May 29, 2017

This week's Capitol Roundup :

  • AGC-TBB collects key victories as session comes to close
  • Several other bills pass to advance the construction industry in Texas
  • Special session remains a possibility amid House-Senate impasse on Patrick priorities 
  • Budget writers compromise on final 2018-19 spending plan

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AGC Texas Chapters

Quote of the Week
"I'm making it very clear, governor - I want you to call us back on your time." 
-Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick
In a news conference Sunday, Patrick requested Gov. Greg Abbott to call a special session as it became clear the House and Senate would not reach a compromise on two of Patrick's prized bills.
AGC-TBB scores wins on three major bills
Still need governor's signature

Following months of hard work, the AGC-TBB team would like to thank and congratulate the authors and sponsors of three key pieces of legislation that have survived the Texas Legislature and now await the governor's approval.

AGC-TBB staff will coordinate letters from individual AGC chapters and member companies urging Gov. Greg Abbott to sign the bills. We will need to copy Lt. Gov. Patrick, Speaker Straus, and the bill authors and sponsors on those letters.

We will be sending out information shortly to everyone with more specifics through our chapters. As we work this week to get it done, we also want to thank all members for the many calls and emails over the last few weeks. 

State Breach of Contract - House Bill 2121
Rep. John Cyrier

House Bi ll 2121 passed the House unanimously and cleared 
the Senate 29-2. We owe a big thank you to Rep. John Cyrier and Sen. Bryan Hughes for getting this bill through the Legislature and on the governor's desk. 

The bill allows recovery of attorney's fees for successful state breach of contract claims under $250,000. Under current law, they're barred. 

AGC-TBB President Mike Chatron - "This bill is long overdue as an attempt to level the playing field in situations where the state has breached a contract."

AGC-TBB Vice President Corbin Van Arsdale
"This bill removes one of the last remaining bricks in the wall of state sovereign immunity."

School Background Checks - House Bill 3270

Rep. Dwayne Bohac
House Bill 3270 ultimately prevailed on the last night of session after going to a conference committee. The House passed the bill 146-1, and the Senate approved it 30-1. Thank you to Rep. Dwayne Bohac and Senate Education Chairman Larry Taylor for getting the measure over the finish line. 

The bill decides when the state's mandatory background check applies to school construction projects.  More importantly, for most of our members' job sites, their workers will no longer require a check (e.g., greenfield projects, non-instructional facilities, secure job sites at existing schools). And now that a single standard is clear in statute, reciprocity within a region becomes easier to accomplish.

Van Arsdale - "This bill was several years in the making and makes it crystal clear to school districts which workers are to be background checked and what offenses they're to be checked for under the Safe School bill."

Chatron  "This  bill simply codifies the original legislative intent, and it  is a building block to help deal with the uncertainty around the school background checks as to what is required by contractors."

Contractor Liability for Defects - Senate Bill 1215

Senate Bill 1215 originally dealt with contractor liability for design defects. The bill nearly unanimously passed the Senate and had been in the House for more than a month before last-hour opposition killed the bill. However, the bill was revived to create an interim committee.

Rep. Paul Workman
Rep. Paul Workman along with Reps. Shine, Oliveira, Hunter, and Kacal organized to salvage the bill and amend it to create a joint interim committee. The group will study nearly every issue surrounding construction contracts, including: statute of repose, right to repair, allocations of risk and liability, relationships between parties, insurance, liens, warranties, standards of care, and civil actions.

Chatron"It will be an exhaustive study that provides a great opportunity to explore the issues that are before the industry on each of those areas."

Van Arsdale - "These are priority issues for our industry that will have priority focus by both chambers during the interim. Work will probably begin this Fall. The committee must report back to the Legislature just before the next legislative session, and at that time draft bills will be filed."

Other key victories for construction industry

House Bill 639 by Rep. Anderson 
allows the board of trustees of a school district or the governing body of an open-enrollment charter school to obtain accident, liability, or automobile insurance coverage to protect:  a business or entity that provided a career and technology (CTE) program to students; and  a district or school that participated in a CTE program. The coverage would be required to be obtained from a reliable insurer authorized to engage in business in Texas or provided through a school district's self-funded risk pool.

House Bill 3349 by Rep. Gervin-Hawkinswould require the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) to create a probationary trade and industrial workforce training certificate and a standard trade and industrial workforce training certificate that could be obtained through an abbreviated educator preparation program.

House Bill 3021 by Rep. Phelanwould establish that a state or governmental entity could not require a contractor to defend the state for claims or liabilities resulting from the negligent acts or omissions of the state governmental entity or its employees. 

The bill also would make the laws established in Local Government Code, sec. 271.904(a)-(e) applicable to contracts between state agencies and an architect or engineer for their services under the Professional Services Procurement Act. State agencies include a department, commission, board, office, or other agency in the executive or legislative branch, including a higher education institution, as well judicial branch entities. 

House Bill 2994 by Rep. Romero Jr.would allow a public junior college to enter into an agreement with a school district, organization, or other person that operated a high school to offer workforce continuing education courses to persons in high school who were at least 16 years old on the census date of the applicable course. 

A public junior college could waive all or part of the tuition and fees charged to a student for a workforce continuing education course if: the student was enrolled in high school;  the student was at least 16 years old, an emancipated minor, and not enrolled in secondary education; the student was under the age of 18 and incarcerated;  all or a significant portion of the college's costs for facilities, instructor salaries, equipment, and other expenses for the course were covered by business, industry, or other local public or private entities; or the course was taught in a federal correctional facility and the expenses for the course were funded by the federal government. 

