Aug. 8, 2017
If local tree ordinances fall in the Texas Legislature, will anyone hear? So far, two weeks into the special session with two weeks to go, residents, cities and tree professionals are raising a hubbub over it. It’s a battle over local control and the tree protections in place in 110 Texas cities, by a city of Austin count. Three bills would revoke or restrict cities’ and counties’ rights to set rules for tree removal – SB 14, HB 70 and HB 7.
At the July 22 Senate hearing on Senate Bill 14, close to 150 witnesses showed up in opposition.
Others staged a public reading at the Capitol of Dr. Seuss’ beloved The Lorax, the tale of the tree-loving Lorax and his struggle to save a wooded wonderland from a greedy tree-chopper.
LORAX FIGHTS BACK
Earlier this week, Robin Schneider, executive director of TCE, pointed out “None of the bills for complete preemption of local ordinances got a full hearing in the regular session,” she said.
One tree bill that was heard, the governor vetoed.
“We’re arguing legislators need to hear them.”
Senate Bill 14 and its companion, identical House Bill 70, ban cities and counties from restricting in any way property owners’ removal of “trees or other vegetation.”
SB 14 passed the Senate despite its adverse hearing. However, both bills now sit in the House Urban Affairs committee. SB 14 was heard in committee but is “left pending” without a vote, at the moment. HB 70, scheduled for hearing last Friday, Aug. 4, had not been heard by day’s end Monday.
“A committee doesn’t have to hear a bill,” said Schneider. ”If it’s not heard, it fails.”
That could happen, observers speculate. After all, the chair of House Urban Affairs, Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston joined Republican colleague Wayne Faircloth in reading The Lorax to a crowd of children and adults on the Capitol grounds last Wednesday. The event was sponsored by Texas Campaign for the Environment and partner coalition Defend Texas Trees.
SB 14’s Senate hearing brought out about 150 people to register their position or testify. Almost 50 spoke against the bill, landscape architects, arborists, city representatives and residents. Two attorneys spoke in favor.
STEALTH AMENDMENTS TO HB 7
Texas Campaign for the Environment alerted Green Source that today “disastrous amendments” have been added to what was a fairly benign House Bill 7.
“It’s being heard now in Senate Business and Commerce committee…this is urgent,” added Rita Beving of Public Citizen's North Texas office.
Senate Business and Commerce, hearing the amended HB 7, is chaired by North Richland Hills’ Rep. Kelly Hancock, whose District 9 includes parts of Dallas and Tarrant Counties.
According to Andrew Dobbs of TCE, the bill originally was a compromise bill with tree advocates and developer lobbyists that would mandate cities to provide tree planting credit to offset tree mitigation fees imposed by a municipality. Property owners could apply to the city for a rebate of up to 50 percent of the fee levied by a city when trees are removed. Those fees go to city mitigation funds that pay for planting replacement trees, to maintain the urban tree canopy and its heat-reducing, energy-saving, air-cleaning and stormwater-managing benefits.
“Texas Senate…have altered the legislation to fill it with loopholes that will allow for clearcutting of Texas trees,” said Dobbs.
Defend Texas Trees, TreeAct and other groups encourage residents who oppose the anti-ordinance bills to engage members of the House Urban Affairs and Senate Business and Commerce committees, regardless of their home district.
(Update Aug. 9, 2017: HB 7 passed in committee on Tuesday, 5-4. Sources say it could come to a final vote Thursday.)