How about one more vote on this item before anyone goes wild-and-crazy?
By an 8-to-1 margin, local control is considered preferable to state control in matters most closely related to architecture practice. No doubt about it, we saw a clear membership trend on the issue when this same question was posed in an April 12 blog piece. Then again, we had only nine (9) people total weighing in—eight (8) “locals” and one (1) “statie.”
The topic is rearing its (ugly/beautiful) head again during the Called Session that convened July 18—providing multiple opportunities for legislators to show their conviction (or political anxiety) when casting specific votes over the next three weeks on whether (and how) to limit raising local tax revenues, passing local ordinances regulating trees, distracted driving, etc., and other stuff.
(The “statie” vote back in April focused specifically on the one local issue causing his grief—annexation without representation. Lucky for him, legislators will have another bite at that apple over the next three weeks, to be sure.)
Several chapters have already expressed (or told us they will soon express) formal opposition to Governor Abbott’s idea that the lack of state oversight of municipalities would lead to the “Californiazation” of Texas—creating a patchwork quilt of unwanted, unnecessary regulation discouraging business investment and illegally seizing private property rights, a belief shared by Attorney General Ken Paxton, at least according to his latest formal opinion.
In an informal, non-binding preference poll taken in June, TxA’s Government Affairs Steering Committee (GASCOM) said pretty much what the Dallas and San Antonio chapters have said to the Governor and other state leaders, “Please let cities and other political subdivisions continue to govern the way they have historically. Don’t restrict local regulatory authority unnecessarily, or any more than has already been done.”
Architects from around the state have acknowledged that the state should decide many things, like who is qualified to practice architecture, engineering, law or medicine, or when someone is legally old enough to smoke or drink, speed limits, etc. When it comes to tree ordinances, distracted driving rules on city streets or county roads, or whether to allow single-use plastic bags, however—not so much.
Let’s hear from everyone this time—except for you nine folks who already voted back in April. Since Texans abhor voter fraud, we sure don’t want anyone voting twice…so we’ll be watching! The Governor, Lt. Governor and Freedom Caucus in the Texas House plan to watch closely, too, and plan to keep lists of those who vote the way they believe voters should or not. I guess that means we should probably start our own list, too.
We’re watching several bills during this time—because architects have told us they are concerned—and they should be. Included in the list are: SBs 12, 13, 14 and 55 (including House companions), all of which would impact local ordinance authority or the permitting of building projects or construction. This isn’t an exhaustive list; we’ll have other reasons to be tuned in.
In the meantime, enjoy Austin attorney/Construction Law specialist Matt Ryan’s take on what recent changes to Texas’ Duty to Defend law that were included in HB 3021, one of TxA’s priority bills, will mean for Texas architects when it becomes effective September 1.
Matt Ryan: HB 2121; Effective Immediately | The Texas Legislature passed a bill that allows architects (among others) to recover attorney’s fees from the state for certain breach of contract claims. Texas law allows those with contracts with the government to pursue claims for breaches of contract, but there are different rules that apply depending on the size of the claim. For contract claims over $250,000, a party may sue the state directly in state court (subject to several limitations). For claims below $250,000 (and many architects’ claims for fees fall under this threshold), claimants must file an administrative action in Austin through the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH).
The good news for architects is that the costs of prosecuting claims for their unpaid fees are now recoverable if they wind up as a prevailing party. Before this bill became the law, the prospect of hiring a lawyer operated as a deterrent and frequently led claimants not to pursue their claims. HB 2121 changes this frustrating situation by specifically authorizing the award of attorneys’ fees for claims below $250,000. HB 2121 was signed by the Governor on June 15, 2017, and affects any SOAH proceeding filed on or after that date.