Legislative Update: HPWD offers testimony regarding legislation

By Victoria Whitehead, HPWD General Counsel

Attorney’s Fees Legislation

Under current statute, a judge is required to award attorney’s fees to a groundwater conservation district (GCD) when a GCD prevails in litigation.  This stands for both general litigation involving a GCD, as well as GCD enforcement actions.  There are no other provisions under Chapter 36, Texas Water Code, for any other party to  recover their attorney’s fees.  

This month, HPWD offered support for two bills that address this inequity:

House Bill 2125 by Representative Burns removes the court’s requirement to grant attorney’s fees to a GCD, and instead makes the award of attorney’s fees discretionary.  While the original legislation had a cap set at $100,000, the Committee Substitute introduced April 2nd, removes the cap.   HB 2125 does not alter the award of attorney’s fees for enforcement actions. 

Senate Bill 851 by Senator Perry would change the current process to allow the prevailing side to seek attorney’s fees from the court.  It further states that the court may grant reasonable and necessary attorney’s fees in an amount that the court considers is equitable and just, but not to exceed $250,000.  For enforcement actions involving a GCD, SB 851 allows the prevailing side to recover attorney’s fees, but does not include a $250,000 cap.   

While many GCDs in the state do not support these efforts, the HPWD Board of Directors firmly believe this legislation is a good balance for all parties, as it removes some barriers that landowners may encounter when they believe a GCD is not adequately protecting their groundwater.

HPWD provided testimony on SB 851.  The testimony provided by General Counsel Victoria Whitehead can be found at 02:10:50: http://tlcsenate.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=45&clip_id=14092

Appeals Process Legislation

HPWD offered testimony in opposition to Senator Perry’s Senate Bill 2027.  SB 2027 changes the judicial review process of decisions made by a GCD board from substantial evidence review to trial de novo.

Testimony from HPWD focused on the adequacy of current law for contested matters.  The rights of petitioners are well documented in the existing statute, and also allow for the expertise of the locally elected board members.

Senator Perry concluded the hearing by agreeing to push the matter to an interim discussion rather than pursuing the legislative change. 

The testimony provided by General Counsel Victoria Whitehead can be found at 02:01:00: http://tlcsenate.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=45&clip_id=14250

Legislative Update: HB 2125 & SB 851 testimony

By Victoria Whitehead, HPWD General Counsel

Under current statute, a judge is required to award attorney’s fees to a groundwater conservation district (GCD) when a GCD prevails in litigation.  This stands for both general litigation involving a GCD, as well as GCD enforcement actions.  There are no other provisions under Chapter 36, Texas Water Code, for any other party to recover their attorney’s fees.   

 This week, HPWD offered support for two bills that address this inequity:

  • House Bill 2125 by Representative Burns removes the court’s requirement to grant attorney’s fees to a GCD, and instead makes the award of attorney’s fees discretionary.  While the original legislation had a cap set at $100,000, the Committee Substitute introduced April 2nd, removes the cap.   HB 2125 does not alter the award of attorney’s fees for enforcement actions.

  • Senate Bill 851 by Senator Perry would change the current process and allow the prevailing side to seek attorney’s fees from the court.  It further states that the court may grant reasonable and necessary attorney’s fees in an amount that the court considers is equitable and just, but not to exceed $250,000.  For enforcement actions involving a GCD, SB 851 allows the prevailing side to recover attorney’s fees, but does not include a $250,000 cap.

While many GCDs in the state do not support these efforts, the HPWD Board of Directors firmly believe this legislation is a good balance for all parties, as it removes some barriers  that landowners may  encounter when they believe a GCD is not adequately protecting their groundwater. 

 HPWD provided testimony on SB 851.  The testimony given by General Counsel Victoria Whitehead can be found at 02:10:50: http://tlcsenate.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=45&clip_id=14092

New Speaker, committee assignments at start of 86th Texas Legislature

By Victoria Whitehead, HPWD General Counsel

 The 86th Texas Legislature convened in regular session on Jan. 8 in Austin.  Rep. Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton) was elected Speaker of the House of Representatives. In recent weeks, both Speaker Bonnen and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick announced the membership of the House and Senate standing committees.

 House Committee Assignments

Speaker Bonnen selected Representative Lyle Larson (R-San Antonio) to chair the House Natural Resources Committee once again.  Speaker Bonnen also appointed Rep. Will Metcalf (R- Conroe) to serve as Vice Chairman.  Rep. Walter “Four” Price (R-Amarillo) was reappointed to the committee.

 Follow this link for other House Natural Resources Committee members.

 Follow this link for an entire list of House Standing Committees and members.

 Senate Water and Rural Affairs Committee:

Lt. Governor Patrick made some structural changes to the standing Senate Committees by splitting the Agriculture, Water, & Rural Affairs into two committees: 1) the Committee on Agriculture and 2) the Committee on Water & Rural Affairs.  State Senator Charles Perry (R-Lubbock) maintained his Chairmanship of the Water & Rural Affairs Committee. 

 In a statement on his social media, Chairman Perry said, “I am looking forward to fight for West Texas this legislative session. I believe serving on these committees will give West Texas a strong voice as we look to keep Texas the best state in the nation to live, work, and raise a family. I want to thank Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick for trusting me with these important committee assignments.” 

 Follow this link for other Senate Committee on Water & Rural Affairs members.

 Follow this link for an entire list of Senate Standing Committees and members.

 HPWD will provide legislative updates in the electronic and print versions of The Cross Section throughout the session.