By Becky Collins • 2019 President
As we begin a new year, all eyes are on the Capitol Building in downtown Austin as we enter the 86th Texas Legislative session. With a new speaker of the house and numerous new members of both the House and Senate, the HBA of Greater Austin looks forward to working with our counterparts at the Texas Association of Builders to ensure the voice of Texas home builders is at the top of legislators’ minds as they consider critical pieces of legislation impacting our industry.
Bills related to Hurricane Harvey Unethical contractor practices
Unfortunately, we have seen many “fly-by-night” contractors take advantage of homeowners who are stricken with grief after the damage to, or outright loss of, their home after Hurricane Harvey. In a homeowner’s effort to put their life back together as quickly as possible, they may not take the time or due diligence to fully vet a contractor prior to putting down a deposit for services. These bad actor contractors will then take the deposit and disappear, leaving the homeowner without any substantial recourse. We will look to work with elected officials to strengthen the laws, including increasing penalties, to prevent this type of unethical business behavior.
County floodplain regulations
Although a county does not have the same type of authority as a municipality, there are still many tools available for a county to regulate its floodplain. We will work to educate counties on those existing tools and provide information into what other counties are doing to help mitigate flood risk in an effort to avoid new and possibly conflicting legislation.
Local government employment regulations
We have joined a coalition of other like-minded business organizations to push back on overreaching local governments’ employment regulations. Cities have been increasingly pressured to expand their regulatory scope and pass local ordinances regarding private employment practices, matters that are the jurisdiction of the state and federal levels. These ordinances create an inconsistent patchwork of regulations making it challenging for businesses to operate. Additionally, these ordinances unfairly impact local businesses who cannot afford to comply with the complexity or cost of these regulations.
Tax reform / school finance
All polls indicate tax reform is still a hot topic for Texans. Last session, the Legislature failed to pass meaningful property tax relief legislation, so this year they plan to take another look at it. We expect the Legislature will take a more holistic look at a citizen’s entire tax bill, including city, county and school district taxes, as opposed to just city taxes like they did in the 85th Legislative session. The House has indicated that school finance reform is a top priority and acknowledges that meaningful tax relief cannot be accomplished without taking school finance into consideration.
MUDs and other special purpose districts
Over the past few sessions, the Governor has taken a harder look at special purpose districts across the state. These districts are independent jurisdictions with the ability to assess fees or taxes on the people living inside of them. Because Texas is so diverse, it is difficult to create a “template” to establish these types of districts through legislation, but we will continue to work with the Governor and our senators and congressmen in the Legislature to help refine these tools so that builders can continue to utilize them to put important infrastructure on the ground for their communities.
Workforce and career and technical training
The increasing average age of critical tradespeople, like plumbers and electricians, requires us to look toward the youth of our communities to fill this increasing void. It is imperative the legislature find ways to incentivize school districts to continue to expand and support these critical workforce trades as well as to increase student interest in these types of well-paying careers as an option. Important discussions around this issue will center around liability concerns for trades coming into schools to teach, opportunities to provide more specializations and apprenticeships in the trades, funding for these educational opportunities and educating students about their earning potential in the trades.
The 2019 legislative session will be an exciting one with many challenges and plenty of opportunity for input. I encourage each of you to make sure you know how to reach your local representative to support issues that make housing possible, and affordable, for everyone. RL