The 86th Legislative Session is over! Thank you for the opportunity to serve you in the Texas House of Representatives. I did my best this session to advance our shared values and priorities. Here’s a wrap up of what happened, the “good” and the “bad.”
Due, in large part, to the results of the 2018 midterm election (the House gained 12 new Democratic members), we were able to leverage our growing numbers to work on common-sense legislation that benefits Texans.
From the beginning, the House projected a moderated image with a professed goal of finally prioritizing the “kitchen table” issues Democrats have been focused on for years. Generally, House members were more willing to work across the aisle and focus their attention on bipartisan policy issues. House Democrats also played a strong role in defending against harmful legislation that would have impacted Texans' voting rights, local control and healthcare.
THB 3 - Public School Finance
We got it done! $6.5 billion more into our public schools! This investment includes: finally funding full day preK, a priority for Democrats; mandated teacher pay raises; more money for our kids in Special Education; investment in our students who are economically disadvantaged, and more! For AISD, we expect $193 million returned to the school district in the 2021 fiscal year alone, and an additional $19.6 million to help compensate teachers and staff. Already, AISD has announced 6% in pay raises because of their increased funds.
Key legislators, both Democrats and Republicans, put in the hard work of crafting the school finance plan. I was proud to do my part by heading up the House Democratic Caucus’ Special Committee on Public Education and putting forward the Democrats’ ambitious $14.5 billion plan. Our plan put strategic pressure on the process to push the House to do more and aim higher for a more robust school finance plan. Ultimately, the HB 3 conference committee members, which included our very own Senator Kirk Watson, were able to work out the differences between the House and the Senate to pass legislation producing greater investment in our schools. While this bill isn’t perfect, HB 3 will provide a substantial boost in per-student funding for Texas students.
This work happened because Texas voters sent legislators a strong message demanding a change to our broken school finance system. This session, because of your work, we were able to grow the state’s financial contribution to public education from 38% back up to 45%. However, by 2022, legislators will need to identify a dedicated revenue source to continue to honor our commitment to our kids. The hard work to find sustainable funding for our investment must begin during the Interim and will only happen if Texans, again, advocate for our schools and prioritize this issue in upcoming elections. For my part, it has been an honor to work on, and meaningfully improve, the way we fund education and I look forward to working with stakeholders and my colleagues to find lasting solutions for our schools.
I'm proud to have passed legislation and budget riders focused on improving women's reproductive health care, maternal mortality data collection, special education oversight, disaster preparedness and disaster relief services:
To further the recommendation of the State's Strategic Plan on long-acting reversible contraception (LARC), my budget rider was adopted in the final budget. The rider removes barriers to LARCs by directing HHSC to determine the feasibility of implementing a process where LARCs can be transferred from one patient to another if unused and medically indicated. One of the biggest challenges to increased access to this effective method of birth control is that it is expensive to keep in inventory. This solution could help alleviate this problem.
My budget rider directing the Legislative Budget Board to deliver a report on the status and funding of special education services to the Legislature and include in the report the status of corrective actions required by the U.S. Department of Education, the implementation of TEA's Special Ed. Strategic Plan and TEA's compliance with special ed. requirements has been adopted in the final budget.
In 2018, the United States Department of Education determined that Texas illegally capped the number of children who could receive special ed. services between 2004 and 2016, denying more than 32,000 students an appropriate education. This budget rider will provide transparency into the progress of these correction actions and examine how special education funding is being spent in Texas. Special thanks to Rep. Mary Gonzalez for submitting my rider and being such a strong advocate for children with special needs.
The Governor signed HB 137, the bill I filed in response to an expose published in the Austin American Statesman by Ralph Haurwitz about the threat posed by deteriorating dams across Texas. HB 137 requires TCEQ to inform local emergency management directors when a dam in their area is designated as significant or high hazard. These classifications are based on the number of people who could be killed if a dam is breached. Central Texas is prone to severe floods. As storms become more severe in our changing climate, the State must employ, at a minimum, these basic safeguards to keep Texans out of harms way.
Just last week, the Governor signed my HB 1307, to create a statewide disaster case management portal to help natural disaster survivors apply for assistance from multiple sources and receive coordinated services. Following Hurricane Harvey, I met with state and local officials who communicated the need for better coordination and case management services to help survivors navigate the private and public recovery assistance process.
The Governor signed my HB 1130 – one of my favorite little bills that has the potential to pack a punch! This bill will create “Register to Vote” specialty license plates and the funds collected from this license plate will be used for voting education programs for public school students across the state. Stay tuned for more information about how to get your own "Register to Vote" license plate!
