Published February 17, 2021 / Last updated May 13, 2021
The Texas Legislature meets for just 140 days every other year. In that short time, thousands of bills are filed. Many die without making any progress, while others get partway, and about a quarter or fewer become law. FARFA is tracking bills on food safety, land management, water, eminent domain, and more. Check back on this page frequently to stay updated on what’s happening!
For high-priority bills, we include a link to the Committee that will hear the bill. It really makes a difference when Committee members hear from their constituents – so please take a moment to look over the list of Committee members and see if any of them represent you!
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Our Priority Bills
HB 2619, by Rep. Wilson, and SB 1118, by Sen. Johnson, creates an “On-The-Ground Conservation” program, directing the Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board to take steps to support specific practices on private lands. It explicitly addresses soil health, improving resilience to weather extremes and natural disasters, sequestering carbon in the soil, and several other areas that are only indirectly addressed under the Board’s current programs. The new program will provide numerous benefits, particularly in the areas of urban flooding and agricultural drought. Read our Fact Sheet here. The Senate unanimously approved SB 1118, and the House Agriculture Committee approved HB 2619, on 4/19. On 5/6, the House voted on the Senate version of the bill and passed it by a vote of 143-1.
HB 1652, by Representative Wilson, and SB 617, by Senator Kolkhorst, would ensure that local health departments comply with the laws we got passed last session, limiting the permit fees they can impose on farmers’ market vendors and allowing food producers to provide samples of their products at the market. Read our Fact Sheet here. SB 617 has been approved by the Senate Health & Human Services Committee , and is awaiting a vote by the full Senate. HB 1652 is scheduled for a hearing by the House Public Health Committee on 4/28.
HB 1686, by Representative Cortez, and SB 1062, by Senator Zaffirini, would assure people’s right to raise food for themselves – through gardening or keeping small numbers of chicken, rabbits, and bees – protecting them from overly restrictive regulations or bans by cities and homeowners’ associations. Read the Fact Sheet from the Food Policy Council of San Antonio. The House passed HB 1686 on the morning of May 13, in a vote of 143-1. The bill now moves to the Senate, and we wait for scheduling of a floor vote.
Priority bills on life support
Three more priority bills are most likely dead, although there is still some hope:
HB 2397, by Rep. Rodriguez, and SB 1376, by Sen. Hughes, would explicitly limit the Texas Department of Agriculture to implementing and enforcing the federal Produce Safety Rule, when Congress passed FSMA in 2010. This will prevent TDA from unlawfully demanding on-farm inspections of small-scale farms that are exempt from the FSMA rules. It also will strike down the agency’s claim of broad authority to assess small farms’ safety practices under vague and highly subjective standards. Read our Fact Sheet here. The committee chairs of the House Agriculture & Livestock Committee and the Senate Water, Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee have declined to schedule hearings on this bill as of 4/23.
SB 336, by Senator Johnson, and HB 2028, by Rep. Lambert, would allow the sale of ungraded eggs to restaurants and retailers. This would open up new opportunities for small farmers and make it easier for restaurants and retailers to source and provide consumers with locally raised eggs. You can Read our Fact Sheet here. The Chair of the House Agriculture & Livestock Committee has declined to schedule a hearing on this bill as of 4/23.
SB 867, by Senator Springer, would allow farmers to sell a share of their herd direct to customers, then take the animal for processing at a custom slaughterhouse. This will provide greater flexibility and reduce the long wait times for processing at USDA and state-inspected processors. Custom processors (which are mostly used by hunters, homesteaders, and farmers pre-selling animals by the half or quarter) are also inspected, but inspectors are not required to be on-site during slaughter. Read our Fact Sheet here. The Chair of the Senate Water, Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee has declined to schedule a hearing on it as of 4/23.
More Good Bills
SB 1145 by Senator Perry prevents foods that are plant-based or created in a laboratory from being labeled as “meat.” SB 1145 was approved by the Senate (28-3) on 4/19. A similar bill, HB 316 by Representative Buckley, was approved by the Public Health Committee on 4/15. While the original language of HB 316 was somewhat ambiguous and overbroad, SB 1145 is tighter and more focused, and we are supporting SB 1145 as the best option.
HB 1259 by Representative Darby provides incentives for rural veterinarians. It passed the House (116-30) on 4/16, and was sent to the Senate on 4/19.
HB 1276 by Representative Tan Parker would allow restaurants to continue selling pre-packaged grocery items, an emergency measure that was allowed during COVID. The bill passed the full House (145-2) on 4/22.
Eminent domain reforms: FARFA supports SB 725 / HB 2043, to require the entity taking the land to pay any additional taxes if the taking results in the loss of ag valuation; HB 901 to provide for better evidence-based valuation of a landowner’s property value, basic easement terms, and new requirements regarding a special commissioners hearing; HB 2041 to require a condemning entity to disclose to the property owner any and all existing appraisal reports relating to the owner’s property at least 3 days before a special commissioners’ hearing; HB 448 to allow property owners to file complaints of alleged misconduct against certain entities regulated by the Texas Railroad Commission. The Texas Landowners for Eminent Domain Reform is doing an excellent job of working on these bills and the many others on this topic, and has the most up to date information in their alerts.
