Legislation 

 

 

 
 

         TEHA 2021 Legislative Update 

The 87th Legislature was certainly one to remember, with access and protocols in place related to COVID-19 changing the way the capitol operated in significant ways. The legislative session seemed destined to focus on issues related to the pandemic and the state budget, and then February’s Winter Storm Uri and the related electricity grid failure added yet another major issue to the mix. 

Legislators filed 6,927 bills, of which only 1,081 ultimately passed (591 House bills and 490 Senate bills). The number of bills passed declined 24 percent versus the previous session, and reflected both the challenges of passing bills this session, as well as some end-of-session friction between House and Senate leadership. 

Gov. Greg Abbott has already indicated that the legislature will be back in two special sessions again this year, with the first set to begin on July 8. As of writing, the final list of topics that the legislature may consider has not yet been announced by the governor, but election reform legislation will certainly be one topic for the special session. A controversial election bill died on the next-to-last day of session after House Democrats left the chamber to prevent a quorum needed to vote on the final version of the bill. In response, Gov. Abbott used his line item veto authority to eliminate funding for the legislative branch in the upcoming biennium, meaning restoration of that funding will be another item on the agenda.

Due to pandemic-related delays in receiving census data, the legislature will have to return to redraw state House, state Senate, and Congressional district lines to reflect current population in a second special session, likely beginning in the fall. The governor has also indicated that he intends for the legislature to handle the appropriation of approximately $16 billion in federal funds related to the pandemic that were unallocated by the legislature during the regular session. 

Legislative Issues Affecting TEHA

Traditionally, much of the work of TEHA’s legislative team has been working to keep bad pieces of legislation from becoming law, either by opposing the bills entirely or working with legislators and stakeholders to modify objectionable language in the bills. That trend continued this session. 

Two of the early victories of the session was the result of legislation that was NOT ultimately introduced during this legislative session that have traditionally been priorities for TEHA to oppose. For the last decade, TEHA has played a leading role opposing legislation to expand the sale of raw milk at farmer’s markets and at retail. This legislation has been filed in each of the last several sessions, and has even passed both legislative chambers in previous years, though not in the same session. We are happy to report that this legislation was not filed this session, though we expect it will undoubtedly return in the future.

The second issue that has come up in some form for the last decade or so has been the expansion of cottage food sales. As TEHA members are certainly aware, the original cottage food bill passed in 2013 allows home bakers to sell certain baked goods to consumers. Since that session, there have been efforts to expand both the types of foods, including time/temperature control foods, and the locations where these products may be sold. In some sessions there have been multiple bills to expand the cottage food law, but we are pleased to report that no legislation was filed this session amending the cottage food law, though, like raw milk, we expect it to return in the future.

The following bills of interest to TEHA members were passed during the recent legislative session:

SB 617 – Permit Fees for Farmer’s Markets

The legislature has previously passed legislation intended to cap the fees charged to vendors at farmer’s markets in a specific jurisdiction at $100 annually. However, the law was somewhat ambiguous in its wording, resulting in some jurisdictions applying the permit to apply to all vendors at a farmer’s market, while others only offered the annual permit to farmers and not other food producers who may sell at a farmer’s market.

SB 617 clarifies that the provisions of the law apply to both farmers and other food producers as defined under the legislation. The bill also allows a farmer or food producer who is charged a fee in excess of what is allowed under law to bring a cause of action against a governmental entity that charges a fee in excess of what the law allows.

TEHA had concerns that the way the bill was drafted could allow more events to re-classify as farmer’s markets, such as festivals or fairs where food is sold. Unfortunately, our suggestions fell on deaf ears this session, but we will remain on the lookout for individuals or entities that attempt to circumvent the intention that the law only apply to farmer’s markets. SB 617 passed unanimously in both chambers and took effect on June 14.

 HB 1276 – Sale of Unprepared Food by Food Establishments

HB 1276 was filed to codify a waiver that was granted during the COVID-19 pandemic to allow restaurants to sell foods other than prepared foods directly to consumers, provided the items are property labeled and all applicable food regulations are followed, such as temperature control and packaging. The legislation provides that local or state health jurisdictions may not require a food establishment selling food under this law to obtain a food manufacturer license if it is not otherwise required. The example given at the hearing was of a BBQ restaurant selling uncooked, sealed briskets to consumers that would have otherwise been wasted due to reduced demand at a restaurant due to the pandemic. HB 1276 became effective on June 4. 

 

The following bills opposed by TEHA did not ultimately pass and become law: 

HB 2028 / SB 336 – Sale of Ungraded Eggs

HB 2028 and SB 336 would have authorized the sale of ungraded eggs at wholesale or directly to a consumer. TEHA opposed over concerns about safety and the potential to put state law in conflict with accepted USDA food safety standards.

HB 1686 / SB 1062 – State Pre-emption of Certain Animal Regulations

HB 1686 and SB 1062 would have prevented local governments and property owners’ associations from adopting or enforcing a prohibition on a person in a single-family residence from raising or keeping six or fewer domestic fowls or six or fewer rabbits. Similar legislation has received attention in previous sessions, but this version of the proposal was the most expansive we have seen in recent years. HB 1686 passed the House but did not receive a hearing in the Senate.