Three bills passed by Texas legislators — Senate Joint Resolution 1, House Bill 4 and House Bill 1025 — propose an amendment to the Texas Constitution that would create the State Water Implementation Fund for Texas. The legislation appropriates $2 billion to the fund from the state’s rainy day fund and instructs the fund to develop water projects throughout the state.
That’s good news for Tim Tuggey, a partner in Tuggey Fernandez in Austin. His lobbying clients include the San Antonio River Authority (SARA), which implements water-related programs and projects to preserve, protect and manage the resources within the San Antonio River Basin and its tributaries.
"We need to build more capacity, and this is going to help," says Tuggey about the measures.
Tuggey and other lawyers who lobbied the Legislature in the 83rd session say water, and the lack of it due to droughts, dominated activities at the Capitol this spring.
Mike Nasi, a partner in Jackson Walker in Austin, identifies the water legislation as one of the "biggest legacy bills of the last four or five sessions."
Nasi, who lobbied for 13 clients this session, says the $2 billion funding package will be used to leverage financing of a $30 billion to $50 billion water plan to ensure new development of water resources, including surface water, reservoirs, conservation and desalinization.
Locke Lord partner Robert Miller lobbied for some 32 clients this session. He views water shortages as an across-the-board business concern.
"With roughly 1,000 people moving to Texas each day, constructing new water infrastructure is critical to allow Texas to continue to grow and prosper in the future. Without exception, our business clients recognized and strongly supported the need to fund the state water infrastructure fund to continue to build a better Texas for the future," he writes in an email.
For Bill Bingham of Austin, water legislation was clearly necessary.
"Everybody up there knew we needed to something about water," says the McGinnis, Lochridge & Kilgore partner. He lobbied for, among other things, a water-supply company. He’s in favor of legislators’ proposed solution that Texans will vote on in the Nov. 5 election.
"Now it’s up to Texans," Bingham says.
Bingham and others recognize, though, that what the lawmakers accomplished with water development this session and the rainy day expenditures facing voters in November, represents only a beginning in terms of funds needed.
"We would have loved to have $10 billion," he says. "But it’s a start."
Even if voters approve the proposed constitutional amendment, Bingham expects the implications for Texas’ water supplies will take decades to materialize.
"Reservoirs are huge, long-term undertakings," he says.
There were other big issues during the session, with education funding keeping legislators and lobbyists busy during the 140-day session. There’s no summer respite, after Gov. Rick Perry called a 30-day special session to address redistricting in Texas. He’s since added other issues, including transportation and abortion, to the agenda.
Jim Grace, a partner in Baker Botts in Houston who lobbied for 16 clients this session, says the dominant role of water issues was obvious from the outset.
"From the very beginning, it was a swing for the fences," says Grace, referring to water policy and education bills. "Transportation didn’t happen, but they were always talking big. The leadership did a fairly good job of not allowing the partisan issues, the more social issues, get to the floor," he says.
What Was Different in the 83rd Legislative Session?
Jim Grace, partner, Baker Botts, Houston, six sessions of experience: "It was not as hectic as previous sessions. The Legislature moved at a more pedestrian pace. . . . There was far less rancor — partisan and personal rancor — than any session since 2001."
Phillip Oldham, partner, Andrews Kurth, Austin, nine sessions of experience: "It got a slow start with all of the freshman members in the House. Bill filing was really slow in the beginning, and once the filing started to pick up, things got crunched. On the other hand, it was a less acrimonious session than some of the recent ones, mainly because they had more money to spend."
Robert Miller, partner, Locke Lord, Austin, 13 sessions of experience: "It was a very workmanlike session. There was an absence of vitriol and partisanship. Why? I think it was a session that the environment was not too hot and not too cold. We didn’t have a deficit, but there was not so much money, and there was the fact that the governor did not name any emergency issues, thereby raising the tensions. This was a solid productive session."
Kimberly Yelkin, partner, Gardere Wynne Sewell, Austin, 13 sessions of experience: "I found [it] very collaborative, and members were extremely willing to listen to our clients’ concerns and suggest solutions. [It was] congenial and friendly. I think it had everything to do with the budget. When you are operating in a deficit everything else seems secondary. This time, members were much more willing to talk to you about things that weren’t budget-related."
Thomas Bond, shareholder and chairman of government law and policy practice, Greenberg Traurig, Austin, 13 sessions of experience: "The overall good news is that there was a lot of calmness and camaraderie in both of the houses, but you know that only lasts so long. . . . [T]here’s an undercurrent of tension that just doesn’t get ventilated when the leadership keeps everyone on such an even keel. . . . To give credit to leadership, they kept everyone focused on the major issues that had to be dealt with and kept sort of divisive issues that really don’t have a lot to do with public policy off the floor."