No, the Legislature is not being called back into session; however, that doesn’t necessarily mean all is quiet on the legislative front. Two events happened last week that could have a noticeable impact on the 2019 legislative session—one was expected, the other was not.
Announcement by Speaker of the House Joe Straus
The unexpected announcement by Speaker Joe Straus that he would not be running for re-election in 2018 is the event that attracted most of the attention. For the first time in 10 years, there will be a new Speaker of the House in 2019. The ultimate impact of the Speaker’s decision remains to be seen, but the jockeying for position to succeed him has already begun.
Release of Interim Charges
Almost lost in the shuffle last week was the release of interim charges for the House and Senate. As you know, the Speaker of the House and the Lieutenant Governor typically issue interim charges in which legislative committees are asked to study various issues in preparation for the next session. Speaker Straus and Lt. Governor Patrick issued several interim charges for the House (Charges) and Senate (Charges: Part 1 Part 2) . There are numerous charges covering a variety of topics. Those who are interested in perusing the entire list of current charges for each chamber can click on the links above. There are several noteworthy charges relating to the civil justice system, including the following:
- Senate Committee on State Affairs
- Court Fees: Examine the structure of court fees and make recommendations to ensure statutory filing fees and court costs are appropriate and justified. Provide recommendations for proper agency oversight of fee collection.
- Campus Free Speech: Ascertain any restrictions on Freedom of Speech rights that Texas students face in expressing their views on campus along with freedoms of the press, religion, and assembly. Recommend policy changes that protect First Amendment rights and enhance the free speech environment on campus.
- Religious Liberty: Monitor the implementation of legislation that protects citizens' religious freedoms, including Senate Bill 24 (sermon safeguard) and House Bill 555 (religious liberty of county clerks), and make recommendations for any legislation needed to ensure that citizens' religious freedoms are not eroded by local ordinances or state or federal law.
- House Committee on Business and Industry
- Consumer Rights and Protection Laws: Review all existing law concerning consumer rights and protections, including but not limited to statutes that address deceptive practices, landlord/tenant agreements, and homeowner/contractor disputes; determine whether the provisions offer adequate guidance and protections in disaster and recovery situations.
- House Committee on Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence
- Non-Traditional Methods of Resolving Legal Disputes: Examine the increasing use of non-traditional methods of resolving legal disputes and interacting with the legal system, and the implications of this trend both for the parties involved and the legal system as a whole. Include an examination of the availability and use of self-help resources, recent efforts by the Legislature and courts to increase access to justice for unrepresented litigants, and the use of online dispute resolution.
- Fee Statutes: Evaluate the statutes prescribing fees in civil and criminal matters, and examine opportunities to simplify and improve the fee structure. Identify fees that may be challenged on grounds similar to those raised in Salinas v. Texas (Tex. Crim. App., March 8, 2017), and recommend any necessary changes. [Note: For those interested in the Salinas case, here are links to the opinions: Majority Opinion Concurring Opinion Dissenting Opinion No. 1 Dissenting Opinion No. 2.]
- Specialty Courts: Study the increased use of specialty courts across the state. Examine the role these courts play in the judicial system and recommend improvements to ensure they continue to be appropriately and successfully utilized.
- Jurisdictional Thresholds of Texas Trial Courts: Examine the jurisdictional thresholds of the justice, county, and district courts, including how these limits and other factors impact the caseload of the courts. Study possible improvements in the efficient organization and operation of the court system.
- Statewide Electronic Court Record Database: Monitor the implementation of the statewide electronic database of court records ("re:SearchTX").
Any committee reports on the interim charges will be published prior to the start of the 2019 legislative session. As usual, I’ll monitor the Legislature and advise everyone if/when additional charges are issued, hearings are scheduled, and final reports are released to the public.
Joint Interim Committee to Study State Judicial Salaries
Earlier this month, pursuant to SCR 57 (resolution to appoint a joint interim committee to study the creation of a formula to calculate state judicial salaries), Lt. Governor Patrick appointed the following senators to serve on the committee:
Joan Huffman (R - Houston), Chair
Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa (D - McAllen)
Brian Birdwell (R - Granbury)
Sylvia Garcia (D - Houston)
Bryan Hughes (R - Mineola)
If you have any questions about these topics or any other matter that comes to mind, feel free to contact me. If I do not know the answer to your questions, I’ll do my best to find someone who does.
Co-Chair, Legislative Liaison Committee
State Bar of Texas Appellate Section
Jerry D. Bullard*
Adams, Lynch & Loftin, P.C.
3950 Highway 360
Grapevine, Texas 76051
* Board Certified - Civil Appellate Law
Texas Board of Legal Specialization
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