Successfully amended HB 1255 onto SB 750, which has been signed by the Governor. HB 1255 requires maternal mortality death records to be submitted to the Department of State Health Services within 30 days for the Maternal Mortality & Morbidity Task Force to review. Sadly, Texas continues to lead the nation with the number of women who die from pregnancy-related complications. For years, Texas has struggled to accurately assess and report maternal mortality numbers. This bill will help document more timely and accurate data so that we can better understand these alarming statistics and save lives.
The Governor has signed SB 1134 (Watson), which designates part of Parmer Lane in honor of Master Sergeant Jonathan Dunbar. The Master Sergeant grew up in District 49. He received numerous decorations, including three Bronze stars, the National Defense Service Medal, five Good Conduct Medals, and four Army Commendation Awards before he died in Syria on March 30th. We are indebted to Master Sergeant Dunbar for making the ultimate sacrific in service of our country and we can never repay his family for their loss. This tribute is the least we can do. Thank you to Senator Watson for taking the initiative on this important bill.
The Governor has signed SB 1350 (Watson), authorizing the Travis County Healthcare District (Central Health) to establish and operate a "local provider participation program." This will allow millions in federal dollars to be pulled down to pay for healthcare in Travis County. Thank you to Senator Watson for your leadership on this issue.
I worked closely with the Central Texas Delegation and my House Democratic colleagues to stop harmful legislation in the final month of session. SB 9, a discriminatory elections bill that would have served as a voter suppression tool, moved quickly through the Senate. The House Elections Committee held a public hearing on SB 9 and, due to the enormous outpouring of opposition from citizens across the state and our allies on the House Elections Committee, including Rep. Celia Israel and Rep. John Bucy, the bill ultimately died in the House Calendars Committee.
Democrats were also able to stop HJR 3 - the resolution proposing the largest permanent sales tax increase in Texas' history. Though this "sales tax swap" was a priority of the Governor and Republican leadership, Democrats shined a light on the fact that a sales tax increase would place the most burden on middle class and lower income families. In the last month of session, HJR 3 was killed on the House floor when it was postponed until after session ended due to lack of support.
During the last month of session, several harmful bills made their way to the House floor. These bills included SB 22, the "abortion affiliate ban" bill which prohibits state and local government from contracting with Planned Parenthood even though the contracted services are unrelated to abortion access, like breast cancer screenings and STD screenings. As the House debated SB 22, I proposed two amendments seeking to carve out partnerships with community colleges and contracts that distribute birth control, including LARCs, to areas with high repeat teen pregnancy rates. Texas has the highest repeat teen pregnancy rate in the country. In total, House Democrats proposed 18 amendments to SB22 and none were adopted. Another harmful bill was SB 1978, the "Chick-fil-A" bill, which would allow members of the LGBTQ+ community to be openly discriminated against. Though the House LGBTQ Caucus achieved a major victory by killing HB 3172, the Senate companion, SB 1978, was then pushed through the House and passed both chambers. Unfortunately, Governor Abbott has now signed both of these bills into law. I will continue to work with my colleagues in the House and the Senate over the Interim and next session to protect the rights of LGBTQ+ Texans and the reproductive healthcare rights of Texans.
Finally, HB 2, a bill that did not have necessary support in the House last Session passed both chambers this Session under the guise of “property tax reform.” HB 2 requires a 3.5% tax caps on local taxes absent voter approval even for maintaining current services. Before this bill hit Governor Abbott’s desk, Democrats were able to carve out exemptions for community colleges and hospital districts. In Austin, it will become increasingly difficult to abide by a 3.5% tax cap. Currently, 70% of the City of Austin’s and Travis County’s budgets are made up of emergency services. This includes funding police officers, sheriff deputies, EMS services, and firefighters. Ultimately, our city officials will now have to choose between the public’s safety and cutting essential programs from the budget.
Now that we’ve caught our breath after the roller coaster of Session, I want to thank each and every person who took time out of their day to advocate for policy positions by coming to the Capitol, writing emails and letters, and making calls to members' offices. Public testimony and involvement are the backbone of our democracy. I’m also incredibly proud of the hard work of our Team, my staff, who produced super-human results because of their commitment to the constituents of HD49 and their refusal to give up in the most challenging and taxing circumstances.
Being a Democrat from Austin at the Capitol isn’t always the easiest, but your support and enthusiasm make it all worthwhile. Thank you again for the opportunity to represent HD 49. If you have a district issue or legislative idea you'd like to share, please call 512-463-0668 or reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.