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Despite Tough Session for Business, Construction Groups Claim Victories in the 2017 Texas Legislature

Despite what’s been widely described as a very tough legislative session for various business interests, the construction industry’s associations in Texas were able to claim some significant victories during the 2017 Legislature.

Right now, during the veto period when Gov. Greg Abbott gets the final say on whether bills become law or go in the trash, the Construction Citizen team thought it would be appropriate to update you on which pieces of industry-related legislation made their way through both the House and Senate and ended up on Abbott’s desk.

We asked the AGC-TBB, the TCA, and the ABC of Texas to give us their lists of bills so that you can put them on your radar as well. Naturally, some of the bills below appear more than once in this story because the trade associations are interested in many of the same issues. You can click the name of each bill below to check whether it's been signed or vetoed by the governor. 

From the AGC-Texas Building Branch:

House Bill 2121 passed the House unanimously and cleared the Senate 29-2. “We owe a big thank you to Rep. John Cyrier and Sen. Bryan Hughes for getting this bill through the Legislature and on the governor's desk. The bill allows recovery of attorney's fees for successful state breach of contract claims under $250,000. Under current law, they're barred,” the group said. "This bill is long overdue as an attempt to level the playing field in situations where the state has breached a contract,” said AGC-TBB President Mike Chatron. Vice President Corbin Van Arsdale said "This bill removes one of the last remaining bricks in the wall of state sovereign immunity."

House Bill 3270 ultimately prevailed on the last night of session after going to a conference committee. The House passed the bill 146-1, and the Senate approved it 30-1. “Thank you to Rep. Dwayne Bohac and Senate Education Chairman Larry Taylor for getting the measure over the finish line,” the AGC-TBB said. “The bill decides when the state's mandatory background check applies to school construction projects. More importantly, for most of our members' job sites, their workers will no longer require a check (e.g., greenfield projects, non-instructional facilities, secure job sites at existing schools). And now that a single standard is clear in statute, reciprocity within a region becomes easier to accomplish.”

"This bill was several years in the making and makes it crystal clear to school districts which workers are to be background checked and what offenses they're to be checked for under the Safe School bill,” Van Arsdale said. “This bill simply codifies the original legislative intent, and it is a building block to help deal with the uncertainty around the school background checks as to what is required by contractors,” said Chatron.

Senate Bill 1215 originally dealt with contractor liability for design defects. Rep. Paul Workman along with Reps. Hugh Shine, Rene Oliveira, Todd Hunter, and Kyle Kacal organized to salvage the bill and amend it to create a joint interim committee. The group will study nearly every issue surrounding construction contracts, including: statute of repose, right to repair, allocations of risk and liability, relationships between parties, insurance, liens, warranties, standards of care, and civil actions, the group said.

"It will be an exhaustive study that provides a great opportunity to explore the issues that are before the industry on each of those areas,” said Chatron.

Here are some other “key victories” for the industry, per the AGC-TBB:

House Bill 639 by Rep. Rodney Anderson “allows the board of trustees of a school district or the governing body of an open-enrollment charter school to obtain accident, liability, or automobile insurance coverage to protect: a business or entity that provided a career and technology (CTE) program to students; and a district or school that participated in a CTE program. The coverage would be required to be obtained from a reliable insurer authorized to engage in business in Texas or provided through a school district's self-funded risk pool.”

House Bill 3349 by Rep. Barbara Gervin-Hawkins “would require the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) to create a probationary trade and industrial workforce training certificate and a standard trade and industrial workforce training certificate that could be obtained through an abbreviated educator preparation program.”

House Bill 3021 by Rep. Dade Phelan “would establish that a state or governmental entity could not require a contractor to defend the state for claims or liabilities resulting from the negligent acts or omissions of the state governmental entity or its employees.”

House Bill 2994 by Rep. Ramon Romero Jr. “would allow a public junior college to enter into an agreement with a school district, organization, or other person that operated a high school to offer workforce continuing education courses to persons in high school who were at least 16 years old on the census date of the applicable course.”

Senate Bill 807 by Sen. Brandon Creighton “establishes that if such a contract contains a provision making the contract or any conflict arising under the contract subject to another state's law, litigation in the courts of another state, or arbitration in another state, that provision is voidable by the party promising to construct or repair the improvement.”

