Last month, Texas Legislature convened for a special session set to vote on 20 items including the revocation of local municipalities’ right to enforce local city tree ordinances.
During the regular session in an almost unanimous vote (Yes – 144, No – 2), the Texas Legislature passed Senate Bill 744 (SB 744) in May 2017. Governor Abbott vetoed the bill in June. The bill would have required cities to provide tree planting credits to property owners, builders, and developers for planting new trees when construction projects require removal of existing trees.
SB 744 was deemed a fair compromise after months of negotiations between industry, conservationists, municipalities and both Democratic and Republican parties in the Texas Legislature.
The bill was reintroduced by the House Committee on Urban Affairs during the special session as House Bill 7 (HB 7), a near identical bill to SB 477.
HB 7 will allow developers to plant trees as a substitute for mitigation fees if they remove trees from their property. HB 7 will continue to allow municipalities to enforce tree ordinances but sets a state-wide standard for tree preservation. This bill was sent to the Texas Senate. If passed, HB 7 will be sent to Governor Abbott for approval.
Meanwhile, the Texas Senate passed Senate Bill 14 (SB 14) during the same special session. SB 14 will revoke the right of Texas municipalities to enforce tree ordinances, affecting more than 50 cities and towns that currently regulate tree cutting. If passed by the Texas House, SB 14 will be sent to Governor Abbott for approval.
Two contrasting tree ordinance bills weigh the future of tree preservation in the State of Texas in the balance. One from the Texas House. One from the Texas Senate. One allows property owners to remove trees while enforcing mitigation fees. The other allows property owners to remove trees and vegetation without penalty.
Wavering Close to the End
Friday, the Senate approved the third version of HB 7 that included changes from the Business and Commerce Committee, further limiting local tree ordinances. Initial amendments added earlier in the week restricted municipalities from prohibiting the removal of trees less than 24 inches in diameter, set a maximum tree removal fee of $400, and stipulated that municipalities cannot regulate trees outside of its city limits. Revisions to the amendments, a lowering of the minimum diameter regulation to 10 inches and removal of the $400 fee maximum, were made Friday by bill sponsor Senator Lois Kolkhorst after heavy criticism by city officials and environmental advocates. Because of these revisions made by the Senate, the bill will have to return to the House docket for the second round of approval.
With only a day left in special session, it is uncertain as to what the outcome of either bill will be.
If neither bill passes, local municipalities, such as the City of San Antonio, will continue to protect and preserve trees in the local community while upholding current tree ordinances.
Texas special session ends Wednesday, August 16th, 2017 at midnight.
Read more about HB7 and SB14 here.
Contact your local Texas representative at http://www.fyi.legis.state.tx.us/Home.aspx.
Urge your representative to leave the ordinances to local municipalities, if you are in support of tree preservation. You can download an example template letter here.
For those outside of Texas, stay updated on news in your local area. Find your representative at http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/.