River bill passes Senate, dies in House

By Kathi Bliss

Editor/POST-REGISTER

 

Once again this session, San Marcos River stakeholders will see no help at the Legislative level, because a bill that would allow the adjoining counties to create taxing districts has failed in the House of Representatives.

The original legislation, introduced at the beginning to of the 85th Legislature by Senator Judith Zaffirini, called for the creation of a “Water Oriented Recreation District. (WORD)” Such a district would have allowed the four counties on the San Marcos River – Caldwell, Hays, Gonzales and Guadalupe – to hold elections to create a separate taxing entity, able in its own right to collect fees from the tubing and canoeing outfitters who make their living on river recreation.

SB 965 was severely gutted in the Senate before it passed to the House last week. The version presented did away with several provisions that would be allowed under a WORD, instead allowing the commissioners courts to create “safety zones” and collect fees that could only be used toward additional law enforcement.

“The version that came to the House is not what the counties wanted,” said Rep. John Cyrier, the bill’s sponsor in the House, on Wednesday morning. “I would have had to ask for several amendments to beef it up.”

Additionally, the language of the bill was unclear as to whether each county could charge a fee to each customer – meaning under the existing language, a customer could “put in” in Hays County, but still be charged a safety zone fee up to four times.

“I think that [Sen. Zaffirini’s office] worked on the original bill for a long time, and the changes that came over were so significant… I feel like the version the House got was just put together in a couple of days,” Cyrier said.

Though it passed out of the Culture, Recreation and Tourism Committee of the House last Wednesday and was sent to Calendar on Sunday evening, Cyrier said the bill simply ran out of time.

“Because we’re at the end of session, I was worried that we were going to run out of time,” he said. “Even if the bill came over and didn’t need amendments, there was a question whether we could get to the House floor.”

 

This marks the third time that legislation regarding the San Marcos River has failed. Still, Cyrier is optimistic.

“At the very least, we’ve worked with the outfitters to get the Memorandum of Understanding in place,” he said. “That means that Caldwell County will at least be collecting money for law enforcement and emergency services this summer, and the outfitters will be responsible for cleanups.”

While he says the MOU is a temporary solution, at least it is a start.

Cyrier speculated the legislation seems to have trouble passing through the Legislature because many people believe it is a local, rather than a legislative problem, and that individual counties should be responsible for overseeing their rivers. Indeed, a previous incarnation of the legislation was defeated because local residents objected to it, thinking it was not strict enough.

Though no official word came from Zaffrini’s office this week, indications are that, if re-elected, she will try the legislation again during the next session. The tenacious Senator filed legislation to enact a statewide ban on texting while driving nine times before it finally found its way to the Governor’s Desk this week.

kathibliss@post-register.com

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