Here are some of the bills the ABC of Texas considers big wins: 

HB 1698 by Rep. John Kuempel & Sen. Craig Estes. “This was our Journeyman Industrial Electrician Bill.  There was nothing easy about passing this, and it will not be easy to get it signed. The group is working to ensure the governor’s staff appreciates that this legislation is regulatory relief,” ABC said.

HB 3270 by Rep. Dwayne Bohac & Sen. Larry Taylor. “This bill cleaned up the decade old school background checks statute by eliminating background checks on greenfield facilities and facilities where there is a physical barrier to prevent worker/student contact.”

HB 3065 by Rep. Joe Deshotel & Sen. Chuy Hinojosa. “This lien law modernization did not pass, but it was a victory to get it out of committee.  Prior to the session, we believed we would be successful if we simply got a hearing.  By getting it out of committee, Chairman Oliveira signaled that he is serious about reform!”

Finally, here is a list of bills provided by the Texas Construction Association:

SB 1215 by Senator Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) and Representative Hugh Shine (R-Temple) was considered by the House of Representatives. The TCA said “A very strong team of opponents to the legislation had been mobilized to fight the passage of the bill. Despite questions about the accuracy of their arguments against SB 1215, the group was able to sway a large number of Representatives to their side.  Prior to the bill coming up for debate, the House sponsor and other House members supporting the bill were not confident there would be a sufficient number of votes to pass the bill.  In lieu of the language in the bill after it was approved by the House Business & Industry Committee, the bill was amended to require a joint House/Senate committee to hold an interim study on the various important issues related to construction.”

The amended version of SB 1215 was then passed by the full House.  The Senate concurred and SB 1215 was sent to the Governor on May 28.

HB 2121, by Representative John Cyrier (R-Lockhart), makes amendments to existing statutes governing immunity from lawsuit by governmental entities and the recovery of attorney fees in those types of lawsuits.  Generally, statutes allowing for the breach of sovereign immunity defense restrict or prevent the recovery of attorney fees absent a contractual agreement for them.  HB 2121 was sent to the Governor on May 27.

SB 807 by Senator Brandon Creighton and Representative Paul Workman was sent to the Governor on May 28.  “The current law gives a contractor and subcontractor the ability to void a clause in a construction contract that requires disputes to be decided under the law of another state, or for the dispute to be heard in another state, if the project is located in Texas.  The basic rule is that projects constructed in Texas will be decided in Texas under Texas law.  The law, though, doesn’t apply to design professionals.  SB 807 broadens the coverage of the law to include all project participants, including architects, engineers, suppliers and equipment rental companies,” the TCA said.

HB 639 by Representative Doc Anderson (R-Waco) will authorize school districts to obtain health, liability and auto insurance coverage to protect businesses that partner with the school district to provide students career or technology training.  This legislation was signed into law by the Governor on May 26 and took immediate effect.

HB 1469 by Representative Ernest Bailes would allow CTE teachers without baccalaureate degrees to teach in charter schools.  The bill was signed by the Governor on June 1 and took immediate effect.

HB 2790 by Representative James White would add flexibility for apprenticeship programs offered in school districts.  This legislation was sent to the Governor on May 30.

HB 3706 by Representative Eddie Lucio III (D-Brownsville) would add options for alternative education programs for workforce development for at-risk students.  The bill was sent to the Governor on May 30.

SB 2105 by Senator Borris Miles (D-Houston) would require more Texas Workforce Commission information to be shared with high school students, including CTE partnerships with business and field-based learning opportunities for students.  This legislation was signed by the Governor on May 19 and will be effective on September 1, 2017.

HB 2994 by Representative Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin) will allow community colleges to keep formula funding dollars from the state when students under 18 years of age take workforce continuing education CTE courses.  This bill was sent to the Governor on May 30.

HB 108 by Representative Carol Alvarado (D-Houston) will allow the Texas Workforce Commission to use money from the skills development fund to support employers expanding in Texas or relocating to Texas who will provide highly skilled or complex employment opportunities.  This legislation was signed by the Governor on June 1 and will become effective on September 1, 2017.