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Major state agriculture laws, ranging from access to water for farmers and ranchers, to the possible commercial development of hemp, are being shaped for action by the Texas Legislature in 2019

Featured: Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, who is a member of the Texas Senate Committee on Agriculture, Water & Rural Affairs, on Thursday, March 1, 2018, greeted constituents who participated in the 2018 Distinguished Alumni Award ceremony hosted by the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley at the McAllen Country Club.

Photograph By SILVER SALAS

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Major state agriculture laws, ranging from access to water for farmers and ranchers, to the possible commercial development of hemp, are being shaped for action by the Texas Legislature in 2019

By DAVID A. DIAZ 
Legislativemedia@aol.com 

The access and management of water for farmers and ranchers, as well as the potential uses of industrial hemp and the economic feasibility of developing an industrial hemp market, are among 18 issues being closely reviewed by two committees in the Texas Legislature.

The Texas Senate Committee on Agriculture, Water & Rural Affairs and the Texas House of Representatives Committee on Agriculture & Livestock have been holding separate public hearings throughout the state on 18 matters since the beginning of 2018.

Their findings could lead to proposed legislation for review and action by the 86th Texas Legislature, which returns to work in early January 2019 for its five-month regular session.

The activities of both legislative committees are as a result of interim charges assigned, respectively, by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, and Speaker of the House Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, in the Fall of 2017.

The interim is the 19-month period between regular sessions. The interim charges are issues that are studied during the interim for the purposed of making recommendations to the next legislature.

SENATE COMMITTEE ON AGRICULTURE, WATER & RURAL AFFAIRS

The Texas Senate Committee on Agriculture, Water & Rural Affairs is led by Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, who serves as Chair.

The seven-member legislative panel also includes Sen. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso, who is Vice Chair.

The remaining five members of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Water & Rural Affairs are, in alphabetical order: Sen. Brandon Creighton, R- Conroe; Sen. Bob Hall, R-Edgewood; Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen; Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham; and Sen. Borris L. Miles, D-Houston.

These are some of the key interim charges being studied by the Texas Senate Committee on Agriculture, Water & Rural Affairs, with a final report on its findings to be available to the public and posted online by the end of 2018:

Streamlining Water Permitting 

• Study and recommend changes that promote streamlining of water right permit issuance and the amendment process by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) for surface water, and that promote uniform and streamline permitting by groundwater conservation districts for groundwater.

• Evaluate more transparent process needs and proper valuation of water.

• TCEQ is the environmental agency for the state. Its mission is to protect the state’s public health and natural resources consistent with sustainable economic development. Their goal is clean air, clean water, and the safe management of waste (https://www.tceq.texas.gov). ;

Surface Water in Texas is owned by the state and held in trust for the citizens of the state. The state grants the right to use this water to different people, such as farmers or ranchers, cities, industries, business, and other public and private interests.

(https://www.tceq.texas.gov/ permitting/water_rights/wr-permitting/wr_amiregulated.html).

Texas Water Code Section 11.02 defines surface water to include all of the “water under ordinary flow, underflow and tides of every flowing river, natural stream, lake, bay, arm of the Gulf of Mexico, and stormwater, floodwater or rain water of every river, natural stream, canyon, ravine, depression, and watershed in the state.”

(https://agrilife.org/texasaglaw/2013/09/30/texas-water-basics-of-surface-water-law/). 

Regulatory Framework of Groundwater Conservation Districts and River Authorities 

• Study and make recommendations on the regulatory framework for managing groundwater in Texas to ensure that private property rights are being sufficiently protected.

• Study the role of river authorities and groundwater conservation districts including the state’s oversight role of their operations and fees imposed.

Texas has numerous aquifers capable of producing groundwater for households, municipalities, industry, farms, and ranches. The Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) recognizes 9 major aquifers ? aquifers that produce large amounts of water over large areas (see major aquifers map) ? and 21 minor aquifers ? aquifers that produce minor amounts of water over large areas or large amounts of water over small areas (see minor aquifers map) (https:// ;http://www.twdb.texas.gov/groundwater/aquifer/index.asp) ;

Agricultural 

• Review licensing, permitting, or registration requirements and fees imposed on the agriculture industry by licensing agencies within the committee’s jurisdiction. Make recommendations for state licenses and fees that should be reduced, repealed or transitioned to private-sector enforcement.

Monitoring 

• Monitor the implementation of legislation addressed by the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Water & Rural Affairs during the 85th Legislature, Regular Session, including, but not limited to:

Senate Bill 1511 (prioritization in the regional water plan);
Senate Bill 1538 (Floodplain Management Account uses);
Senate Bill 864 (GCD application of state water);
House Bill 2004 (Texas economic development fund for TDA); and
House Bill 3433 (Adoption of rules affecting rural communities). Make recommendations for any legislative improvements needed to improve, enhance, or complete implementation including regional water planning, flood planning, and groundwater production.

Hurricane Harvey Response

• Study and make recommendations on how to move forward with water infrastructure projects in the State Water Plan that will help mitigate floods through flood control, diversion, and storage projects.

