Editor's note: This story has been updated with comment from state Sen. Donna Campbell.
A bill designed to protect western Hays County residents' water wells received a surprising, last-minute reprieve Thursday night — after a procedural error killed the legislation the day before.
The reprieve, announced seconds before the House adjourned for the day, left the bill's author, Rep. Jason Isaac, R-Dripping Springs, stunned and crying at his desk. About a dozen members gathered around him, hugging and congratulating him. At one point, they all bowed their heads and prayed.
Isaac said in an interview afterward that the legislation, House Bill 3405, was the most important bill he'd filed this session. It would expand the jurisdiction of the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Groundwater Conservation District to include water wellfields owned by Houston-based company Electro Purification, which plans to pump up to 5 million gallons of water per day from western Hays County. The company plans to provide the water to Buda and surrounding areas.
The company's fields aren't currently under the jurisdiction of any groundwater district, and residents were worried that so much pumping would cause their own wells to run dry. Once news spread of Electro Purification's plans, a passionate group of activists mobilized and pushed for Isaac's legislation.
On Wednesday night, the bill appeared to die. State Rep. Mary González, D-El Paso, had raised a point of order — a parliamentary maneuver that involves asking whether a House rule has been violated that would kill the bill. The point of order was sustained, and it was too late in the session to resuscitate the bill.
State Rep. Kenneth Sheets, R-Dallas, was manning the House speaker's desk Thursday when the reversal was announced, after the House had been standing at ease for about 30 minutes. Isaac said he had no idea it was coming, and had almost left for the day.
"It caught me by complete surprise," he said. "It has just been a really rough day because of what happened yesterday. I have been in a bad mood all day thinking that the one issue that people sent me here to do for them, I couldn't get done."
The bill will now go to conference committee, where it will be worked out with a slightly tweaked version that passed in the Senate.
"Today we are back on the battlefield," Isaac said. "It is not done yet, but we are back on the battlefield."
In a statement, Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, HB 3405's Senate sponsor, praised the efforts to revive the bill.
"The efforts of Hays County residents to protect the groundwater of property owners remains alive and well as a result of" the recent developments, Campbell said. "Thank you to Speaker Straus and Lt. Governor Patrick for their leadership and to Rep. Isaac for standing, fighting, and clawing with me up to the last second to keep this crucial bill alive for Hays County."
As he left the House floor Thursday evening, Isaac said he still didn't know why the point of order ruling had been reversed.
"I'm going to go visit with the speaker's team and the parliamentarian, but I'm probably not going to ask why," he said. "I'm just going to say thanks."
González, who has said she felt the legislation set a poor precedent and could harm rural communities, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.
Neena Satija and Jim Malewitz contributed to this report.