Texas Legislative "Hot Topics"

By Liz Moucka | September 28, 2010

The 80th Texas Legislature and 110th U.S. Congress sessions will open in the next few days. It is important this year as always to let both your state and federal legislators know your opinions on issues affecting your business.

Border security and immigration enforcement will be a hot topic on both the federal and state levels.

On the state level, several issues will be coming to the forefront. Firstly, we need to stop diversions from Fund 6 to non-highway projects and recover funds already diverted.

TxDOT will be supporting a proposed change in procedures for procuring engineering services. TxDOT is required to select engineering services based on "best qualified" provider, but cannot discuss price at the start of the bidding process. If an agreement cannot be reached on the cost, the department must move to negotiate with the next "best qualified" provider, but cannot return to the previous one. The change would allow TxDOT to re-open negotiations with a provider that was passed over.

TxDOT will be seeking a mechanism to capitalize the Texas Rail Relocation and Improvement Fund. Voters approved creation of the fund in 2005, but it now needs to be capitalized.

Another issue will be county corridor planning. Cities have the authority to plan for transportation corridors when they know there will be a future road in their area, but counties have no such authority. This will become an important issue for counties once the Trans-Texas Corridor right of way is identified.

Read more about these in the TxDOT Review from the Texas Contractor Austin Bureau.

Make your voice heard to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality as well. While the TCEQ's Executive Director Kathleen White says that controlling hours for construction operation are "off the table," there will be stricter regulatory controls for quarrying, particularly in the Edwards Aquifer recharge area.

A series of public hearings on changes to the State Implementation Plan (SIP) rules will be held beginning January 29. The proposed changes include controls on major point sources such as cement kilns and electric generating units (EGUs); vapor controls on gas stations; a stringent vehicle inspection and maintenance program; and low-emission diesel. The complete text and Executive Summaries for both the Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) and the Houston/Galveston/Brazoria (HGB) can be found at www.tceq.state.tx.us/rules/pendprop. Comments are due to the TCEQ by February 12.

The good news is that public works projects must go on to meet the needs of Texas' growing population. The bad news is that the rising cost of materials has more than eaten the increases in actual dollars allocated for various agency budgets.

Although the residential market has demonstrated signs of slowing with foreclosures in Texas increasing, particularly in the San Antonio and Dallas areas, construction starts on single-family developments and multifamily high rises continue strongest in Houston, El Paso and Austin areas. Post Hurricane Rita repairs and rebuilds of homes and light commercial structures will continue in the Beaumont/Port Arthur area into 2007.

Health care remains as the largest market with the addition of beds and specialized clinics primarily in Dallas and Houston, but also with expansions and new construction in towns and cities across Texas.

The hospitality market, which crashed a few years ago, is once again on the rise. New hotels continue to go up around not only convention centers and new sports facilities, but in the areas of both high-end and outlet malls as well. It seems shoppers from around the country have discovered Texas — where lower prices offset the rising cost of transportation.