After 140 fast-paced days, the 85th Texas Legislative Session came to an end on May 29. This session the Texas House and Senate focused on the state budget, property tax reform, immigration, sanctuary cities, gender-neutral bathrooms, business regulations, and a myriad of other social and business issues.
Most legislative sessions witness heated debates on a few hot button issues, but this session saw more than most, with sanctuary cities and gender-neutral bathroom legislation dominating all other debates – to the point that fewer bills reached the Governor’s desk than any time in the last decade.
The Texas Restaurant Association focused on protecting the industry from harmful regulations and supported legislation benefiting restaurants. Every session, TRA tracks hundreds of bills that could affect the restaurant industry. This session, TRA tracked almost 200 bills dealing with alcohol regulation, restaurant operations, immigration, tax policy and sales tax reductions, property tax relief, business regulations, local regulations, employment law, insurance reform, and many other areas.
With a 100% success rate, TRA had an amazing legislative session – all four bills that TRA introduced, passed the Legislature and have been signed into law by the Governor. Having one bill pass this legislative session, much less four, was a feat in the hyper-political atmosphere of the 85th Session. These included, House Bill 2101 (food and beverage certificate bill), House Bill 2029 (BBQ bill), House Bill 1463 (ADA bill), and SB 1089 (elimination of local food handler fees). TRA testified on, followed, and tracked dozens of other bills during the session and made sure that the restaurant industry was properly protected and represented during the legislative process.
Just as legislators, lobbyists, staff, and others were preparing ready for some much-needed, post-session rest and vacation, Governor Abbott called for a Special Session to convene July 18. The Governor is asking that the Texas Legislature pass legislation to continue the operations of the Texas Medical Board. Once that legislation is passed, Governor Abbott will add 19 items to the agenda, some of which will cause acrimonious debate. See the Governor’s special session priority list here.
Below is a review of four major bills that TRA successfully passed during the 85th session. If you need more information about any of these bills or more information about TRA Advocacy or the 85th Legislative Session, please call 512-457-4100 or email Kenneth Besserman.
Major Bills promoted and supported by TRA (all have been signed by the Governor)
HB 2101, authored by Rep. Frullo and Senator Creighton, amends the food and beverage certificate requirements in the Alcoholic Beverage Code. Jurisdictions that have had successful local option elections for the “sale of mixed drinks in restaurants” require a restaurant to have a food and beverage certificate. HB 2101 will increase the alcohol sales threshold from 50% to 60% of total sales, provide a more uniform calculation by the TABC, and provide due process rights to licensees. HB 2101 is very important to the industry and to restaurants that serve mixed drinks in formerly dry areas. Without HB 2101, many establishments could be in jeopardy of losing their mixed beverage license and would have to revert to a private club or stop serving alcohol. (Effective 9/1/17)
HB 2029, authored by Rep. Lozano and Sen. Perry, exempts places that serve food for immediate consumption from the Texas Department of Agriculture’s requirement that an establishment maintain a certified scale with a visible consumer protection sticker. This regulation is an antiquated regulatory burden, very rarely enforced on the restaurant industry, and a regulation that provides very little, if any, consumer protection, and causes a lot of confusion in the industry. (Effective 9/1/17)
SB 1089, authored by Sen. Perry and Rep. Burkett, builds upon legislation for which TRA advocated in 2015. SB 1089 eliminates all local food handler fees and documentation requirements for all food service employees who successfully pass an ANSI accredited or state registered food handler course. This is a great windfall for restaurant employees as they will no longer need to pay a local fee nor take time off work to go to the local health department to obtain a food handler card. (Effective immediately)
HB 1463, authored by Rep. Smithee and Sen. Seliger, deals with so-called “drive-by” lawsuits in which plaintiff’s attorneys demand specified “settlement” amounts from businesses for alleged violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act. These demand letters sometimes allege minor technical violations based on little more than a Google Map search of a business premises, and can be directed at any “place of public accommodation,” whether a physical location or online.
The bill requires a claimant to give 60 days’ notice to a business of intent to file a claim under the state version of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). The notice must disclose the name of the individual asserting the claim (no more demand letters from law firms on their own behalf), the nature of each alleged violation, and the time, place, and manner in which the claimant discovered the violation. A notice may not make a demand for damages, request settlement, or offer to settle a claim without a determination of whether the condition stated by the notice is excused by law or may be remedied. The claimant must prove by a preponderance of evidence that the respondent has not remedied an alleged violation, and a respondent can ask the court for an additional 60 days’ abatement of the action to complete corrections already initiated when suit is filed. Finally, the bill allows a respondent to move for dismissal without prejudice or summary judgment if the respondent has corrected violations. (Effective 9/1/17)