Senate committees passed two important bills to the floor this week, one relating to asbestos-related lawsuits and one that would change the way the state manages its water supply. The Natural Resources Committee, chaired by Victoria Senator Ken Armbrister, approved Senate Bill 3 late Thursday, which would make sweeping reforms in water management in Texas.
It would promote science-based bay and estuary health management through the strategic inflow of fresh water into costal waterways. It would add more government oversight into local water districts in an attempt to make a consistent statewide water policy. SB 3 would create a statewide water district to include all state-owned lands in unincorporated areas. Not in the bill, however, was the somewhat controversial water usage fee, set in the original version of the bill that would have charged a small fee for every 1,000 gallons of water used over 5,000 gallons. Armbrister said this provision served its purpose in that it brought interested parties to the table. "You use that to get people's attention. You say, 'I need your input and the only way I can get your input is to put this out there and make you affected by that', and we were able to accomplish that," said Armbrister. "We heard from cities, we heard from water suppliers and we heard from water users throughout the state of Texas." He added that the input from both public and private parties was critical in designing a bill that fit the water needs of Texas.
SB 15, which seeks to reduce the amount of asbestos-related litigation in Texas, passed out of the Senate State Affairs Committee Friday. This bill would address the increasing number of litigants seeking compensation for asbestos or silica exposure. Senator Kyle Janek of Galveston, a licensed doctor who authored SB 15, said the challenge was finding a way to make sure those who were actually sick got their day in court, without disenfranchising anyone with a legitimate claim. "What we came up with, I think, is a very reasonable process for preserving the rights of people who have been exposed but are not impaired," said Janek. "When this is all said and done, we hope to preserve the resources for those people who are truly impaired and yet those who have been exposed and are not impaired can sue in the future if they become sick."
Under current Texas law, once an individual has knowledge of exposure to asbestos, that individual only has two years to file a claim. Janek has said that the problem this creates, in addition to a huge backlog of asbestos cases, is that a person may receive less in damages than if they were actually impaired. SB 15 would eliminate the statute of limitations on asbestos and silica claims, and would move people who demonstrate actual impairment to the front of the docket for silica cases. Senator Robert Duncan, who chairs the State Affairs Committee, said he believes this bill is a good compromise for all parties. "I do think that this bill reaches a true balance between those who have true injuries and those who don't," said Duncan.
Also Friday, the Senate approved a bill that would increase the state's reliance on renewable sources of energy. SB 533, by Horseshoe Bay Senator Troy Fraser, would increase the state's renewable energy goal from 2,000 megawatts to 5,000 megawatts by 2015, and 10,000 megawatts by 2025. Fraser believes the state must take steps to diversify its energy sources. "I think all of Texas realizes that renewable energy is a great hedge against fossil fuels," said Fraser. "It reduces our dependence on outside fuel sources, especially from the Middle East." The bill would also require the Public Utility Commission to identify areas in the state that would be best for generating renewable energy, such as wind power, and also to determine the most cost-effective means for distribution of that energy across the state.
The Senate will reconvene Monday, April 25, at 1:30 p.m.