Texas lawmakers consider FALA, broadband, meat labeling

By Jennifer Whitlock 

The Texas Legislature is more than halfway through the 87th regular state legislative session.

After a slower start thanks to COVID-19 safety precautions and a massive winter storm, Texas Farm Bureau (TFB) State Legislative Director Charlie Leal said there has been much activity on several TFB priority issues, including changes to the state’s Farm Animal Liability Act (FALA).

“This session really took off in early March, and we’ve had some very good progress on a lot of our agenda items already,” Leal said.

Farm Animal Liability Act (FALA)

FALA is an update to the previous Texas Equine Activity Limitation of Liability Act, passed in 1995, which provided horse owners were not liable for participants’ injuries due to the inherent risks of interacting with horses.

In 2011, the Equine Act was amended to include bovine animals, sheep, goats, pigs, hogs, ratites, ostriches, rheas, emus, chickens and other fowl. The act was also expanded to cover veterinarians and livestock shows, and the words “handling, loading or unloading” were added to the definition of farm animal activities.

FALA limits liability for injury to a “participant in a farm animal activity or livestock show” that results from “inherent risk” of activities.

New attention was brought to FALA after a ruling by the Texas Supreme Court in a case where a bull harmed and killed a ranch hand. The longtime ranchers argued FALA applies by its plain terms to ranching—working farm animals for a living or profit. But in a divided opinion, the Court said the rule did not apply to Texas farmers and ranchers.

In response, Leal said Texas Reps. Andrew Murr and Brooks Landgraf filed bills this session amending FALA to include all instances of handling livestock.

“It just seemed that having liability protection from injury caused by a show steer but leaving ranchers without protection from that liability was unequal. It’s the same animal, whether it’s at a livestock show or whether it’s on private property,” Leal said. “The whole emphasis is to expand that coverage, to make sure the current law clearly recognizes the inherent risks that livestock pose to those attending or participating in events and livestock shows. Those are similar activities to what happens on private farms and ranches.”

Murr’s bill, HB 365, was considered in a public hearing on March 9.

TFB District 8 State Director Mickey Edwards testified before the House Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Committee. The bill was voted out favorably by the committee on March 17 and is now on the Calendars Committee to be set for consideration on the House floor.

“Since that bill has already moved onto the Calendars Committee, hopefully it can be one of the first bills that is heard on the House floor, and we can get that over to the Senate and get that done,” Leal said.

In early March, Sen. Drew Springer filed a companion bill, SB 1078, in the Texas Senate. Leal expects that bill to move favorably, as well.

Rural connectivity

Increasing rural broadband access remains high on TFB’s agenda, as well as those of several prominent lawmakers, including Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Speaker of the Texas House Dade Phelan.

There is widespread support for Rep. Trent Ashby’s HB 5 and companion Senate bill SB 5 by Sen. Robert Nichols.

“Since it was tagged as a priority by both the governor and lieutenant governor, that should hopefully get moving fairly quickly,” Leal said, adding a hearing in the Senate Transportation Committee took place on March 17.

A hearing on the House version took place in the House State Affairs Committee on March 18.

Truth in labeling

Another TFB priority issue, truth in labeling of meat products, received consideration after a public hearing March 17 by the House Public Health Committee regarding Rep. Brad Buckley’s HB 316.

“There was strong testimony in support and some in opposition, as well. There will likely be some more work done by Rep. Buckley and the committee looking into this issue,” Leal said. “But there were very positive reactions from most of the committee members, so we’re hopeful that’s something that can also move pretty fast.”

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