Politics

BELTON — Two Bell County-related bills — one that is likely to become law and the other that will almost certainly face opposition — continue to make their way through the Texas Senate.

State Rep. Hugh Shine, R-Temple, on Monday discussed the two measures — House Bill 452 and House Bill 3264 — during his monthly forum at the Belton Area Chamber of Commerce.

Shine is optimistic about the fate of HB 452, a measure that would allow the Bell County Commissioners Court to appoint so-called “masters” to oversee truancy cases. The appointees would be required to have the same training as judges and would be assigned to a specific school district.

“Truancy will be dealt with this week in the Senate,” Shine said at the morning forum.

Shine said the Senate Criminal Justice Committee — on which state Sen. Dawn Buckingham, a Lakeway Republican who represents Bell County, sits — will hold a hearing on the bill this week. The House unanimously approved the bill in mid-April.

As for HB 3264, it deals with a touchy subject — groundwater. The bill was approved in 139-4 vote on April 24.

“We have a real issue on water from the standpoint of we have the resource, we are experiencing some drawdown in the aquifer, and part of that problem is that we have neighbors who do not have underground water conservation district,” Shine said.

The measure — which also has Republicans Brad Buckley of Salado and JD Sheffield of Gatesville as authors — calls for the Texas Water Development Board to conduct a study on the Trinity and Edwards aquifers in Bell, Burnet, Milam, Travis and Williamson counties. This would serve as an update to a similar study conducted in 1999.

“We’ve been pretty forthright in saying that something serious is happening to our groundwater, and we need a third-party scientific analysis to determine what the cause is,” Dirk Aaron, the general manager of the Clearwater Underground Water Conservation District, told the House Natural Resources Committee on March 27.

Groundwater conservation districts regulate aquifer water use in a specified area. There are 98 districts in Texas — including the Belton-based Clearwater, which covers Bell County.

“We’re not the only ones affected. You get over to Coryell County, you get over into Burnet County, you get into Milam County and there’s an interest among the folks there that we need to be seriously looking at what’s going on here,” Shine said.

The area from Williamson County to about the center of Travis County lacks a groundwater conservation district.

So far, Shine said, there is no interest in establishing a district for that area.

A groundwater conservation district can be establish through the Legislature — which was how Clearwater was created — or by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality forcing the creation of a groundwater district.

TCEQ, Texas Monthly reported last month, has given no indication of doing that. No bills were filed this session to set up an underground water district in Williamson County.

Shine has faced hardship in attempting to talk to legislators about this topic, he said.

“I don’t know if I’ve taken such a strong stand in saying, ‘Hey, we need to look and do this and we need to pursue this,’” the Temple Republican said. “If that’s the case, that’s fine. My goal is to protect our resources here because we’re growing.”