Commentary: Austin – Texas Gov. Greg Abbott vetoed bills by state Sen. José Rodríguez that would have given consumers vital loan information and set deadlines for well owners to secure their deteriorated water wells.
· SB 830 would have required seller-financed mortgage lenders to send to their borrowers a single annual statement containing basic information about the status of their loan, including how much was paid to interest and principal.
"This bill was a simple fix intended to prevent conflicts and lawsuits between lenders and borrowers, and to cut down on mortgage fraud. Contrary to the Governor's statement, SB 830 imposed no burden on lenders; banks and credit unions already provide this basic information to borrowers," Rodríguez said. "What's more, the bill was thoroughly vetted and agreed-to by seller-financed lenders and financial institutions, and, as a concession to these stakeholders, still kept much of burden on borrowers to proactively assert their right to information."
· HB 3025 set reasonable deadlines for landowners to repair deteriorated groundwater wells, before a groundwater district may repair or plug the well itself.
"Across Texas there may be thousands of abandoned or deteriorated water wells that are not properly capped. These wells allow for pollution of fresh groundwater aquifers, and may damage adjacent land and infrastructure," Rodríguez said. "It's disappointing that this common-sense legislation to protect our most valuable natural resource was vetoed after having previously passed both chambers of overwhelmingly."
· HB 2774 would have made it a class C misdemeanor to knowingly install an unsafe tire on a motor vehicle. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that there are nearly 11,000 tire-related accidents every year, which represents about nine percent of total motor vehicle accidents. These accidents include tire issues related to tread separations, blowouts, bald tires, and under-inflation and are particularly prevalent in tires with tread depth less than one-sixteenth of an inch.
“This was a common sense bill that would have improved road safety by making sure that only tires that can meet DPS’ inspection standards are put on vehicles. That’s why it was supported by AAA Texas and insurers,” said Rodríguez.
· HB 2792 would have made technical updates to the existing code for public housing authorities utilizing the federal Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) program to rehabilitate their existing properties. Much of the affordable housing stock in the country is 40 or 50 years old and in need of significant renovation. In an attempt to address the $26 billion backlog of needed capital improvements across the country, HUD established its RAD Program. RAD provides local housing authorities units an avenue to privately finance the rehab of multi-family housing sites.
“This bill would not have increased property tax exemptions; it would have maintained the status quo. These properties are already not paying property taxes through their Public Housing Agency tax exemptions. Now, public housing authorities may be discouraged from doing much-needed renovations, leaving low-income residents with fewer affordable living options,” said Rodríguez.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott also vetoed state Sen. José Rodríguez's S.B. 570, which would have helped communities deal with the problem of scrap tires being illegally dumped, an issue that is particularly troubling for local health authorities trying to prevent the spread of the Zika virus.
“What the governor has done is put the health and safety of Texans at risk by removing a tool that would have reduced illegally dumped tires, which are breeding grounds for mosquitoes that carry Zika and other dangerous illnesses,” Rodríguez said.
The governor vetoed this bill on the basis that Texans would have to regularly consult the Texas Register and the actions of local government to know if they are in violation of the laws related to tire disposal. In fact, under the current status quo, Texans must look to the Texas Register to find existing administrative rules put in place by TCEQ. In contrast, the bill would have put the framework into state statute, clearly delineating requirements for proper disposal of scrap tires.
“It also would have given local governments the same civil and criminal enforcement tools that currently exist for other environmental violations in state law,” Rodríguez said. “That’s why the tire industry - from manufacturers to retailers to processors - supported the bill, which they helped develop as part of a broad coalition that included health officials and local governments."
More than 36 million tires are discarded each year in Texas, roughly one and a half tires for every person residing in the state. Several million of these tires are illegally dumped each year, creating fire, pollution, and public health and safety risks, such as increases in vector-borne illnesses like Zika, West Nile, and dengue fever.
For all these reasons, stakeholders wrote letters to Gov. Abbott in favor of the bill.
"S.B. 570 aims to address illegal tire dumping while updating and modernizing antiquated laws as was requested by industry participants," wrote Liberty Tire Recycling and other tire industry stakeholders. "S.B. 570 is not only negotiated and agreed to legislation but was requested by industry participants who seek to stem this illegal activity."
In another letter to Gov. Abbott, Goodyear Tire and Rubber wrote that S.B. 570 "is not over regulation. At best, it is the minimum regulation required."
The Texas Public Health Coalition, which includes over 30 health-related organizations including the Texas Medical Association, Texas Pediatric Society, and Texas Hospital Association, wrote that S.B. 570 "provides an important opportunity to take proactive steps against dangerous diseases."
Finding ways to deal with the issue has been a long-time top priority for cities, counties, and public health authorities. S.B. 570 was the first significant statewide legislation since the last attempts to deal with the issue, in the 1990s, and was supported by a wide range of industry, health, local government, environmental, and other stakeholders. The list of participants and supports totaled almost 40, split roughly equally among the different categories of stakeholder.
"The goal of S.B. 570 was to guarantee bad actors were stopped without overregulating the many model industry participants across the state," Rodríguez said. "Given the participation and agreement of the many stakeholders and the absence of any opposition, I'm not sure how the governor came to his conclusion."
The stakeholder group included:
Texas Tire & Automotive Association, Liberty Tire, Texas Automotive Recyclers Association, LKQ, Inc., Recycling Council of Texas, Goodyear Tire & Rubber, Rubber Manufacturers Association, State of Texas Alliance for Recycling, Texas Border Coalition, Environmental Defense Fund, Environment Texas, Public Citizen, Sierra Club, City of Brownsville, City of Corpus Christi, City of El Paso, City of Houston, City of Fort Worth, City of Irving, City of Laredo, City of San Antonio, Texas Municipal League, El Paso County, Harris County, Tarrant County, Travis County, Texas Association of Counties, Texas Conference of Urban Counties, County Judges & Commissioners Association of Texas, San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, Bandera County River Authority & Groundwater District, Delta Lake Irrigation District, San Antonio River Authority, Water Environment Association of Texas, Texas Association of Clean Water Agencies, Texans for Clean Water, Texas Heritage Protection, Texas Medical Association, Texas Public Health Coalition
José Rodríguez represents Texas Senate District 29, which includes the counties of El Paso, Hudspeth, Culberson, Jeff Davis, and Presidio. He represents both urban and rural constituencies, and more than 350 miles of the Texas-Mexico border. Senator Rodríguez currently serves as the Chairman of the Texas Senate Democratic Caucus, and is a member of the Senate Committees on Natural Resources and Economic Development; Transportation; Veteran Affairs and Border Security; and Agriculture, Water, and Rural Affairs (Vice Chair).