NOTE: THIS ARTICLE REFERS TO THE FILED VERSION OF THE BILL DATED 2-27-13, NOT THE FINAL VERSION.
SB 522 by Senator Craig Estes (R-Wichita Falls) proposes significant reforms to the procedures for conducting contested cases before state agencies. Here is a brief summary of the main provisions of the bill:
Notice: The bill requires the contents of a notice of hearing to state specifically the factual matters asserted and allows a party to request a detailed statement of the facts, which must be delivered not less than 10 days prior to the hearing date (current law is 3 days, with no detailed statement of factual matters). In a suit for judicial review, the failure of an agency to provide the factual statement constitutes substantial prejudice to the rights of the appellant.
Licenses: The bill allows a licensing agency to summarily suspend a license pending proceedings for revocation or other action, if it finds that an imminent peril to the public health, safety, or welfare imperatively requires emergency action. An order for summary suspension must incorporate a factual and legal basis establishing the imminent peril standard. Such an order is final and immediately appealable to Travis County district court. Failure to provide the required information in the order constitutes substantial prejudice to the rights of the license holder.
Final Decisions: The bill specifies that a final decision of an agency adverse to any party must be signed by a person authorized by law to sign the agency decision. If a party has submitted proposed conclusions of law in addition to proposed findings of fact, the decision must include a ruling on each proposed conclusion. The bill further mandates that the agency shall notify each party of its decision by certified or registered mail or by electronic means. The agency must keep a record documenting the provision and receipt of the notice. If an adversely affected party does not receive timely notice, any time period relating to the decision or a motion for rehearing does not begin to run until the party receives the notice or acquires actual knowledge of the signed decision or rehearing order. To establish a revised time period, the adversely affected party must prove, on sworn motion and notice, that the date the party received notice or acquired actual knowledge was more than 14 days after the decision or order was signed.
Time of Decision: An agency decision must be signed not later than 60 days after the date the hearing is finally closed, subject to extension by the agency or person who conducts the hearing. The bill also specifies that a decision in a contested case is final when a decision or order overruling a motion for rehearing is signed.
Motions for Rehearing: A motion for rehearing must be served on all parties to the contested case in accordance with Rule 21a, TRCP, not later than 20 days after the date on which the decision is signed. A reply to the motion is due not later than 30 days after the date the decision is signed, or not later than 10 days after the motion for rehearing is filed if the time for filing the motion for rehearing has been extended by agreement or written agency order. The agency must act on the motion no later than 45 days after the decision is signed or the motion is overruled by operation of law. This time may be extended by the agency on its own motion or on the motion of any party. A motion for rehearing must specify the findings of fact or conclusions of law complained of and any evidentiary or legal ruling claimed to be erroneous. It must also specify the legal and factual basis for the claimed error. After the agency rules on the motion for rehearing, a further motion must be filed not later than 20 days after the ruling is signed, if the order modifies in any respect the original decision, even if the modification does not change the outcome of the case or makes only typographical, grammatical, or immaterial changes, or if the order vacates the original decision and issues a new decision.
Judicial Review: Current law mandates that judicial review be initiated by filing a petition not later than 30 days after the agency decision is final and appealable. The bill adds that a prematurely filed petition is effective to initiate judicial review and deemed filed on the day of, but after, the event that begins the period for filing a petition.
SB 522 would take effect September 1, 2013.