Senate Bill (SB) 23 — Dubbed the “Back the Blue Act,” SB 23 requires the state’s biggest counties to hold an election before significantly cutting police department funds. Though the bill was originally written to include all municipalities and counties, it now only applies to counties with a population of more than a million people.
SB 911 — Before SB 911 took effect, state law did not have a definition of “restaurant” in terms of alcohol revenue. When Governor Greg Abbott shut down bars, he distinguished them from restaurants by defining a bar as a business that receives more than 51 percent of its income from the sale of alcohol. As a result, eateries that were restaurants in every other sense of the word had to close down if they sold too much alcohol.
This bill creates a clear definition of “restaurant” in the Alcoholic Beverage Code. It also provides restaurants with an alternative way to get a food and beverage certificate.
Additionally, the bill addresses problems that arose from what might be called another coronavirus phenomenon: the sharp rise in the use of third-party businesses for delivering food, such as Uber Eats or DoorDash.
Under the bill, third-party food delivery services may not charge restaurants an unagreed fee for delivery or use a restaurant’s brand in a way that implies a connection between the restaurant and the delivery company. Delivery companies must also remove restaurants from their service if the restaurants ask to be removed, and they cannot add the restaurants back without express consent.
SB 855 — Though Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) made headlines for his efforts to curb alleged censorship by social media giants, he also authored a bill aimed at small-time internet crooks. Meant to hold websites to the same standards as brick-and-mortar businesses for distributing music or videos, SB 855 requires that operators of websites that distribute music or videos to Texas consumers clearly show their correct name, physical address, telephone number, and e-mail address on the website. It also authorizes owners of the distributed audio or video to sue the website operator for violations of this law.
House Bill (HB) 2730 — Intended to bring reform to the eminent domain process, HB 2730 adds several new provisions to the current law with a special focus on private companies that use eminent domain to acquire the land of private property owners.
First, it requires the attorney general to review the Landowner’s Bill of Rights (LOBR) every two years with public comment. After January 1, the LOBR will also include the right to file a complaint against a registered easement or right-of-way agent.
Right-of-way agents will also have to undergo new education with the Texas Real Estate Commission under the law. Land agents that offer owners inadequate bids for compensation can have their licenses revoked under the same law that lets the commission discipline them for dishonest dealing or fraud.
The bill also sets new requirements for initial offers. For example, each new initial offer document must include a copy of the LOBR, contact information for the offering entity, and a statement in large bold print that says whether the compensation includes damages to the remainder of the owner’s property or an appraisal of the property. These requirements apply to both public and private entities.
HB 115 — Originally meant to be a slight tweak to an existing tax break for homeless shelters, HB 115 quickly became a group effort for lawmakers looking to reshape the property tax code. Before January 1, the relevant portion of the state tax code exempted homeless shelters from paying property taxes if they were owned by a charitable group that had been in existence for at least twelve years. A qualifying shelter also had to be located on or “consist of a single campus” in a municipality between 750,000 and 850,000 people.
The new law tightens and specifies this exemption, heightening the standard that shelters have to meet in order to qualify for the tax break. After January 1, homeless shelters must be owned by a charitable group that has existed for 20 years — not 12 — if they are in a county with more than 1 million and less than 1.5 million people. If the shelters are in a municipality with a population between 100,000 and 150,000, they can qualify for the tax break if they are owned by a charitable group that has existed for two years.
Four of the bill’s five authors represent Travis County: Reps. Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin), Sheryl Cole (D-Austin), Gina Hinojosa (D-Austin), and Vikki Goodwin (D-Austin). The fifth author is Rep. Tom Craddick (R-Midland).
The legislature also made several smaller changes to property tax law, mostly with the goal of alleviating the tax burden.
Before January 1, the state tax code allowed religious organizations to qualify for property tax breaks for no more than six years. HB 1197 extends this length of time to 10 years.
In an effort to lower property taxes, HB 2535 directs the property value appraiser to exclude chicken coops and rabbit pens meant for personal food consumption from the value of a property.
HB 3971 requires the appraiser to consider the effect of a high appraisal — and, in turn, high taxes — on an owner’s ability to maintain a historic property.
Formerly, the state tax code exempted certain properties from property taxes if their value was less than $500. SB 1499 raises this threshold to $2,500, thereby allowing more owners to receive a tax break.
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