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                                       TEHA 85th Legislative Recap

The 85th Session of the Texas Legislature was undoubtedly a success for TEHA and its advocacy efforts. As expected, there were a number of bills introduced that would have had a detrimental impact on public health. Fortunately, we were successful in defeating each of those measures, though as was the case last session, some very bad pieces of legislation did get traction among some legislators and will likely return in a future session.

TEHA had a successful legislative day at the capitol that was attended by numerous members. We worked with the board to develop white papers opposing two legislative measures, the raw milk legislation and a proposal to dramatically expand home-based food production. TEHA members distributed those white papers to all 181 legislative offices at our legislative day. Additionally, we conducted numerous meetings with key legislators and staff in both the House and Senate throughout the session, and worked with other associations to coordinate our opposition to these legislative proposals.

What follows is a brief summary of several pieces of legislation that we were involved in on TEHA’s behalf, along with the final action taken on those bills:

Raw Milk – House Bill 57 by Rep. Dan Flynn / Senate Bill 95 by Sen. Bob Hall

HB 57 and SB 95 were companion bills that would have allowed for the off-premises sale of raw milk and raw milk products either direct-to-consumer or at farmer’s markets. During the 84th Legislative Session, the House passed a similar bill, only to have it die late in the process in the Senate. In the 85th Legislative Session, the reverse occurred. The bill was held until very late in the session without receiving a hearing in either chamber. Ultimately, the bill was given a late hearing on May 3rd, and was held for two weeks without a vote. It was voted out of the committee on May 15th and passed by the full Senate 29-2 on May 19th.

The House version of the bill never received a hearing in House Public Health, and SB 95 was never even referred to a committee. What ultimately happened is that the Senate acted only when it was a virtual certainty that the bill the not have enough time to make it through the legislative process. Thus I would not read too much into the overwhelming vote in the Senate, as many legislators often are willing to vote for a colleague’s bill they might otherwise have objections to in these circumstances. However, the net result is that the House has passed a raw milk bill in 2015 and the Senate has passed a raw milk bill in 2017, so I would certainly expect a very determined approach to passing a bill in 2019.

Home Food Processor – House Bill 1926 by Rep. Eddie Rodriguez

Rep. Rodriguez was one of the primary authors of the cottage foods bill, and has pushed for legislation in recent sessions that would allow for expanded home food processing of potentially hazardous foods. As we have mentioned previously, this type of legislation brings together a strange coalition of the far-left and far-right. On the far-left, you have the anti-GMO and pro-organic food philosophy that is probably in line with much of FARFA’s beliefs. On the far-right end of the spectrum, you have those who simply want to reduce regulation and do not believe government should be allowed to tell someone what they can do in their home. We were successful in convincing Chairman Four Price not to give the bill a hearing in the House Public Health Committee, but it does have bi-partisan support, and I would expect we will see some version of this again next session.

Food Handler Certification – Senate Bill 1089 by Sen. Charles Perry

SB 1089 was an attempt by Sen. Perry to clean up legislation that we were very involved with last session regarding food handler certification and the practice of charging transfer fees or registration fees. In the 84th session, legislation passed that included amendments proposed by TEHA to prohibit these transfer fees and deem someone as compliant with food handler requirements if they completed an ANSI-approved course. Our amendment that was added saved DSHS-approved courses from being eliminated completely. However, the bill was not well-drafted, and despite our efforts to point this out at the time, the net result is that it prohibited transfer fees for ANSI courses but not for DSHS-approved courses. Our concern was that the threat of a transfer fee if someone takes a DSHS course could result in employers suggesting that only ANSI-approved courses be taken. Sen. Perry saw this outcome as a problem, and we worked with his office on SB 1089 to clarify the law and put all courses on a level playing field, whether they are approved by ANSI or DSHS. The bill was signed by Gov. Abbott and became effective on June 12, 2017.

Special Session

The legislature began a 30 day special session this week to address 20 issues set forth by Gov. Abbott. We are actively monitoring the session, but at this time, there are not topics eligible for consideration that would impact TEHA in any way. It should be noted that any legislation may be filed, but if the subject of the legislation falls outside of one of the 20 items listed by the governor, it is subject to a point of order that will remove the legislation from consideration. The governor has the authority to add topics at any point, so we will continue to monitor all legislation introduced throughout the session.