Texas Senate Rolls Back Provisions in House Tree Bill

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A neighborhood in East Austin on Feb. 23, 2017.

Shelby Knowles for The Texas Tribune

A neighborhood in East Austin on Feb. 23, 2017.

In an unusual move late Monday night, the Texas Senate voted to reverse itself on several amendments to a controversial tree-removal bill.

The upper chamber on Friday passed an altered version of House Bill 7, a measure governing cities' authority to regulate tree removal. But after House Speaker Joe Straus returned that version of the bill to the Senate late Saturday, arguing that the body’s alterations to the bill were inconsistent with the legislation’s “sole purpose” of creating tree-planting credits to offset local mitigation fees, State Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham) the bill’s Senate sponsor, on Monday night asked her Senate colleagues to roll back provisions that Straus had rejected.

"We're unwinding specifically what the letter that was sent to us just Aug. 12, the night of Aug. 12, addresses," Kolkhorst explained as the body took up the issue just after midnight Tuesday morning.

Straus took issue with two specific Senate additions to the tree bill: banning cities from regulating trees in their extraterritorial jurisdictions and prohibiting cities from regulating the removal of trees that are less than 10 inches in diameter. He argued that neither was "germane to the single subject of the bill."

Those Senate changes to the bill had aimed to bring it closer in line with the legislation Gov. Greg Abbott has requested. Abbott favors entirely barring cities from regulating what homeowners do with trees on their property.

Kolkhorst told reporters Sunday she was not sure whether she’d be able to roll the changes back. But the Senate voted 17-14 to approve a new version of the bill that addresses Straus' concerns.

The version of the tree bill that the House favors looks a great deal like the regular session's Senate Bill 744, which Abbott vetoed this June. Before it was amended by the Senate committee, HB 7 was practically identical to that measure: a compromise between builder groups and conservationists that would have allowed property owners to plant new trees to offset municipal fees for tree removal on their land.

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