TEHA 2019 Legislative Update 

The 86th Regular Session of the Texas Legislature proved to be a challenging on for environmental health professionals, as a record number of bills were filed that would have rolled back public health protections. TEHA was able to successfully defeat a number of bad measures, and we worked with legislators to modify other bills to remove particularly problematic components. Unfortunately, at least one bill we actively opposed did become law, as did some that we followed closely but did not actively support or oppose. TEHA engaged on 40 different bills, most of which would have had a negative impact on public health and food safety, which represents a dramatic increase over previous sessions. 

Raw Milk Legislation Defeated 

For the fourth straight session, TEHA led efforts to defeat legislation that would have greatly expanded the sale of raw milk by allowing it to be sold at locations other than the producer’s dairy. Similar bills had passed either the House of Senate in recent sessions, but we were able to keep the bill bottled up in committee this session. 

Public Health District Fee Cap Removed  

TEHA’s legislative team worked with Rep. Four Price on House Bill 2755, legislation that removed the $150 statutory cap on fees charged by a county or public health district for a permit. The law will now allow a county or district to set fee amounts not to exceed the amount necessary to recover the costs associated with the permit. 

Cottage Food Expansion Passes  

Ten different bills were introduced that related to cottage food expansion. Of the two that became law, one was primarily focused on the regulation of samples at farmer’s markets. We worked with the bill author of that bill, HB 1694, to clarify the proposed language and remove potentially problematic provisions such as allowing non-farmer’s market vendors to provide samples with no oversight or regulation and allowing cottage food producers to sample potentially hazardous products. As finally passed, the bill provides that vendor at a farmer’s market may not be required to obtain a permit solely for providing samples. The legislation does not prevent a jurisdiction from requiring a permit to sell products at a farmer’s market.  

TEHA successfully opposed a number of cottage food expansion bills, but Senate Bill 572 did end up passing. The bill expands the definition of cottage foods to include acidified canned goods, pickled fruits or vegetables, fermented vegetable products, frozen raw and uncut fruit or vegetables, and any other food that is not a time and temperature control for safety food. Pickled, acidified, or fermented food products must use a recipe from a source approved by the Department of State Health Services that has been tested by a certified laboratory confirming the pH value of 4.6 or less. The bill also allows direct-to-consumer sales, including orders taken over the internet, proved the cottage food producer personally delivers the food to the consumer. 

Low-Volume Livestock Operations / Ungraded Eggs  

A number of bills that would have expanded exemptions for low volume livestock operations and/or ungraded egg producers were introduced. We successfully opposed most of the proposals, such as provisions that would have allowed such products to be sold to restaurants. House Bill 410 did end up becoming law, and it includes producers of less than 10,000 domestic rabbits or poultry into the existing definition of low-volume livestock processing establishment. At one point, the bill included beef products and allowed for sales to restaurants, but we were successful in getting those provisions removed. A related bill that would have allowed for ungraded eggs to be sold wholesale or direct to consumers was defeated. 

Dogs in Outdoor Dining Areas  

Senate Bill 476 pre-empts local ordinances that impose restrictions on dogs in an outdoor dining area that are more restrictive than a new framework set forth in state law. The new law requires that restaurants post signs stating that dogs are permitted, do not allow the dog in the interior of the restaurant, require dogs and customers to enter directly to the outdoor dining area, do not allow dogs on tables or chairs, and require customers to keep dogs on a leash.