June 14 , 2019

Inside this edition of Capitol Roundup:

Gov. Abbott signs HB 2826 to limit local government practice of hiring contingency fee attorneys for defect claims

Gov. Abbott issues executive order to keep state plumbing board in operation until at least 2021

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Quote of the Week

"You could not overstate the magnitude of the law that I'm about to sign because this is a monumental moment in public education history in the state of Texas. We did something that was considered to be highly improbable...to be able to transform public education in the state of Texas without a court order forcing us to do so."

-Gov. Greg Abbott
Gov.Greg Abbott  made the comment Tuesday when he signed into law House Bill 3, the school finance legislation passed last month. The $11.6 billion overhaul was one of Abbott's priorities heading into the session and will  provide roughly $6.5 billion in new public education spending and about $5.1 billion to help lower state property tax bills.
Abbott signs bill to scale back local governments hiring contingency fee attorneys for construction defects

Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday signed into law a bill to  reign in the practice of contingency fee attorneys recruiting local governments to file lawsuits, including claims for construction defects. 

House Bill 2826, sponsored by Rep. Greg Bonnen (R-Friendswood), cleared the House in early May on a 103-39 vote and passed the Senate by a 27-4 vote late in the session. Now that the bill has become law, it will take effect on Sept. 1, 2019. 

Rep. Greg Bonnen
Primarily, the law will require local governments, such as cities and counties, to approve contingency fee agreements in meetings open to the public. In the meeting, the local entities must discuss the need for obtaining the legal service, the terms of the contract, the qualifications of the attorney or firm, and the reasons the contract is in the best interests of the residents of the community. The law will also apply to public utilities and local government corporations created to design and plan construction projects.

The legislation, advanced by Texans for Lawsuit Reform, predominantly grew from concerns that contingency fee attorneys have been increasingly overcharging local governments for their services, especially on claims involving construction defects. AGC Texas Building Branch and other groups have called for changes to current law that would add transparency and place local practices more in line with the state contracting process.   

"House Bill 2826 gives Texas taxpayers transparency, consistency and accountability when local governments hire private attorneys on a contingency fee basis to handle government litigation," TLR General Counsel Lee Parsley said. "The [bill] ensures local governments will get quality legal services at a reasonable rate that allows them to keep more of their potential awards."
 
The bill also subjects a political subdivision's written findings in approving the contract and the contract itself to public disclosure laws, and the bill requires that the contract be submitted to the Attorney General's Office for approval. If the political subdivision fails to comply with the bill's public notice and hearing requirements, the Attorney General may refuse to approve the contract. 

Click here to read the full text of the law as approved by Gov. Abbott.
Abbott issues order to revive state plumbing board until 2021

Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order Thursday to extend the life of the  Texas State Board of Plumbing Examiners until 2021, a move the governor says is necessary to continue providing relief from Hurricane Harvey. 

"A qualified workforce of licensed plumbers throughout the state, including from areas not directly affected by Hurricane Harvey, will be essential as those funds are being invested in crucial infrastructure, medical facilities, living facilities, and other construction projects," Abbott said.
Gov. Greg Abbott

The board was one of several state agencies under "sunset" review this year, a process by which legislators assess an agency and decide whether it is still needed. Legislation to continue the board's existence was filed this session but failed to pass. Without action from the Legislature, the board was on track to cease operations in 2020, spurring plumbers across the state to call on Abbott to declare a special session to save the regulatory agency. 

Instead of calling lawmakers back to Austin, Abbott issued an order that suspends the board's termination until either the Legislature takes action in the 87th legislative session ending May 31, 2021 or until "disaster needs subside," according to the executive order. Abbott pointed to more than $10 billion in federal funding still available to the state to aid regions impacted by Harvey. 

"To fulfill the demands for rebuilding after Hurricane Harvey and keeping Texas prepared and able to recover from future disasters, it is necessary to continue the Board to perform its indispensable role in protecting Texans," Abbott's office said.

Alicia Dover, executive director of the Plumbing Heating Cooling Contractors Association of Texas, said the group was grateful for the executive order and looked forward to working with the Legislature in the sunset review process.

"Appropriate licensing and oversight of Texas plumbers is valued by the responsible individuals who comprise our industry and is relied upon by the Texans that utilize their services," Dover's statement said. "From providing peace of mind to families in their homes to ensuring safety in our schools, hospitals and businesses, the role of the plumber is central to the core of our daily lives."
 
June 2019
SUN 16th - Deadline for governor to sign bills
 
August 2019
THU 22nd - OCA awards @ Georgetown, TX
FRI 23rd - Board meeting
 
November 2019
FRI 15th - Board meeting