The City of Irving is preparing for the 88th Legislative Session, which officially begins Jan. 10. Filing bills can begin Nov. 14, and many entities and legislators are already drafting legislation. This is a short recap of the issues the City of Irving highlighted during the 87th session and their final disposition.
HB 652 – Disease Notices in Animal Shelters
House Bill (HB) 652, required public animal shelters — only public shelters — to notify their animal adopters if there is “epizootic” disease present in the shelter within 15 days before or after the animal is adopted.
The city is concerned that issuing constant disease notices for relatively benign illnesses — some of which are expected, not fatal and not contagious for humans — can negatively impact adoptions at the animal shelter. To comply with the legislation, the city’s Irving Animal Care Campus would constantly generate these notices.
The community has been very vocal about reducing euthanasia in animal shelters, and HB 652 could reverse the progress Irving has made in saving animal lives.
Final Disposition: HB 652 passed but in modified form, requiring that a notice to have an animal checked by a veterinarian after adoption, which the city encourages anyway.
HB 754 – Prohibiting local governments from hiring legislative consultants or lobbying the Legislature
Almost one third of all bills filed in the previous two sessions of the Texas Legislature have affected cities in some way, from reducing revenue options to reducing development authority to requiring spending on certain items regardless of the city’s circumstances. Irving uses a combination of city staff, affiliations with other cities, trade associations, elected city officials and hired consultants to explain the impact of these proposals on the city and its residents and businesses.
For the last three sessions, legislation has been filed that would prohibit the city from hiring outside consultants to communicate with the legislature. Some proposals would have prohibited city officials from traveling to Austin to make their case in person unless invited. HB 754 was the 87th session’s effort to enact these prohibitions.
Irving’s lobbying efforts have been focused on preserving the authority the city already has or seeking beneficial changes to help residents. Those include:
- Legislation in 2011 requiring owners of substandard apartments to cover tenants’ moving costs if the apartment’s owners lose their certificate of occupancy.
- An attempt at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality in 2018 to force owners of residential and commercial irrigation systems to install additional equipment at an estimated cost of $1,000 per household. This issue may be raised again as a legislative proposal in the upcoming legislative session. A briefing given to the council can be found here.
- Legislation in 2017 that would have given owners of short-term rental properties more rights in some instances than adjacent, owner-occupied single-family homes. This included fewer restrictions on noise and parking, along with exemptions from some zoning requirements. An effort led by the city’s lobby team prevented this bill from becoming law.
Final Disposition: HB 754 was replaced in the House by Senate Bill 10 and altered in committee to require additional disclosure such as a public vote on the city’s legislative program and on lobbyist’s contracts, something Irving already does. SB 10 passed the House State Affairs Committee in that form, but it never got to a vote on the House floor.
HB 754—Limitation on fees cities can charge multifamily property owners for inspections
Since the 1980s, the City of Irving has operated a program to inspect all multifamily complexes in the city, regardless of age, to ensure the safety of residents, visitors, employees and neighbors of the properties.
Code enforcement also inspects properties on a complaint basis. It estimates that more than 80 percent of the complaints are valid, resulting in the owner being required to make the necessary repairs. The multifamily license fee is assessed on a per-unit basis to cover the cost of the inspection staff dedicated to the program.
As part of the city’s program, the entire exterior and common areas of complexes are inspected annually, along with a random selection of individual units. Maintenance issues and safety concerns, such as exposed electrical wiring, rotting wood or unsafe staircases, are identified. The owner is given a period of time to fix the problem. Citations are issued as a last resort if there is a continued failure to address the issue.
In the 87th legislative session, a state representative introduced a bill that would reduce by about 90 percent the fees the city could charge for these inspections. Such a reduction would almost certainly kill the program or require financing in some other way.
The City of Irving is home to a substantial number of multifamily properties. The inspection program has been one of the city’s main efforts to keep all multifamily housing safe, in good repair and in a condition that maintains property values for the entire community.
Final Disposition – The bill was heard in the House Urban Affairs Committee on March 31, 2021. Irving’s director of code enforcement testified against the bill, as did a City Council member from Garland. After sitting at the committee for more than a month with no action, a vote was taken on May 7, 2021, and the bill failed to pass the committee.
As the city prepared for the next session, there is an expectation that legislation affecting apartment inspection fees and restrictions on city lobbying efforts will be filed again.
HB 1900, SB 23 – Police Defunding
Two bills that would curtail the flexibility cities and counties have in approving public safety budgets were introduced in 2021.
The proposed bills punished a municipality by denying state revenue increases if spending in the city’s police department dropped below the previous year or didn’t expand at a standardized statistical rate as its population grows. These requirements do not take into consideration revenue fluctuations, changes in police strategies or urgent needs in other city services.
Senate Bill (SB) 23 required an election if spending on a per capita basis falls below a previous year’s level, or if the total budget for the police department is less, as a percentage of the city’s overall budget, than the previous year.
House Bill 1900 was similar though not identical to SB 23. It contained severe penalties, such as automatic de-annexation of areas annexed in the previous 40 years, if a city was determined to have “defunded” its police department.
Irving has been increasing its police department funding for several years. In the past five years, the budget for the police department has increased by almost 28 percent.
Nevertheless, the city has concerns about state rules that don’t take into account local conditions: changes in population and population density or efficiencies realized in the police department. A flat rule that police must always be a certain percentage of the budget increases pressure on a municipality to limit spending for other programs. Cities already are capped by state law in how much revenue can be raised. These bills, if passed, would essentially create a floor for spending, squeezing everything between the police budget and the total amount that can be raised under the state revenue cap.
SB 23 was negotiated with cities to make it more manageable, but when it came to a vote in the House State Affairs Committee, it was changed to only apply to the state’s five largest counties. The effort cities had made to improve the bill no longer applied to cities. There were few changes to HB 1900, and none were requested by cities.
Final Disposition – HB 1900 and SB 23 both became law Sept. 1, 2021. A staff employee in the governor’s office is in charge of determining whether or not a city has “defunded” its police department.