A Closer Look: Law to Improve Health Dept. Communications

Our series on the local food bills that passed in the 2019 Texas Legislative Session continues! This week, we’re looking at the Local Health Department Better Communications Act, HB 2107.

We have already covered three bills: the cottage food bill, the permit fee cap, and the sampling bill. Follow the links to read about those bills. Coming soon: More information about on-farm poultry and rabbit processing!

HB 2107 is an expansion of the DSHS Better Communications Act, which FARFA worked to pass back in 2013.

Under the 2013 law, if a farmer or other food producer has a question about how the law applies to his or her food business, they can submit a request in writing to the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS), and the agency must respond within 30 days. If the producer complies with the interpretation of the law provided by DSHS, then an inspector cannot fine the producer – even if the inspector has a different interpretation. That interpretation of the law is binding on the agency unless and until the regulation is amended.

HB 2107 expands this law to apply the same requirements to all local health departments.

Don’t know what permit is needed to sell food item “X” in your city?

Confused about whether a specific regulation applies to your food business?

Not sure what a certain regulation would actually require in real-world terms?

Submit a written request for an official determination to the appropriate entity – either the local health department or, if you are in an area without a local health department, DSHS.

If they haven’t responded within 30 days, then send a follow-up letter reminding them of their legal obligation to do so.

NOTE:

You have to submit your request in writing and ask for an “official determination.” Email counts as being “in writing.”

No specific format is required. DSHS has set up a form that they request people use, which you can download at https://dshs.texas.gov/foods/determination.aspx. It’s helpful to use that form, but it is not required.

You may not like the answer you get. But at least you’ll have an answer, and the agency has to stick to it.

The law only addresses health department regulations (both state and local). It does not apply if your question is about a regulation from the Texas Department of Agriculture, Texas Animal Health Commission, or other agency.

The law applies to requests submitted to the local health department on or after January 1, 2020.

Thank you to Representative Capriglione (R-Southlake) for authoring HB 2107, and to Senator Hughes (R-Mineola) for sponsoring it in the Senate! Thank you also to Representatives Rodriguez (D-Austin), Shaheen (R-Plano), Kacal (R-College Station), and Lambert (R-Abilene) for joint authoring the bill. HB 2107 passed both the House and the Senate unanimously.

Read the law at https://capitol.texas.gov/tlodocs/86R/billtext/html/HB02107F.htm