Month of May busy as session nears end
Published 3:24 pm Friday, May 8, 2015
My Five Cents
By Sen. Robert Nichols
The saying goes that April showers bring May flowers, but at the Capitol April bills bring May thrills. With major issues like approving a state budget and addressing tax cuts, finalizing the state’s budget and transportation funding still ahead of us, May promises to be both busy and exciting.
Here are five things that happened this week at your Texas Capitol:
1. Fracking Bans
House Bill 40, which would preempt local efforts to regulate a wide variety of oil and gas activities, was sent to Governor Abbott’s desk this week. The state’s Natural Resources Code will be amended to specify oil and gas operations are exclusively under the jurisdiction of the state and a city cannot enact or enforce an ordinance that bans, limits or regulates oil and gas operations.
Cities will be able to regulate above-ground activity such as lights, noise, traffic and anything that would inhibit fire and emergency response. Cities will also be able to enforce reasonable setbacks between drilling sites and certain buildings.
2. Gun Tax-Free Holiday
This past week, the Senate passed SB 228, for which I am a co-author. This bill would create a sales tax holiday for individual purchases of firearms and/or hunting supplies.
As hunting season begins at the end of August or early September, the sales tax holiday would be on the last full weekend in August. It would provide a sales tax benefit to hunters prior to the hunting season and will give retailers in Texas an economic boost. Contributions hunters make when purchasing equipment or licenses to engage in their sport relieves taxpayers from a part of the burden to finance state wildlife habitat restoration and conservation efforts.
3. SJR 5 Conference
The Senate has declined to accept the version of Senate Joint Resolution 5 which was returned by the House this week. This important transportation legislation will be sent to a conference committee made up of members from both chambers to work out the differences on the proposed constitutional amendment.
While both versions strive to provide much needed funding for transportation in the state, they do so in very different ways. The Senate version would redirect money from the vehicle sales tax, while the House version would tap the general sales tax. I look forward to working with the members of the House to address the funding for our states transportation infrastructure, which is a core function of government.
4. Preserving Alamo Trademark
The Alamo is a historic site which commemorates the history and battle for Texas’ independence fought by so many brave men and women. The State of Texas is considered the owner of the Alamo, and a U.S. District Judge recently ruled the state also owns the image of the shrine and has the authority to challenge those who use its likeness for any use. This ruling came after the General Land Office, which oversees the Alamo, intervened in a lawsuit between Alamo Beer Company of San Antonio and Texian Brewing in Houston. Alamo Beer claimed trademark infringement on Texian, stating they were trying to capitalize on their years of advertisement and experience. The Land Commission believes they are the ones who should have the right to the trademark and not someone else.
The court order permanently restrains the companies from using the trademark or anything similar. The Land Commission says it does not oppose the use of the word “Alamo” with products or services as long as images of the roofline design of the building are not used. Through trademarks, the Alamo sells dozens of officially branded products from barbecue sauce, to tie tacks and pickled okra in their gift shop. The money supports operations of the historic site to preserve it for generations to come.
5. Unscrambling Eggs
This week when I laid out HB 275 in the Senate Finance Committee, the question of the definition of an egg came up. Not the age old question of whether the chicken or the egg came first (I do believe it was the chicken), but rather what the definition of an egg should be in the State’s Tax Code.
While eggs are defined as a farm product in the Agriculture Code, that definition is not in the Tax Code and thus, eggs are not property tax exempt. This bill defines eggs to make them eligible for exemption and includes packaged eggs that have not yet been sold by the egg producer. Hopefully this bill will help to unscramble the definition of an egg and make the law more consistent.
Sen. Robert Nichols of Jacksonville represents much of East Texas including Orange County.