85th Legislative Session Summary (2017)

The 85th Session of the Texas Legislature officially concluded and was gaveled Sine Die, on Monday, May 29th. This was a more difficult session than in the recent past because of a budget shortfall which made tax cuts of any kind and legislation with costs associated with them impossible to pass. Additionally, several politically charged issues also dominated the agenda and lengthy debates and disagreements over those issues bogged things down at critical times and kept legislation from moving. In the end, a solid defense was the best offense in most cases and that was a defining theme for the session and one which TRA played to great success.

As the saying goes, “defense wins championships,” and TRA played very aggressive and effective defense this session. TRA fought very hard to pass good legislation and to kill bad bills that would have been detrimental to our members and industry. Of the 1,300 bills the Texas Legislature passed, only 77 were on our tracking list and none of those will have a negative impact on the retail industry. Specifically, TRA was responsible for passage of more than 15 bills and defeated over 19 bills that would have been harmful and burdensome to our membership.

Session highlights include successfully having bills filed on all our priority issues and defending our industry against bad legislation.

  • Inventory Property Tax: Four separate bills were filed on behalf of the retail industry to address the Inventory Property Tax. They included a full repeal of the tax, a local option, a gradual phase out and a grocery specific exemption. Although none of these bills were ultimately passed, we took a major step in moving the issue by raising its visibility and educating members of the Legislature about it. This is an issue which we know will require a multi-session effort and we plan to move the needle on this issue during the interim between now and next session. 
  • Sales Tax on Bakery Goods: HB 4054 was a significant win for TRA and has been signed by the Governor. This bill simply clarified the tax code regarding the application of sales tax on bakery items when sold heated or with utensils. This is a major victory for our bakery members, as well as our retailers with in store bakeries. HB 4054 is now the law and goes into effect on September 1st.
  • Promoting a Business Friendly Regulatory Environment: No bathroom bill made it completely through the legislative process, but the debate on it and other hot button issues did consume valuable time and effort in the last few weeks of the session. In the end, none of these controversial bills impacted the retail community, a circumstance which we carefully managed throughout the session.
  • Photo ID on Credit and Debit Purchases: SB1381 is definitely a win for the retail industry. TRA was instrumental in modifying the bill’s language to turn it from a bill we opposed, to one that we could support. This was a significant improvement from where this issue ended up last session and provides a retailer with the option of asking for a photo ID on credit and debit card purchases.
  • SNAP Distribution Schedule: TRA was successful in having legislation filed that would expand the distribution schedule for the SNAP program from the current 15 days out of every month, to 28 days out of the month. This would produce more convenience for SNAP recipients, efficiencies for the program and retailers. HB 3565 was successfully voted out of committee and placed on the calendar for a House floor vote. Unfortunately, it fell four bills shy of being voted on by the full House due to a critical deadline passing which also killed hundreds of other bills. This is an issue which will be high on our priority list again next session and Representative Stephanie Klick has committed to seeing it passed.

TRA and took leading roles defeating the following bills, any of which would have been very problematic for our members and industry.

  • Raising the Age for Purchase of Tobacco Products: HB 1908 called for raising the minimum age for the purchase of tobacco products from 18 to 21.
  • Battery Recycling: HB 1874 was a cleverly disguised battery recycling bill, which called for civil penalties for retailers who sold items containing batteries the major battery companies deemed “non-compliant.”
  • Data Breaches: HB 2333 would have penalized retailers involved in a data breach, to the tune of $50 per customer, regardless of whether any fraud occurred.
  • Dark Stores: TRA was instrumental in the effort to push back against HB 27, which would have limited retailer’s ability to contest property tax valuations. HB27 was targeted at the retail industry alone and would have unfairly kept retailers from properly valuing their stores.

Special thanks go to the TRA members whose help proved invaluable throughout the session. Whether it was members who have government affairs staff in Austin, lent their resources to work in collaboration with our team, those who testified, wrote letters and emails or made calls to their Legislators, or those who attended our Texas Retail Industry Lobby Day, we could not have done it without you. Thanks for all your help and engagement in our legislative efforts this session.