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Preservation Take-Aways from the 85th Session

The Texas Legislature's special session looms large on July 18 so, along with marking the occasion at Wednesday's happy hour at The Cloak Room, we wanted to share this recap of the 85th regular session from our summer newsletter. As always, Preservation Austin worked hard with partners throughout the state to advocate for our historic built environment. See more on the special session, which includes a threat to Austin' heritage tree ordinance, HERE. Learn more about preservation successes from this spring below and, if you support these efforts, please support our mission by becoming a Preservation Austin member today.

Preservation Take-Aways from the 85th Session

By Alyson McGee, Immediate Past President

The Texas Legislature held its final day of the 85th session on May 29th. It was a session full of controversy – when isn’t it?! However, we are happy to report that historic preservation interests fared well this round. Here’s a recap of the legislation Preservation Austin was following.

Both HB2393 and SB550 were introduced to amend the Texas Historic Preservation Tax Credit Program. HB2393 was left in committee, but SB550 passed both houses. This means the State’s historic preservation tax credit will be expanded so the credits can be applied toward the State insurance tax in addition to the franchise tax as is currently allowed. This will protect the program if the legislature does away with the franchise tax in the future. Preservation Austin wrote letters in support of the legislation.

HB3418 would have regulated how municipalities designate historic properties, making it more difficult to designate endangered properties against owners’ consent and establishing restrictive designation criteria. Introduced by Rep. Elkins, R-Houston, the bill was left pending with the House Urban Affairs Committee. Preservation Austin testified in opposition at the committee’s public hearing, as did representatives from the City of San Antonio, Preservation Texas, the American Institute of Architects Dallas chapter, San Antonio Conservation Society, Preservation Dallas, and Milam County Historical Commission, as well as former Preservation Austin Board member August Harris.

The bill that will transfer management and operation of Austin’s French Legation from the Facilities Commission to the Texas Historical Commission (THC) passed on nearly the last day of the session. HB3810 was introduced by Rep. Cyrier from Lockhart and was co-sponsored by Austin’s Rep. Donna Howard. The companion Senate Bill (SB2005) was introduced by Senator Kirk Watson. The Facilities Commission has requested authorization to use approximately $1.5 million from their emergency funds to carry out the most critical work needed on the Legation house. That work will take approximately 18 months, after which the THC will begin the process of re-opening the site for visitors under their management. Preservation Austin wrote letters in support of the transfer. During the next legislative session the THC will request the necessary staff positions and operating funds to properly operate and maintain the site.

HB 4146, which would have entitled individuals to appeal State Historical Marker determinations by the THC to an administrative court, was left pending with the Culture, Recreation and Tourism Committee. Preservation Austin testified in opposition at the committee’s public hearing along with Bob Ward, Chair the Travis County Historical Commission, and Brian Bolinger, Executive Director of the Texas State Historical Association. After failing in two legislative sessions, our hope is a similar bill will not be introduced during the next session, and that the responsibility for decisions regarding historical significance and accuracy will remain with the trained and knowledgeable professionals at the THC.

Finally, funding for the THC’s exceptional items request was approved at approximately $34 million for the biennium. This includes $20.2 million for the Historic Courthouse Grant Program, $1.5 million for the Heritage Trails program and funding for THC’s capital projects including work at the San Felipe de Austin Historic Site, Mission Dolores in San Augustine, and the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg. However, the agency’s base budget was reduced by nearly $1 million, which will affect THC’s ability to replace aging vehicles and IT equipment, provide basic maintenance on state historic sites, and develop new heritage tourism products.

Preservation Austin would like to thank legislators, both from our Austin delegation and around the state, who supported historic preservation this session, as well as the organizations and individuals who helped with our advocacy efforts - working together to “Save the Good Stuff.”