Texas CapitolJust a few weeks remain in the 84th legislative session, and with each passing day more bills die. We’re keeping an eye on the process. Here’s a quick update about a few bills of interest to energy consumers — and whether those bills are alive, dead or somewhere in between.

Keeping A Promise to Ratepayers  Texans for years have paid a small assessment on their electric bills to finance rate discounts for those of limited means. In 2013 the Texas Legislature voted to end those assessments and to discontinue the discount program after the last funds were spent.  Legislation by Rep. Sylvester Turner, House Bill 1101, continues that promise by ensuring that dollars already collected for the rate discounts are spent for that purpose.  The legislation, which is supported by the Texas Coalition for Affordable Power, has been adopted by the Texas House and will be considered Tuesday, May 19th, in the Senate Finance Committee.

Worst-Named Agency? It’s been said that the Texas Railroad Commission is the worst-named agency in the state. The agency has absolutely no authority over railroads, but rather oversees the oil and gas industry and regulates home gas utility service. But House Bill 1106,  which would have changed the agency’s name to the Texas Energy Commission, stalled in the House Calendars Committee and died.

No support for Hike & Bike Trails – Senate Bill 1444, by Sen. Larry Taylor, could have facilitated the use of utility right-of-way for the creation public hike-and-bike trails. But the legislation, which would have provided a relatively inexpensive method to create more public recreational areas, has stalled in the Senate. Companion legislation, House Bill 2184 by Rep. Rick Miller, also stalled in the House. Both bills now appear dead.

Minimum Use Fees to Continue? A savvy electric consumer – even one that pays attention to price and contract terms – can still get stuck paying unexpected fees. Perhaps the most annoying are “minimum use” fees. These punish ratepayers who try to save money by reducing their electric use.  Rep. Sylvester Turner proposed House Bill 2254 to prohibit minimum use fees. Unfortunately it stalled in the House State Affairs committee, where it should be now pronounced dead.

Cutting the Lights to the NSA? House Bill 3916, by state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, prohibits cities from providing water or electric utility service to a federal agency that “that is involved in the routine surveillance or collection and storage of bulk telephone or e-mail records … concerning any citizen of the United States.”  House Bill 3916 never made it out of the House State Affairs Committee. So, lights out for HB 3916.

— R.A. Dyer

What is the Texas Coalition for Affordable Power?

TCAP is a coalition of more than 160 cities and other political subdivisions that purchase electricity in the deregulated market for their own governmental use. Because high energy costs can impact municipal budgets and the ability to fund essential services, TCAP, as part of its mission, actively promotes affordable energy policies. High energy prices also place a burden on local businesses and home consumers.