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State Rep. Matt Schaefer speaks during a campaign stop for Ted Cruz at Sharon Shiner's Center in Tyler, Texas, on Thursday, Oct. 25, 2018 ahead of the midterm election. (Chelsea Purgahn/Tyler Morning Telegraph)

A bill to create a new utility district in the southern part of Smith County is facing hurdles, and a lawmaker from Tyler says he’s trying to keep it alive.

The bill, H.B. 4749, has been sent to a joint panel called a conference committee, where a handful of members of the House and Senate will need to agree on a compromise before it can become law.

The bill was sent to the conference committee after the House and Senate passed different versions of the original bill. The conference committee is one of the final hurdles bills face in Austin.

“The bill is still alive, and I am cautiously optimistic that we can reach an agreement before the session ends,” Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler, said in a prepared statement Friday. He said there are powerful lobbyists opposing the bill.

Schaefer is the main voice on the House side, and Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, is the main voice on the Senate side. If they can find a compromise, the House and Senate would need to approve it by Sunday before sending it to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk to potentially be signed into law.

The original intent of the bill was to create the Rose City Municipal Utility District to build sewer infrastructure and provide service in an area starting in the southern tip of Tyler, running through the unincorporated communities of Flint and Gresham, and reaching into a portion of Bullard.

The district would be a new entity with governance appointed by the city and county. Under the original bill, the entity would have no taxing power and would fund sewer infrastructure through rates that customers pay on sewer services.

Schaefer said in April that customers of Liberty Utilities in the southern part of the county had been having problems for years and stakeholders decided they needed to do something bold to solve the problem.

“The law governing monopolies like Liberty Utilities is complicated and involves powerful financial interests around the state,” Schaefer said Friday. “That law is hard to change, and there are lobbyists fighting us. We have tried for years to provide relief to people in the district affected by high sewer rates and substandard service.

“Our bill is another attempt to help them, and opens the door to a new legal framework for sewer service in parts of Tyler and southern Smith County,” he said. “It's not a silver bullet, but it would create an opportunity for some healthy competition.”

Resolutions in favor of the bill passed the Smith County Commissioners Court on April 23 and the Tyler City Council on April 24. The bill passed the House on May 10, and the Senate on May 21. The conference committee was appointed Thursday.

“We expect to get it through the conference committee, and then on to the governor for his approval and signature,” City Manager Ed Broussard said at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

The Legislature is scheduled to adjourn Monday.

TWITTER and INSTAGRAM: @_erinmansfield

Government Reporter

Erin came to Tyler from Vermont, where she worked for VTDigger.org and previously the Rutland Herald. She received her B.A. in Economics and Spanish from the State University of New York at Stony Brook, where she also attended journalism school.

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