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The 84th Texas Legislative Session finally adjourned Monday, June 1, 2015. This session proved to be extremely productive for TSPE, as we saw several key infrastructure and licensure bills pass and other unfavorable bills die in committee. We are proud of these accomplishments and are thankful for our outstanding membership who made these successes possible. A few highlights:
HB 7 eliminates the occupation tax! Licensed Professional Engineers will no longer pay the $200 annual tax to the state general fund. YEAH!
SJR 5 is a proposed constitutional amendment that, if approved by voters this fall, will direct up to $2.5 billion a year in state general sales tax revenue to the state highway fund beginning the 2017-2018 fiscal year, provided overall sales taxes exceed $28 billion (approximately 2015's revenue). Additionally, beginning in 2020, 35% of the growth of the motor vehicle sales tax over $5 billion will be transferred to the highway fund annually.
HB 2049 prevents governmental entities from requiring certain design professionals to indemnify or defend the agency for any liability other than that caused by or resulting from negligent acts, intentional torts, failure to pay subcontractors, or infringement of intellectual property. Previously some governmental entities were requiring engineers to defend the agency upon a mere allegation of negligence by the professional and that these types of contractual provisions in a professional services contract are typically uninsurable under a professional liability insurance policy.
In 2013, the 83rd Legislature passed a bill that created an offense for the use of an unmanned aircraft to capture an image of a person or privately owned real property in this state with the intent to conduct surveillance on the person or property. The same bill included a “nonapplicability” provision expressly enumerating situations in which it is lawful to capture an image using an unmanned aircraft. HB 2167 added three items to that enumeration, providing that such images may now be captured by (1) a registered professional land surveyor in connection with the practice of surveying, provided no person is identifiable in the captured image, (2) a licensed professional engineer in connection with the practice of engineering, provided no person is identifiable in the captured image, and (3) a person acting on behalf of a private or independent institution of higher education for the purposes of conducting professional or scholarly research.
The Texas Department of Insurance required a licensed professional engineer to seal inspection documents in order for a structure to be certified as insurable by the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association. Since the act of inspecting a structure is not within the scope of the practice of engineering and should not require an engineer's seal, HB 2439 prevents TDI form adopting this type of requirement. Additionally, this bill further clarifies the roles of inspecting and design for windstorm purposes.
All of these bills, with the exception of SJR 5, are awaiting the Governor's signature. The deadline for a veto is June 21; otherwise, the bill becomes law.
Please check our website for a more in-depth session summary. We should have a final update by Wednesday, June 3.
We would like to say a special thank you to our TSPE members serving in the 84th Texas Legislature: Rep. Wayne Smith, and Rep. Dennis Paul. These leaders were instrumental in championing our issues throughout the session. Should you have the opportunity, please thank them for their service to the profession and the state of Texas.
Jennifer McEwan, Ph.D.
Legislative & Governmental Affairs Director
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East Texas Chapter