The Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO) has polled its members over the years and the No. 1 member benefit continues to be government affairs. To that end, TACO scored some legislative victories but didn’t get everything it wanted during the latest legislative session, which ended May 29.
TACO officials briefed close to 50 park operators on the association’s legislative efforts during a Sept. 13 webinar in which TACO Executive Director and CEO Brian Schaeffer; TACO lobbyist Ron Hinkle; TACO President Randall Dally; and TACO Assistant Executive Director Michael Moore described the association’s achievements and the issues that still need to be addressed during the “off-season” and the next legislative session, which begins Jan. 14, 2025.
The biggest disappointment involved TACO’s efforts to contain rapidly escalating property taxes. TACO supported bills that would standardize the appraisal process based on actual property values — both land and improvements — instead of income. TACO also supported legislation that would place annual caps of 5% per annum on commercial and residential values, as opposed to the single cap on 10% residential values that exists now.
“All these proposals died, unfortunately,” Schaeffer said.
As a result, Schaeffer said, TACO still recommends that private park operators hire tax mitigation firms to fight onerous tax increases, as these firms are often able to secure reassessments and/or reductions in property tax obligations.
Another disappointment involved TACO’s efforts to introduce uniform building and safety standards for private parks across Texas. TACO helped draft a bill, HB 1286, that would have used existing National Fire Protection Association (NFPA 1194) standards for RV parks and campgrounds as the standards for Texas. HB 1286, introduced by Rep. Ryan Guillen, passed the House but did not get a hearing in the Senate.
Schaeffer said having no statewide standards enables cities and counties to create their own regulations, which are often unfavorable to park operators since many local jurisdictions have been crafting ordinances that are designed to eliminate private park development or expansion. In some instances, such as in the city of Rockport, TACO joined forces with local parks to keep onerous regulations off the books, Schaeffer said.
While TACO was unable to secure passage of HB 1286, the association supported passage of the Texas Regulatory Consistency Act, HB 2127, which prevents cities and counties from making up their own rules or regulations regarding issues that are already covered under state statutes. While the bill does not contain language specific to RV parks, TACO can invoke this law whenever it fights onerous local campground regulations that violate current state laws or regulations.
Despite facing setbacks with its efforts to fight property taxes and introduce uniform building and safety standards across Texas, TACO secured legislative victories addressing several issues including the following.
Campground Liability: TACO secured passage of HB 2326 by Rep. Andrew Murr, which creates a new Section 75B in the Civil Practices and Remedies Code that exempts recreational vehicle parks and campgrounds from certain liability for damages or injuries resulting from risks inherent to camping, because there are some inherent risks beyond the RV park and campground owner’s control. Schaeffer said the bill does not exonerate or shield RV parks and campgrounds from all liability and does not protect them from negligence on their part. However, the bill shields TACO members from injuries and damages that may occur because a guest or camper encounters risks that exist in the natural world. TACO members must post signage noting their limits of liability. TACO is providing language that such signs must contain in the TACO Legal Handbook updates that will be mailed soon.
Water Billing: TACO worked with the Texas Rural Water Association (TRWA) and secured passage of SB 595, which eliminates the requirement to count every connection downstream from a water meter as a residential connection. This eliminates the need for water agencies to keep phantom water reserves for RV parks as well as erroneous billings. Under the new law, RV parks would be billed only for the water used and water agencies would be prohibited from billing per-site charges for administration or other fees. Additionally, the new law specifies that one residential connection is equal to 8 occupied or unoccupied RV sites, thereby reducing the water reserve requirement by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). The new law further provides a variance based on actual usage for the water system operator if water usage is less than 10% below the equivalency value. It also prevents any monthly per site/cabin fee from being imposed.
Tourism Funding: TACO joined the Texas Travel Alliance in supporting HB 1, the state budget bill that includes tourism funding. The funding for tourism promotion consists of $127.4 million for the biennium from 1/12th of the state hotel occupancy tax, including the rollover of unexpended balances from the previous biennium. The state estimates that it generates $8 for every dollar spent on tourism.
Fines for misrepresenting service animals increased: TACO supported HB 4164, which increases the penalty from $300 to $1,000 on individuals who knowingly represent that an animal is a service animal when the animal is not specifically trained or equipped to help a person with a disability. Violators could also get 30 hours of community service.
RV site occupancy tax killed: TACO managed to kill HB 5136, sponsored by Rep. Kyle Kacal with support from the Texas Hotel & Lodging Association, which attempted to tax RV park sites as hotel rooms in Washington County. TACO’s board chair testified against the bill and 44 RV park owners also submitted testimony against the bill. “While the bill only affected RV parks located in Washington County, the bill had a chilling effect of setting a precedent of identifying an RV park site as a hotel room,” Schaeffer said. “This would have had a devastating effect on the RV park industry.”