April 2017 Legislative Update

We are nearing the final month of the Regular Texas Legislative Session.  Sine die on Memorial Day, May 29th, and we are now well past the March bill filing deadline.  

The final month of the Legislative Session is like a race, and bill progress deadlines come into play. In last month’s issue, we brought you an update on all filed legislation. In this issue, we have a summary of all hotel administration bills we are tracking, and an update on the three major issues we are facing.  Click here to see the full list.

Short-term rental bill has hearing in the House; passes Senate.

This Session, at the request of short-term rental (STR) marketplace companies HomeAway and Airbnb, two state legislators filed bills that would over-ride, reverse, and preempt most meaningful local ordinances that regulate residential STR units:  SB 451 and HB 2551. This legislation was primarily a reaction to the City of Austin’s moratorium on non-owner occupied STRs, but SB 451 and HB 2551 would preempt local ordinances statewide.

THLA and the lodging industry are opposing SB 451 and HB 2551 because this legislation singles out one portion of the commercial lodging sector for preferential treatment, creating an unlevel operating environment for our industry.

On April 18, the House version of the STR bill (HB 2551) had a public hearing in the House Committee on Urban Affairs.  At that hearing, over 30 witnesses testified in opposition to the STR bill.  Most of the witnesses were homeowners telling stories of the problems associated with living near an STR property that operates much like a commercial hotel.  

That same day, the Senate passed SB 451, as we predicted.  Senator Hancock, who is carrying the bill on the Senate side, is an influential committee chairman, and worked hard to line up votes in that Chamber.  This leaves the fight in the House at this point in time.  We are continuing to work with our many colleagues in opposition to the bill, with a focus on House Urban Affairs Committee members.

Senate version of budget bill still short on tourism funding

The Senate’s version of the state budget, SB 1, shortchanges the Texas tourism promotion program by about $17 million.  This program is administered by the Office of the Governor under the “TravelTex” campaign, and it has been very successful at generating economic activity for Texas tourism.  Instead of providing full funding as is dedicated by state statute, the Senate’s version of the budget calls on the travel and tourism industry to private funding, in a manner that is similar to the State of Florida.  Recently, Florida’s campaign has run into controversy of its own regarding transparency issues, and is not an example of a program Texas would want to emulate.

While the Senate’s budget is short on funding, the House’s version of SB 1 does provide for full funding for tourism promotion.  Members of both the House and the Senate committees will soon meet in a conference committee to hash out the various differences between the Chambers’ version of the budget.  We have been asking our members in certain key districts to send messages to the conference committee members, asking that full funding for tourism promotion be appropriated in the final draft of the state budget.

Our messaging on this important issue is this:  Texas's tourism promotion funding model has a proven track record of success.  Since Texas began funding statewide tourism promotion in 1960, Texas's tourism promotion has served Texans well, generating billions of dollars in returned tax revenue. The program is transparent, efficient, and effective. Cutting the program's funding now would leave billions of future tax revenues unrealized, and hurts jobs and our ability to attract visitors to Texas and spend money here.

Texas needs the revenue generated by the tourism promotion program. For every dollar the State of Texas spends to advertise Texas as a tourism destination, multiples more is returned in state tax revenues.

Controversial “bathroom bill” passes Senate; future of House version remains an open question

Early in this legislative session, the Texas Senate passed SB 6, a controversial statewide effort led by Lt. Governor Dan Patrick to prohibit someone from using a restroom in a public building if the restroom does not correspond with the gender designated on the person’s birth certificate.  This proposed legislation closely follows a bill passed in North Carolina, and was seen as discriminatory in nature and led to many boycotts of that state.  

Texas business groups and Texas convention and visitors bureaus have lined up in opposition to SB 6 because large conferences, sporting events, performing artists, and more have threatened to boycott coming to Texas if a “bathroom bill” passes.  

After passing the Senate, SB 6 arrived in the Texas House, and has not been taken up for consideration by any House committee.  Instead of moving SB 6 forward, some House members are promoting a different version of a bathroom bill under HB 2899, hoping that bill might draw less opposition than SB 6.  However, to-date, most business groups have maintained that HB 2899 is also discriminatory and unacceptable.  Last week, HB 2899 had a late-night hearing, and drew widespread opposition from many sectors.

It is too early to predict where this bathroom legislation might end up, and this fight may not be decided until the final days of the Legislative Session.

 

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