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Relating to the transfer of the Texas Farm and Ranch Lands Conservation Program to the Parks and Wildlife Department.
Estimated Two-year Net Impact to General Revenue Related Funds for HB1925, Committee Report 1st House, Substituted: a negative impact of ($306,234) through the biennium ending August 31, 2017.
The bill would make no appropriation but could provide the legal basis for an appropriation of funds to implement the provisions of the bill.
(The second chamber sponsor is Senator Kohlkorst.)
HB 1925, if passed, would transfer authority of the Texas Farm and Ranch Lands Conservation Program from the General Land Office to the Parks and Wildlife Department.
This program is designed to manage agricultural conservation easements with the aims of conserving water quality or quantity, conserving tracts of open land threatened with fragmentation, and conserving native, rare, or sensitive wildlife species. Effectively, all the changes that would be made by HB 1925 relate to the transfer of authority between the two parties, land office to department, subchapter to chapter, land office to department, commissioner to director, and so forth.
The actual aim of HB 1925 is not a problematic one. Given that the Texas Farm and Ranch Lands Conservation Program already exists, it does not matter to us who administers the program and oversees its activities. The aims of the program are varied. Water conservation is certainly a legitimate role for the state to adopt, other goals set for the program are somewhat problematic. Again though, these goals would not be affected by HB 1925, only transfer of authority, which is noncontroversial.
One complication which would arise, is that from 2005 (when the program was created) to 2015 funding for the program came from the federal funds, via the Coastal Improvement Assistance Program. In this period the program spent $2,943,217 total, or roughly $300,000 per year. These improvements were, appropriately, limited to coastal areas. Fiscal note projections state that spending over the next few years would amount to roughly $150,000 per year. Additional state funding is problematic but the mission of the Program is beneficial. It is not clear whether this increase in spending can be tied to the transfer of authority from the General Land Office to the Parks and Wildlife Department.
The committee substitute (CS) for this bill made a few changes to the as filed version. The Texas Farm and Ranch Lands Conservation Council (TFRC) would be required to award grants based off giving priority to applications that protect highly productive agricultural lands that are susceptible to development. Another change would increase the TFRC membership from 11 to 12 members. Finally the CS changes would allow the presiding officer of the TFRC to appoint the executive director of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department as the interim presiding officer.
Given all of these components in the original version and CS version, we are ultimately neutral on HB 1925.