Senate Bill 807 by Sen. Creightonestablishes that if such a contract contains a provision making the contract or any conflict arising under the contract subject to another state's law, litigation in the courts of another state, or arbitration in another state, that provision is voidable by the party promising to construct or repair the improvement.
Abbott to decide on special session this week amid Patrick-Straus impasse

The Texas Legislature adjourned on Memorial Day with the possibility of a special session looming more than ever as the state's top three leaders remained gridlocked.

Gov. Greg Abbott
Gov. Greg Abbott  promised on Monday that he would announce his plans regarding a special session later this week. A special session could last up to 30 days, and the governor can call back lawmakers as many times as he wants.

"When it gets to a special session, the time and the topics are solely up to [me], and we will be, if we have a special session, convening only on the topics that I choose at the time of my choosing," Abbott told reporters Monday in Austin. 

Tensions in the Capitol had been tightening as they always seem to do in the last few days of the legislative body's 140-day session. This time, the last-hour gridlock mostly stemmed from a slow-moving House, a demanding Senate and a governor with little to say.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick  has urged the governor to call a special session ever since the Legislature failed to agree on two of his top aspirations for the session - a change to the way local property tax elections are held, and a bill to regulate which bathrooms can be used by transgender people. 
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick

House Speaker Joe Straus, who before the holiday weekend had been optimistic about avoiding a special session, focused his chamber on passing two key bills - the budget and a "sunset safety net" bill to keep certain state agencies funded. 

While the House and Senate agreed on a budget, Patrick held up the sunset bill as collateral for the House not passing his versions of the bathroom bill and property tax bill. 

Following the lead of many of the state's business leaders, Straus had spent most of the session avoiding Patrick's bathroom bill. He has blamed the Senate for wasting its time on the issue and not spending more time on funding state education.
Speaker Joe Straus

"This is the right thing to do in order to protect our economy from billions of dollars in losses and, more importantly, to protect the safety of some very vulnerable young Texans," Straus said. 

Straus also made clear over the weekend that he was not open to further negotiations on the property tax bill. While the two chambers agreed on how property values are assessed and protested, the House did not concur with a Senate provision to automatically trigger rollback elections when local taxing districts increase revenue by 5 percent, as opposed to the current non-automatic 8 percent trigger. 

Ultimately, an agreement was never reached on the sunset bill to keep state agencies under review from expiring. Members of both chambers took jabs at one another Sunday as the bill went down in flames in the Senate.  Abbott  called passing that legislation a task that would have been "incredibly easy to achieve, that members could have gotten together and agreed upon, but [that] simply was not done."

Straus claims his members attempted compromise on the bathroom bill and property taxes, however, Patrick has expressed doubts about the Speaker's sincerity in light of the House's slow pace this session.

"The gap between what the real truth is and what was said is about as wide as the Grand Canyon," Patrick said, "The House under the speaker's leadership has been slow. Whether it was just not managing the calendar or whether it was purposefully done to kill legislation, I'm not sure."

The soon-to-expire agencies, including the Texas Medical Board that licenses doctors, would begin the one-year process of shutting down completely this fall. Abbott said Monday that the sunset bill's failure was his biggest disappointment. 

While Abbott has placed heavy importance on the sunset bill, he has been known to disfavor the idea of a special session. Earlier this year, he said, "Texans don't want a permanent legislature like they do in California."
Special session looms as Patrick and Straus identify "must-pass" bills

With two days left in the session, state lawmakers on Saturday passed the one bill they are required by law to pass - the budget.

The two-year $217 billion spending blueprint passed in the House 135-14 and in the Senate 30-1. Gov. Greg Abbott must sign the document before it becomes law. The governor has the power to veto individual parts or the entire budget. 

Sen. Jane Nelson
The House-Senate compromise came the same way it does nearly every two years - by a conference committee of five lawmakers from each chamber.

  However, once the two chambers moved closer on a dollar amount, the session's debate centered more around how the spending will be funded.

Frustrating that purpose, budget writers had to come up with enough money in a year where funds were limited by low oil-gas prices, lower property taxes approved
Rep. John Zerwas
 last session, and a voter-approved measure to spend $5 million on state highways. 

House budget writers had preferred filling a $2.5 million budget gap using the state's $10 million Rainy Day Fund, while the Senate's budget team focused on using some of the new state highway dollars. Ultimately, they agreed on using $1 million from the state's savings account and the rest from the highway fund. 

"The budget today is a product of what is a true compromise" between the Texas House and Senate, said state Rep.  John Zerwas (R-Richmond), head of the House budget-writing team. 

"This budget is smart," said  Senate Finance Chairwoman  Jane Nelson ( R-Flower Mound). This budget is compassionate. It makes huge advances in several of our priority areas."

The two chambers agreed on most spending levels, such as increased funding for the state child welfare agency and for adding state troopers to the Mexican border. However, large gaps persisted in funding for increased Medicaid and education costs. 

29 - Last Day of 85th Legislature

8 -  AGC TBB Safety Committee Meeting - Austin
18-21 -  AGC TBB Annual Convention - Coueur d'Alene Resort, Idaho

29-30 - AGC-TBB Strategic Planning Meeting

3 -  AGC TBB Safety Committee Meeting - TEXO
17 - AGC TBB Board Meeting - Austin AGC Office