The Roots of ADR in Texas

Legislation passed in the last three decades continues to form how conflicts are resolved for residents of Texas. While residents may choose to have an issue litigated, the introduction of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) systems has given Texans a chance to resolve disputes quicker and often at a significantly lesser cost. The Texas Alternative Dispute Resolution Act of 1987, the Governmental Dispute Resolution Act, and the Negotiated Rulemaking Act are three statues that have been the vehicle for changing the nature of conflict resolution for Texas. What are these statues and how do they effect Texans?

Without a law degree, attempting to understand the language of these statues as written is more than cumbersome. Fortunately, a condensed summary has been provided by the Center for Public Policy -University of Texas at Austin. To paraphrase, the Texas Alternative Dispute Resolution Act of 1987 makes it the state’s policy to encourage the resolution of disputes through voluntary settlements. It includes the standard and duties, qualifications, and appointment of impartial third parties. In addition, the act defines the different types of alternative dispute resolution procedures such as mediation, arbitration, mini-trial, moderated settlement conference, and summary jury trial. 

Texas Alternative Dispute Resolution Act of 1987, the Governmental Dispute Resolution Act, and the Negotiated Rulemaking Act

capitol-adr texas policyThe Governmental Dispute Resolution Act found in the Texas Government Code incorporates the rules of the Texas ADR Act for government entities to use in operations and programs, establishes the funding of ADR systems to government entities, and grants authority to entities to obtain ADR services. Also found in the Texas Government Code is the Negotiated Rulemaking Act, which in short, outlines the process for how Texas agencies are to use negotiated rulemaking for drafting proposed rules. According to the University of Texas Center for Public Policy, the Governmental Dispute Resolution Act (GDR Act) and the Negotiated Rulemaking Act (NR Act) were two important bills because they “now provide a framework for much greater use of ADR by governmental entities in a broad range of circumstances”. 

Encouraging Peaceful Resolutions

The impact of these three acts are publicly visible. They have led companies in creating internal ADR policies for resolving grievances and complaints making conflict resolution a priority. For example, in a credit card
consumer agreement it is likely the agreement includes a clause for disputes to be handled through arbitration or mediation. In many governmental agencies and educational institutions ADR processes have been adopted to proactively address grievances to prevent conflicts from escalating to the point where a lawsuit is filed. A standard method for managing employee conflicts is for the individuals to participate in a mediation or arbitration. As a final example, often during litigation parties are first referred to mediation or another alternative dispute resolution (ADR) system to try to resolve their legal dispute before going to trial. The idea being that trial is used as a last resort after all efforts to reach a settlement have been made.

These three legislative acts have not only made it a public policy in Texas to use alternative dispute resolution systems but also are forming a sub-culture that values the peaceful resolution of disputes. Subsequent to these bills becoming law, the way the state of Texas and its residents manage conflict has shifted from sole reliance on litigation to the large use of ADR especially mediation and arbitration. Businesses, organizations, employees, and customers have all been impacted directly and indirectly by the Texas Alternative Dispute Resolution Act of 1987, the Governmental Dispute Resolution Act, and the Negotiated Rulemaking Act. After all, according to Section 154.002 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code, “it is the policy of this state to encourage the peaceable resolution of disputes”.

Serving Tarrant County and surrounding areas, Dispute Resolution Services of North Texas Inc. is a non-profit community dispute resolution organization of professional volunteer mediators who provide affordable mediation services and teach mediation and dispute and conflict resolution, an effective alternative to litigation. Click here to learn more about the mediation process.  

Author: Annette Smith received her Bachelor’s degree in Communication from Texas A&M University.  During her employment with DRS North Texas, she has developed the mediation training program, provided support in volunteer management, and managed over 1000 mediation cases.  In 2015, she became the agency’s marketing coordinator.

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