The Texas Food and Fuel Association, which consists of and represents convenience store and gas station owners in Texas pushed for the bill. TFFA President Paul Hardin says the intention was to streamline the gas pump inspection process.
“You’re already requiring a third-party TDA licensed company to come by and calibrate that and make sure that the pump is all good. So, why have TDA follow around another year or so?” said Hardin.
TFFA’s pitch was to have private TDA-licensed inspectors calibrate the pumps every two years, which he says would be three times faster than TDA and would save taxpayers money.
HB 2174 bill passed through first round of committee hearings. Lobbyists and “friends” of lawmakers supported it. No one appeared to testify in opposition of the bill.
Then, the bill went to the house floor, where the bill’s author, State Rep. Drew Darby, added an amendment.
“I met with (TDA) Commissioner Miller,” Darby told fellow House members. “He asked that we clarify the complaint structure, ensuring that TDA can respond to complaints to protect consumers,” Darby continued.
It changed how Miller’s department handles consumer complaints.
“This would implement a process of notification and additional inspection if warranted, and it is acceptable to the author,” Darby said from the House floor.
Miller said he did not ask for that.
Now, because of Darby’s amendment, it takes three complaints about the same station within the same year before TDA can order an inspection for complaints regarding weights and measures. TDA can’t do the inspection. It has to be a private, TDA-licensed inspector hired by the gas station.
“You have the fox guarding the henhouse,” said Commissioner Miller.
While the changes in the law might seem straight from special interest, Hardin says the Food and Fuel Association did not have any input on Darby’s amendment and acknowledges it’s the responsibility of store owners to maintain compliance with TDA regulations.
“It’s ultimately up to the retailer/operator to be in compliance with all of those rules and regulations,” said Hardin.
But Commissioner Miller says consumers are “totally at risk", and consumer watchdog groups like Public Citizen agree.
“If citizens are calling in a complaint, they’re making the effort to make a complaint; that’s probably worth an inspection by the state,” said Adrian Shelley, Texas Director of Public Citizen. “It does seem like those citizen complaints have less of an effect than they used to. That’s a problem,” Shelly continued.
The KVUE Defenders found gas pump Inspections following complaints dropped significantly after the bill became law.
Prior to Sept.1, 2017, TDA conducted dozens of inspections from complaints every month.
Now, you can count the number of monthly complaint-based inspections on one hand.
Complaints at the Pump
Maybe calling it the "Wild Wild West" is a bit extreme, but Agriculture Commission Sid Miller does highlight a problem. Your complaints may not be heard. We're airing a story about gas pump violations. Now, for certain complaints, a station gets three-strikes before they are required to hire an inspector to address the problem. This graphic shows how inspections dropped after a new law was passed. KVUEPosted by Erica Proffer on Thursday, February 15, 2018
The KVUE Defenders reached out to Representative Drew Darby’s office to find out how the amendment was passed without much notice.
Staffers said Darby asked legislative council to draft the amendment because Miller asked for a complaint process.
Once received, Darby read the amendment on the House floor.
The next reading of the bill came a day later. Then, the bill went to the Senate.
No one spoke on record against the amendment.
While TDA is not allowed by law to speak for or against a bill, TDA was not asked how the amendment would impact consumers.
Hardin says Food and Fuel Association had no knowledge of the amendment until it was read on the House floor. He plans to seek clarification on the complaint process next legislative session.
“It was very frustrating,” said Angie Fitzgerald. “I think now it will be worse.”
Fitzgerald has kept her receipts from every fill-up ever since, doing what she can to protect herself.
Luckily for consumers like Fitzgerald, TDA confirms, if fuel quality is in question, TDA can still investigate those complaints immediately.