• Evaluate plans for a possible third reservoir in addition to Addicks and Barker to control and alleviate additional flooding in the region. Additionally, review the current status of reservoir projects in Texas.

• Examine opportunities for coordination between federal and state agencies to develop flood mitigation infrastructure, and the ongoing maintenance and restoration of critical dam infrastructure.

• Study and identify ways to improve the capacity and maintain the structure of the Addicks and Barker Reservoirs.

• Report on mechanisms that would ensure the public has access to timely and transparent release figures from reservoirs across the state.

• Evaluate current state data-sharing standards for rainfall and stream gauges and whether regional flood management projects and flood warnings should be hosted in a centralized location, such as a state agency web page.

• Determine whether a statewide real-time flood warning system could be developed and coordinated through mobile devices, TxDOT electronic signage, communication devices and whether existing local and regional forecasting infrastructure could be integrated into a centralized inclement weather forecasting system.

More information on the upcoming legislative report by the Texas Senate Committee on Agriculture, Water & Rural Affairs is available by contacting any of the following staff members at the Texas Capitol:

Matthew Dowling
Chief of Staff
Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock
matthew.Dowling@Senate.Texas.gov
512/463-0128

Jillian Miles
Scheduler and Office Manager
Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock
jillian.Myles@Senate.Texas.gov
512/463-0128

Lauren Murray
Chief Clerk
Texas Senate Committee on Agriculture, Water & Rural Affairs
lauren.Murray_SC@Senate.Texas.gov
512/463-0340

Katherine Thigpen
Director
Texas Senate Committee on Agriculture, Water & Rural Affairs
katherine.Thigpen_SC@Senate.Texas.gov
512/463-0340

TEXAS HOUSE COMMITTEE ON AGRICULTURE & LIVESTOCK

The Texas House Committee on Agriculture & Livestock is led by Rep. Tracy O. King, D-Batesville, who serves as Chair.

The seven-member legislative panel also includes Rep. Mary E. González, D-San Clint, who is Vice Chair.

The remaining five members of the House Committee on Agriculture & Livestock are, in alphabetical order:

Rep. Charles “Doc: Anderson, R-Waco; Rep. Dustin Burrows; R-Lubbock; Rep. John Cyrier, R-Lockhart; Rep. Matt Rinaldi, R-Irving; and Rep. Lynn Stucky. R-Denton.

These are some of the key interim charges being studied by the House Committee on Agriculture & Livestock, with a final report on its findings to be available to the public and posted online by the end of 2018:

• Review the Texas Department of Agriculture’s and the Texas Animal Health Commission’s role in the response to Hurricane Harvey. Examine the short-term and long-term economic and agricultural impacts to producers in the agriculture and livestock industries in Texas as a result of Harvey. Identify ways to mitigate the impact and prevent substantial losses from Harvey and future natural disasters.

• Study the Texas olive and olive oil industry. Provide suggestions to improve, promote, and standardize the industry. Examine current policy related to the industry and examine factors such as research, marketing, labeling, standards, data collection, and the necessity of creating a commodity board or similar type of organization.

• Review the Texas Department of Agriculture’s Seed Certification Program and related areas. Consider any benefits or drawbacks to privatizing the program through a nonprofit crop improvement association.

• Study the effects of declining migratory species, such as the monarch butterfly, as well as native and domesticated bee populations on agricultural production and its economic impact on the state. Identify possible causes of the population changes and monitor national trends. Make recommendations on how to improve and promote monarch butterfly and bee populations and habitats in the state. (Joint charge with the House Committee on Culture, Recreation & Tourism)

•  Identify methods for the early detection of exotic invasive organisms that could threaten the production of agricultural crops, such as cotton, in Texas.

• Consider the feasibility of developing and implementing a central filing system to be used for the filing of all financing statements that cover farm products being sold and purchased in this state that are subject to an agricultural lien.

• Evaluate the uses of industrial hemp and the economic feasibility of developing an industrial hemp market under existing or future state and federal regulations. Examine the processing and manufacturing process requirements of multiple bi-products, including feed, food, fiber, cosmetics, supplements, and building materials.

• Monitor the agencies and programs under the Committee’s jurisdiction and oversee the implementation of relevant legislation passed by the 85th Legislature.

More information on the upcoming legislative report by the Texas House Committee on Agriculture and Livestock is available by contacting either of the following staff members at the Texas Capitol:

Celina Overbo
Chief of Staff
Rep. Tracey O. King
celina.Overbo@house.texas.gov.
512/463-0194

Sam Bacarisse

Chief Clerk
House Committee on Agriculture and Livestock
sam.Bacarisse@house.texas.gov
956/463-0762

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For more information, please contact Mani Skaria, PhD at mani.skaria@uscitrus.com. For additional Texas legislative news stories, please log on to Titans of the Texas Legislature.

For additional Texas legislative news stories, please log on to Titans of the Texas Legislature.

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