HB 3853 would use the existing electric utility infrastructure to expand access to broadband in rural communities across the state. It was approved by committee and is scheduled for a vote by the full House on 4/26.
HB 2350 by Representative Zwiener would provide financial assistance to political subdivisions from the Texas Water Development Board for nature-based water quality enhancement projects, including the acquisition of real property (such as San Antonio’s Edwards Aquifer Protection Program) and the use of nature-based water treatment technologies. It was approved by the House (92-50) on 4/21 and is now in the Senate.
HB 1866 by Eddie Lucio III would require the Texas Water Development Board to make annual data collected on water usage in the residential, industrial, agricultural, commercial, and institutional sectors publicly available. Access to that data would support more transparent and appropriate advocacy on water policy. It was approved by Committee and sent to the Local & Consent Calendar committee on 4/12.
HB 2095 by Representative Terry Wilson requires the UT Bureau of Economic Geology to collect data on surface water, groundwater, and their interactions, so that all of the relevant data is in one place and accessible to the public and policymakers. It was approved by the House Natural Resources Committee on 4/20.
HB 2225 by Representative Tracy King, allowing the Texas Parks & Wildlife Service to “encourage and facilitate the dedication of water rights” in order to maintain or improve instream flows, water quality, fish and wildlife habitat, and bay and estuary flows. It is vital that we recognize water as a long-term necessity, rather than a short-term commodity, and this bill helps protect this vital resource.
HB 3619 would direct GCDs to consider the impacts on “exempt” wells – wells that provide for people’s household or livestock use – when considering an application for a new or amended permit. HB 3619 passed the House (107-38) on 4/20.
Bills to Oppose or Amend
SB 472 by Senator Kolkhorst and HB 1480 by Representative Cyrier fall into the “need to be amended” category. There are some good provisions, to impose Class A or B misdemeanor penalties on people who cause damage to farms and ranches, such as by setting animals loose. Unfortunately, the bills also include an “Ag gag” provision that makes it a crime to gain “unauthorized control” over materials or documents – a provision aimed at blocking whistleblower activities.
The House bill was heard by the House Agriculture Committee on 3/18. Despite a positive response to FARFA’s comments, the committee unanimously approved the bill on 3/25 without amendments. Discussions of possible amendments are continuing, and the bill has not made any progress since that first committee vote.
SB 705 by Senator Lucio is the “sunset bill” for the TAHC, which regulates all poultry and livestock animals. The bill makes some good changes to how the agency functions, in particular adding formal advisory groups to replace the informal, “good-old-boy” approach to working groups that the agency traditionally has used. This was one of the key issues that FARFA raised with the Sunset Commission staff, and we are glad to see the bill provisions! Unfortunately, the Sunset bill does not include the changes to the TAHC Commission that we also urged, in order to address conflicts of interest and provide for more representation for all affected animal owners in the state. We will continue to work for those changes.
Bills of Interest That We’re Watching
Numerous good bills have died or are heading that way: Country of Origin Labeling, a ban on the use of glyphosate near schools, a requirement that private companies replant easements in highway right-of-ways with pollinator-friendly plants, and more. That’s the nature of the legislative session! Below are additional bills that we are tracking, either because they may be of interest to our members or because of the potential of amendments (good or bad) being added that would impact our members.
HB 365 by Representative Murr limits liability for participants in a “farm animal activity” if the damage or injury “results from the dangers or conditions that are an inherent risk of farm animals, a farm animal activity, showing of an animal … or raising or handling livestock on a farm.” HB 1078 by Landgraf is a narrower bill that also provides liability protection for farmers if an employee is injured while working with livestock.
SB 152, HB 662, and HB 668 are all major groundwater bills that have multiple provisions and are likely to have yet more added to them. FARFA will be active in testifying to improve them.
HB 966 by Representative Burns would amend the current law that automatically awards attorneys’ fees to local Groundwater Conservation Districts (GCDs) if they prevail in a lawsuit. There are both pros and cons to this, which we are discussing with legislators and allies.
HB 1733 by Representative Krause would provide insurance tax credits for investments that support agriculture and rural development. The concept is interesting, and we need to dive more deeply into the details.
SB 358 by Senator Miles and HB 209 by Representative Thierry provides a franchise tax credit for entities that establish a grocery store or healthy corner store in a food desert. HB 209 was heard in the Ways & Means Committee on 3/22.
HB 543 by Representative White address local regulation of “working animals,” including livestock guardian dogs.
HB 952 by Representative Raymond provides for agricultural valuation of land immediately (rather than after 5 years) if the land is bought by a neighboring landowner who has agricultural valuation on their existing parcel. Similarly, HB 1469 by Representative Hefner addresses “open space valuation” on land sales between family members.
HB 1078 by Representative Landgraf creates liability protections for farm animal activities.
HB1733 by Representative Krause provides insurance tax credits for supporting agricultural and rural development.
SB 634 by Senator Kolkhorst creates confidentiality protection for landowners working with state agencies on managing invasive plants and animals.
HB2089 by Representative Burrows and SB 731 by Senator Perry establish a program for universities to conduct research on plant pests and diseases under grants from TDA.
HB 2213 would allow meat from exotic animals processed in custom slaughterhouses to be donated to food banks.