We are about seven weeks into the 2019 Texas Legislative Session, and the action is heating up.
Fast approaching is Friday, March 8, the 60th day of 2019 Session.
This is the deadline for most bills to be filed, and it also marks the date when the Legislature can begin passing non-emergency legislation.
That also means committee hearings are now occurring, and THLA staff are busy working on bills, providing talking points to legislative offices, and visiting with lawmakers.
Here is a run-down of some of our major issues:
Maintain Funding for Tourism Promotion in the State Budget
Every legislative session, the hotel and travel industry advocate to protect the 1/12th dedicated portion of the state hotel occupancy tax that is used to promote Texas as a travel destination as part of the state appropriations bill.
The full 1/12th of the state hotel occupancy tax revenue remains dedicated to promoting tourism under state law and cannot be spent for any other purpose. This means the dedicated state hotel tax dollars must be spent promoting Texas as a tourism destination, which increases the State’s return-on-investment.
Texas needs tourism activity. According to data maintained by the Office of the Governor, tourism spending in Texas is over $74.7 billion annually. Tourism directly supports over 677,500 Texas jobs. This number nearly doubles if indirect employment is included.
As Texas continues to rebuild after Hurricane Harvey, it is more important than ever to continue promoting Texas as a tourism and travel destination.
Currently, the state budget bill allocates the full 1/12th dedicated portion of the state hotel tax in the state budget for tourism promotion. We are asking members of the Legislature to keep this full funding in place as the budget bill moves towards passage.
Preserving the dedicated nature of local hotel occupancy taxes
State law has always required that local hotel occupancy taxes be dedicated revenues that directly enhance and promote tourism and the convention and hotel industry. This standard has benefited Texas communities by generating significant economic activity from travel, tourism and hotel activity.
Legislative proposals to use local hotel tax revenue for general city purposes harms our communities’ ability to generate more economic activity from tourism and hotel activity.
Hotels currently fund important local government activities through property tax exactions, sales tax revenues, and alcoholic beverage tax revenues—all of which are un-dedicated, general use funding sources for local governments.
We ask our state legislative leaders to continue to support the dedicated nature of local hotel occupancy taxes and oppose any legislation offered that would change the dedicated nature of these funds, and not allow these funds to be used for general government functions.
Restoring the uniform school start date for Texas school districts
State law has traditionally required School districts required to begin classes no earlier than the fourth Monday in August. This ensures a full summer travel period for families, allows students the opportunity to have seasonal summer jobs, attend summer camps, and allows teachers the opportunity to take summer coursework or have a seasonal job.
However, beginning with the 2018/2019 school year, a state statutory exemption from the uniform school start date requirement through the Districts of Innovation (DOI) program has led to more than two-thirds of Texas school districts opting for their own unique start dates.
This has caused a significant detrimental economic impact to travel and tourism, all without any documented benefit on education outcomes for students. THLA is partnering with the Texas Travel Industry Association (TTIA) to advocate for the elimination of the school start date exemption in the DOI program to restore the uniform school start date that benefits both families and the Texas economy. No matter where you reside in Texas, each of the above items have a direct impact on the success of your business.
Other Issues we’re working on
We are supporting two bills filed that would prohibit local governments from requiring businesses to provide paid sick leave to their employees. SB 15, filed by Sen. Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe) and HB 1654 by Rep. Craig Goldman (R-Ft. Worth), titled the “Consistent Employment Regulations Act,” would forbid a municipality or county from adopting standards for leave, benefits, scheduling, or other terms of employment that exceed those in state law.
THLA believes consistent employment regulations across the state will keep our economy strong by cutting red tape for job creators and letting employers focus on investing in their employees, businesses and communities.
THLA opposes statewide preemption of local short-term rental ordinances for commercial STR operators. THLA believes in a level playing field for all lodging operators. We oppose efforts that would single out commercial short-term rental operators for special protections under the law. We are watching and expect a bill to be filed on this issue.
Earlier this month, the Senate Committee on Property Taxes considered SB 2 by Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), titled the Property Tax Reform & Relief Act of 2019. The bill reduces the rollback rate or the rate of allowable revenue growth for a local government before an election is required, from 8 percent to 2.5 percent.
The bill would apply to taxing units with more than $15 million in revenue and would exclude new development. The bill was reported favorably out of committee with only one member, Democrat Chuy Hinojosa (D-McAllen), not voting.
From here, SB 2 can advance in the Senate if a majority of Senators votes to call the bill to Senate floor. However, we expect the Senate is waiting to see how the Texas House handles the measure (known as HB 2 in the House), which is expected to be taken up by committee this week.
THLA Legislative Updates
THLA is hard at work this legislative session offering bills, tracking legislation, and advocating for our issues. You can follow along. We maintain active web pages about our issues and the bills we are tracking.
And, we will be sending out legislative news via Industry Update and in separate email alerts.