The Texas Legislature's 86th regular session began in Austin on January 8th and runs through May 27th. Mary Anne Piacentini, KPC’s President and CEO, spent some time at the capitol, meeting with members of the House and Senate. Things are changing daily, but right now here are the bills that are of interest to the Katy Prairie Conservancy.
Flood Related Bills – There are a number of bills in the Texas Senate that will provide for flood planning and mitigation including SB 6 (emergency response planning bill by Senator Lois Kolkhorst) and SB 8 (long term state-wide flood planning bill by Senator Charles Perry) as well as a Flood Recovery and Mitigation Funding Plan SB 7. These three bills have been reported out of committee. KPC is on record as recommending that SB include language that defines flood project to also include non-structural flood mitigation including but not limited to conservation and restoration of land, wetlands, grasslands, forests, and riparian areas.
KPC expressed the same recommendation for Representative Phelan’s bills on HB 478 and HJR 81 to provide over $3 billion for flood recovery and resilience. KPC dropped cards on the measures asking that that project eligibility for funding includes natural infrastructure and nature-based solutions, examples of these types of projects include large projects such as large-scale landscape-level conservation; restoration of wetlands, grasslands, and forests; saving floodplain and floodway areas to keep people out of harm's way; as well as smaller-scaled efforts such as low-impact development, permeable parking lots, replacing turf grasses with nature grasses, etc. Natural infrastructure can work alone or in tandem with more engineered efforts; natural infrastructure often is more cost effective than gray infrastructure and they provide multiple benefits to the community, i.e., recreation, improved air and water quality, enhance habitat, among others.
SJR24 (Senator Lois Kolkhorst) and HJR39 (Representative John Cyrier) have introduced legislation to allow for a constitutional amendment and enabling legislation to dedicate the sporting goods sales tax revenue as a permanent funding source for state parks. Parks generate as much as $900 million in sales each year and are an vital part of our State's natural heritage.
The land trust community is also supporting a supplemental allocation of $5 million to the Farm and Ranch Land Conservation Program, which helps landowners permanently protect their land with conservation agreements, increases resiliency by increasing natural flood mitigation efforts, and ensures adequate water supplies for Texas without extraordinary expenditures for traditional water infrastructure projects. This program has helped KPC protect land in the past and could be of significant assistance in future projects.
KPC is also working with District 132’s State Representative Gina Calanni to organize a conservation day for her constituents. Representative Calanni has partnered with KPC to host this event so individuals can learn more about the prairie first-hand.
Stay tuned for more information as the session continues. KPC will be contacting those of you who have signed up for our advocacy team to send letters regarding these bills as issues arise.