Recently, the Texas House of Representatives and Senate released their interim charges — issues that legislative committees are tasked with studying leading up to next session.

To be specific, they were issued by Speaker Joe Straus and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the presiding officers of the Texas House and Senate, respectively. Leadership uses interim charges to highlight their priorities, influence the debate on legislative topics, and attempt to build consensus around how to tackle a particular challenge facing the state.

Why do interim charges matter?

Because they lay the groundwork for future bills and how elected officials understand the issues.

Each charge is assigned to a specific committee, and each committee will hold public hearings to gather information on the charges and hear from experts. Oftentimes, a committee will then issue a formal interim report before next session, which begins in January 2019. These reports are based on the testimony taken during the hearings.

Hearings and the interim report thus serve as unique opportunities for the public to impact the legislative process during an otherwise long dry spell, as there’s a nineteen-month period between Texas’ regular legislative sessions.

Highlights relevant to Austin’s tech sector:

  • Review the increased use of third party data gathering, particularly individual background information and history, by Texas employers and businesses. Examine the standards for accessing, providing, and updating accurate background information used for employment purposes. (House Business & Industry Committee)
  • Study the impact of data breaches or theft on Texas consumers and businesses. In particular, study the consequences of recent data breaches and subsequent mitigation efforts. Review the existing standards of risk as well as the current best practices in securing sensitive and personal information held or used by private industries. Determine if existing rules and regulations offer adequate consumer protection while allowing continued economic success for businesses in the state. (House Business & Industry Committee)
  • Study the state’s effectiveness in developing and growing high-growth, high-tech start-ups. Review current regulations and determine if barriers exist that potentially impede investment and growth. Evaluate the concept of a “sandbox” as a regulatory approach for enabling innovation and the feasibility of implementing such an approach in Texas. (House Economic & Small Business Development Committee)
  • Examine the role of technology in disaster preparedness and the response to Hurricane Harvey and future natural disasters. Review and make recommendations to drive innovation and efficiency and evaluate whether there are any regulatory impediments to collaboration between the public and private sectors. (House Government Transparency & Operation Committee)
  • Study policy challenges in the area of financial technology. Evaluate the concept of a “sandbox” as a regulatory approach for enabling innovation and the feasibility of implementing such in Texas. If appropriate, make recommendations for possible legislative action to foster innovation in the finance industry. (House Investments and Financial Services Committee)
  • Study the recent advancements in technology-based alcohol and industry services. Determine if current regulations and permitting rules are able to respond to the ongoing shifts in the modern marketplace and continue to provide consumer and public protections without restricting innovation. (House Licensing & Administrative Procedures Committee)
  • Study emerging issues in transportation related to technology and evaluate the state’s preparedness for addressing challenges and opportunities posed by technological advances. Review the implementation of state and federal programs and legislation related to intelligent transportation systems, autonomous vehicles, unmanned aircraft systems (i.e. drones), and other technological changes. (House Transportation Committee)
  • Social Media Access: Study access issues regarding digital assets of decedents. Study social media privacy laws and whether job applicants and students’ privacy is jeopardized under current law. (Senate Business & Commerce Committee)
  • Virtual Education in the 21st Century Classroom: Review the Texas Virtual School Network (TVSN) and recommend methods of updating and improving the system to boost online virtual education. (Senate Education Committee)

How can Austin’s tech sector influence the debate on the charges?

At the committee chair’s discretion, each committee will hold one or more public hearings before next session to discuss the charges. Some of the committees will take testimony from the public, but others keep it limited to individuals specifically invited by the committee. Regardless, the hearings are open to the public and often at at the Texas Capitol.

If a particular interim charge interests you or your business, you’ll need to know when that committee is scheduled to meet and discuss the charge. The easiest way is to sign up for a free account on Texas Legislature Online and, under the MyTLO tab, sign up to receive an email when the committee posts its hearing notices. Those will give you advanced notice of when the committees are scheduled, where they’re being held, and what they’ll consider.

Feel free to reach out to ATA if you need additional guidance.