On October 20, Texas House Speaker Joe Strauss released interim legislative charges for the House of Representatives. These charges will translate into action in the form of hearings and studies performed by relevant committees of jurisdiction, which will shape the agenda for 2013. Several items represent unfinished business from the 2011 Legislative Session and ongoing challenges with statewide implications. Several of these charges will have direct impacts on M&U markets.
House Committee on Natural Resources
• Monitor the ongoing statewide drought and the performance of state, regional, and local entities in addressing it. Examine the impact of the drought on the state water plan, including an evaluation of how well the state's existing water resources can meet demand, the need for additional funding sources to implement the plan, and the effectiveness of current drought planning and drought management policies.
• Identify short-term and long-term strategies to help the state better cope with drought and assess any obstacles, including state and federal regulations, to implementation of these strategies.
• Evaluate the status of desalination projects in Texas. Include an evaluation of the regulation of brackish groundwater and whether opportunities exist to facilitate better utilization of this groundwater to meet future needs.
The recently released 2012 Water Plan has seen a jump from $27 billion in water supply infrastructure needs over the next fifty years to $47 billion. The Texas Water Development Board anticipates having to provide financial assistance for approximately half of that amount to allow projects to move from the planning stage to actual construction. While this issue certainly impacts all aspects of the Texas economy, identifying dedicated revenues and mechanisms to fund water plan projects has proven elusive in the past. During the 82nd legislative session, several ideas were floated such as removing the tax exemption on bottled water and various other fees for residential and commercial water users.
House Committee on Energy Resources
• Examine state regulations governing oil and gas well construction and integrity and pipeline safety and construction and determine what changes should be made, if any, to ensure that the regulations are adequate to protect the people of Texas and its natural resources.
One of the Sunset bills that did not pass last session was the Railroad Commission’s Sunset Bill. While there were not any substantive changes to damage prevention and enforcement law, this is certainly an issue that could come up in the interim. The Railroad Commission is also presently working with various stakeholder groups to examine its damage prevention and pipeline safety programs.
House Committee on Government Efficiency & Reform
• Examine the utilization of alternative project delivery methods, such as design-build and construction manager at risk, by municipalities, water districts, and authorities, and other local governmental entities since the passage of HB 1886, 80th Legislature.
A key issue for AGC M&U contractors in the recent session was the utilization of the Construction Manager at Risk or (CMAR) project delivery method. AGC was a strong supporter of HB 3607 sponsored by Representative John Kuempel, which would have provided clarity and fairness for CM at Risk projects. HB 3607 successfully passed out of the House Urban Affairs Committee due to strong member support and AGC lobbying efforts, but it did not make it to the House floor for a vote due to time constraints. This charge will definitely provide for a more in-depth look at alternative project delivery and provide opportunities to pursue additional reforms in order to ensure that an appropriate legal framework exists to foster fairness in public works construction.