies low-income customers. This is important because low-income customers are eligible for various customer protections. This bill was adopted by the full Senate on April 26. Telicon reports that 70 percent of the bills that make it this far historically become law.
- Senate Bill 947, by state Sen. Lois Kolkorst, facilitates the creation of municipal hike-and-bike trails on utility rights of way — but at little or no cost to cities for the underlying land. Senate Bill 947 accomplishes this by reducing some liability exposure for the electric utilities that own the land. The Senate Business and Commerce committee unanimously approved SB 947 on March 14, but it so far has not been considered by the full Senate. Telicon reports that 45 percent of the bills that have made it this far historically become law.
- Several bills, including House Bill 237 by Rep. Rafael Anchia and House Bill 642 by Rep. Larry Phillips, call for changing the name of the Texas Railroad Commission. This would clear up public confusion about the agency, which does not have responsibility for overseeing railroads. Instead, the commission regulates gas utility rates and has responsibility for other energy issues. None of the Railroad Commission name-change bills have been voted on at the committee level.
- House Bill 1818, by state Rep. Larry Gonzales, is the Railroad Commission “Sunset” bill. That is, the bill authorizes the continuation of the agency for several more years, and also spells out various adjustments to the agency’s operations. However, House Bill 1818 does not include several recommended reforms — such as the use of independent administrative law judges for the adjudication of gas utility cases — that were included in versions of this bill during previous legislative sessions. HB 1818 has been adopted in the Texas House and has been referred to the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Economic Development. According to Telicon, 70 percent of the bills that have made it this far historically become law.