Texas Lawmakers Take Aim at Local Construction Permits

With time running short in a special session of the Texas Legislature, a couple of bills aimed at expediting construction permits in cities seem to be languishing along with other controversial proposals.

Senate Bill 13 and House Bill 164, which are identical, would speed up the permitting processes in cities around Texas. The author of the House version of the bill is Rep. Paul Workman, R-Austin, who is a former construction executive. The Texas Tribune notes:

Workman, who also runs a construction consulting business with his son, said that he became interested in expedited permitting legislation on his own and did not not speak with donors or interest groups about his bill. None of his consulting clients do business in Austin, he said.

“It’s bad for the industry, what [Austin has] done, and so whether I had been supported by the various construction industry people or not, I would have done this,” Workman said.

And while Workman and his clients may not be subject to the new Austin requirements — which are still in the pilot stage — his old company, where his daughter is the chief financial officer, would. Workman said he has not been in touch with his former company “in a while.”

Workman Commercial Construction declined to comment on the expedited permitting process in Austin.

The Workers Defense Project, an Austin-based group that helped craft the capital city’s protections for workers, is opposed to Rep. Workman’s legislation.

"We have had, and continue to have, conversations with Texas policy makers about our disagreement with legislation like HB 164 that increases the tax burden on Texas homeowners while creating dangerous working conditions and cutting the pay for hardworking men and women who build our cities, roads and bridges,” said Sam Robles, Communications Director with WDP told Construction Citizen. “Instead, we hope the legislature will focus on passing meaningful public school finance reform," Robles said. 

A special session of the Texas Legislature can only last up to 30 days and, as such, there is limited time to craft and pass bills. With 20 items on Gov. Greg Abbott’s agenda, lawmakers have extremely little bandwidth for each of the topics he’s chosen to include. In the past, governors have typically asked lawmakers to handle one or a handful of topics during special sessions. 

This time, the Senate moved very quickly to pass bills related to each of Abbott’s 20 topics including this permitting issue. The House, however, has moved at a slower speed and has also worked on legislation unrelated to Abbott’s agenda, like restoration of funding that was cut two years ago for life-saving therapies for disabled children.

When the Texas Senate passed its version of this, SB 13, Democrats in the chamber argued Republicans were moving too fast to truly vet the legislation and pass it in a form that would be helpful. The Austin American-Statesman reported at the time:

Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, along with Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, asked for the chamber to consider adding conditional permit approvals that would allow for cities continue to examine building projects if they discovered health and safety issues. Their efforts bore no fruit.

Watson also attempted to amend the bill to strike language that appeared to require cities and counties to submit detailed plans as to how a builder should fix a deficiency. Other senators questioned his amendment because many had not seen it until the very moment he introduced it.

“That’s part of the problem with going as rapidly as we are moving,” Watson said. “It is a problem when we are moving at such a breakneck speed that people are not seeing things at committee or even on the Senate floor.”

The House has taken no action on the measure. We’ll update you if that changes. 

 

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