Jay Dean quizzed at town meeting in Longview

State Rep. Jay Dean, R-Longview, addresses a town hall meeting Tuesday evening at Forest Park Middle School in Longview.

The state lawmaker from Longview faced a small, friendly gathering at a town hall meeting Tuesday, hearing more praise for big-picture successes in the recent 86th Legislature than criticism.

“Why didn’t you get any further as far as fighting for life?” one of the baker’s dozen attendees at Forest Park Middle School in Longview asked Dean. “And why didn’t we get something like the heartbeat bill?”

A heartbeat bill, like those passed this year in Louisiana, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi and Ohio, prohibits abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected, usually after six weeks’ gestation. Such a measure did not reach floor debate in either legislative chamber in Austin during the 140-day session that ended Memorial Day.

Dean replied that Republicans, who are more likely to support abortion restrictions, lost the supermajority they enjoyed in 2017. Their 83-67 advantage over Democrats during the recent session was insufficient to push through the most socially conservative measures.

“Do the math,” he said. “We have to be realistic. You want to see that change? Get more Republicans voted in.”

Dean, whose House District 7 encompasses all of Gregg and Upshur counties, was hosting his second town hall wrapup of the recent session, after a slightly larger crowd greeted him Monday in Gilmer.

He said his Austin and district offices fielded about 3,500 phone calls, letters, emails and Facebook queries from constituents during the session. And he invited the audience to continue contacting his staff at either (903) 238-8452 or (512) 463-0750.

Dean said Gov. Greg Abbott played a more visibly active role in the session than during Dean’s freshman session in 2017.

“He considers himself a Longview guy,” Dean said of the Republican governor, who went to grade school in Longview.

And Dean touted accomplishments backed by Abbott during the session, including securing a $4,000 average pay raise for teachers and a $5 billion infusion to schools for lowering tax rates. Lawmakers also are optimistic they solved a decades-old school finance riddle.

“This was a huge lift,” he said. “Some of the school finance formula was 40 years old.”

He praised House Education Committee Chairman Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, who was persuaded to come back for a fifth term by new House Speaker Dennis Bonnen specifically to lead school finance reform in the House.

Per-student spending increased significantly in “every school district in HD 7,” Dean said.

“We now are going to fund 100 percent of pre-K,” he said. “Everybody got raises. Hopefully they’re smiling.”

Noting that more than $8 of every $10 in the two-year, $251 billion state budget is for public education and the Health and Human Services department, Dean acknowledged the increase from $217 billion for 2018-19. School finance reform, with its accompanying property tax relief, and dealing with damage from Hurricane Harvey justified the increase, he said.

“We had a pretty big increase in the budget — about 15 percent,” he said, noting an additional, $9.9 billion “supplemental budget” lawmakers had to pass to balance the 2018-19 spending plan.

And he sung the praises of another element of property tax reform in Senate Bill 2. Starting next year, property owners will see annual tax bills that show details of the levy individuals pay from one year to the next.

“It’ll lay out what each taxing entity in your city is charging,” Dean said. “And, ‘This is how much money the county’s going to get, the city is going to get, the school district is going to get.’”

Lawmakers had failed during the session to extend the life of the State Board of Plumbing Examiners. Before the town hall, Dean said Abbott’s executive order extending that regulatory body to the 2021 legislative session was a good fix. He said he still plans a July 11 fish fry with area plumbers.

“We are still going to talk about it,” he said. “Because I still want them to know what happened and why it happened.”