The Chamber’s Transportation Committee welcomed Representative Ina Minjarez last week to give members insight into the upcoming legislative session. The 85th legislative session will be Minjarez’s first full session since winning a special election in 2015, filling the House District 124 seat which was vacated by José Menéndez.
Minjarez emphasized that with the growing popularity of ride-sharing services, Transportation Network Companies (TNC) policies will be a hot topic this session, sparking debate over local control. Currently, TNCs operate in many Texas cities, including those that have adopted local ordinances regulating their operations. However, there are several TNCs that have suspended service due to such ordinances. In May of this year, two large TNCs suspended operations in Austin after a public vote affirmed an ordinance that required fingerprint-based background checks.
As of May 2016, Texas lawmakers have passed one bill to regulate TNC operations. HB 1733 implemented a set of insurance liability requirements for TNCs and drivers. While HB 1733 is currently the only legislation in Texas that explicitly addresses these companies, we can likely expect many more next session. Senator Schwertner has filed 85 (R)SB 176 requiring an occupational permit and authorizing a fee that ranges from $10,000 to $125,000 depending on the number of drivers. It would also require drivers to pass a third party criminal background check.
Minjarez discussed a bill she is drafting on behalf of the Texas Travel Industry Association. The bill is aimed “to protect the movement of commerce and preserve the public’s financial support and investment in highways.” Her bill outlines coordination with municipalities in regard to road closures so as not to adversely impact economic activity during traditionally heavy travel periods. She also touched on the $36.7 billion in toll debt, according to a final report from TxDOT in September 2016. She detailed HB 2612, a bill she co-authored relating to a report to the legislature regarding the elimination of toll roads.
Minjarez closed with updates on the proposed rail projects. Most notably, the Lone Star Rail Project, which came to an end after the Central Area Metropolitan Organization (CAMPO) voted to cease funding and remove the project from their 2040 long-range transportation plan. The Texas-Oklahoma Passenger Rail Study is scheduled to conclude by the end of 2016 after the completion of a service-level environmental impact statement (EIS) and a service development plan. The study evaluates passenger rail options along an 850-mile corridor from Oklahoma City to South Texas. The Texas-Mexico High Speed Rail Line is a collaborative effort with Mexico to develop a rail line that could move passengers from San Antonio to Monterrey in just two hours.
Minjarez serves on the State Affairs, Transportation and Federal Environment Regulation Committees.