Buda sets priorities for legislative session

Loosening groundwater rules to allow for Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR) is something Buda officials want the legislature to review.

Buda city leaders are making that one priority for its lobbyists to advocate for during the upcoming 86th Legislative session.

Among many possible items Buda might choose to support, city officials and leaders could be bracing for another possible attack on local control by state officials.

Such was the tone brought to city council Oct. 16 by Jeff Heckler, principal of Texas Solutions Group, a lobby firm Buda hired during the 85th Legislative session in 2017 to assist with passing its legislative items.

Heckler said the 86th session, which starts Jan. 8, 2019, is expected to be as “energetic as the last one was.” Heckler said the 85th session was geared toward “arresting” local control and autonomy from municipalities.

He cited several bills that dealt with annexation and eminent domain, which Heckler and Randy Lee, also with TSG, believe could resurface this session. The first day to file bills for the upcoming session is Nov. 12. Buda city leaders are waiting for the Texas Municipal League to cite bills they could be filing before narrowing down their own lists.

Heckler said TSG and other lobbyist groups wouldn’t know what exactly they’ll face until bills are filed. However, Heckler said there’s been a lot of animus toward cities in recent years, with it climaxing in the last session. While larger cities such as Austin or Houston had been targeted in the past, Heckler believed “everybody” was affected in 2017.

“I’ve never seen it so brutal for cities ever,” Heckler said. “Last time it was a fire out of control. This time we hope it will be little fires, but not something major.”

Buda Mayor Pro Tem Wiley Hopkins was also concerned with legislators “trying to take local control.”

Hopkins said city leaders should be left to focus on their own municipalities. Buda City Manager Kenneth Williams also believed defending local control was critical. He cited the Texas Municipal League’s “Our home, our decisions” program.

“We want to make decisions at the local level, and not be made at the legislative by other people who don’t know what their community is like,” Williams said. “They’re saying not every community is the same, and we should make those decisions likewise.”

Meanwhile, Buda officials are hoping to see a bill that could ease ASR restrictions on the Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk in May.

In 2017, HB 3333, authored by State Rep. Jason Isaac (R-Dripping Springs), failed to go for a vote in the Texas House before Sine Die. The Hays Free Press reported the bill would have allowed Buda to build a water pipe that passes water through the Edwards Aquifer to the Trinity Aquifer, depositing “recharged” water into the Trinity for storage.

Current groundwater rules stipulate water passing through the Edwards can only consist of untreated Edwards Aquifer water.

Heckler said TSG met with Natural Sciences Committee Chairman and State Rep. Lyle Larson (R-San Antonio), who is a “big advocate” for ASR. Heckler said chances of a similar bill passing are “extremely good to excellent.”

However, Lee advocated for city officials to work early with legislators on bills, as well as to get as many companion bills as possible.

“Low numbers and two bills, one at each side, coming like a train, it increases your chances of success,” Lee said. “If you put only one torpedo in the water, you hurt yourself if it gets strung out in the session or deadlines in May.”

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