State Rep. Jay Dean deemed the 86th legislative session a success and credited House Speaker Dennis Bonnen’s leadership during Dean’s update Friday to the Longview-Greggton Rotary Club.
From reforms in school finance and property tax relief to stabilizing teacher retirement, the Republican representing Gregg and Upshur counties credited House leadership, and specifically Bonnen, for using his quarter-century of experience in the Legislature to accomplish lawmakers’ biggest goals.
“Our new speaker was unbelievable,” Dean said. “He went into this session using that experience and that know how to (get people to work) together and keep the governor and lieutenant governor next to him in trying to get the major issues done, and I congratulate him. He did a wonderful job.”
During his Friday address, Dean touched on a number of bills that were passed and then signed by Gov. Greg Abbott into law or that didn’t leave the Legislature but he believes will require more discussion and action when lawmakers meet again in 2021.
House Bill 3 increased the state’s share of school funding from 38 percent to 45 percent, providing a boost to public schools that had seen the state slowly shirk from what was once a 50-50 funding share years ago, he said. The bill also lowers property tax rates by about 8 cents per $100 valuation next year and about 13 cents with an additional 2.5 percent tax compression in 2021.
Teachers will get an average pay raise of about $4,000, and that will be based on their years of experience, whether they teach in schools of more economically disadvantaged students and the level of difficulty in the courses that they teach, he said.
“They could literally end up making $36,000 more per year above the standard base if they fit into one of those criteria, and God knows we have that in this region,” Dean said adding that every school district in Gregg and Upshur counties will get an increase in funding. “I think you’ll see some pretty happy teachers here.”
Senate Bill 2, also signed into law, gives property taxpayers real-time notice on the tax rate-setting process and increases financial disclosures from school, cities, counties, districts and other taxing entities. It also expands opportunities to protest and appeal property value appraisals, he said.
The measure also lowers the tax rollback trigger from 8 percent to 3.5 percent but also provides some exceptions to ensure that local governments are able to do everything that they need to do, Dean said.
The budget reached $250.7 billion for all state funds, Dean said. That’s about a 15 percent increase from the spending plan adopted in the 85th legislative session two years ago, but the newest budget accomplishes many of the state’s major opportunities and has a lot of one-time expenses, he said.
“I want to warn you right now,” Dean told Rotarians. “Please don’t expect to open your property tax bill and see savings of several thousand dollars. This is going to be some relief, but this is going to be a gradual thing over the next several years, but you will see some relief.”
Dean also praised passage of House Bill 2088, which increases options for the safe disposal of opioids, and House Bill 3052, which is as an amendment on Senate Bill 683, which increases the ability of the State Board of Pharmacy to shut down non-operating pharmacies that act as “pill mills.”
House Bill 3203, also signed by Abbott, will allow Upshur County voters to decide if they want to create an additional emergency service district.
The idea for the bill arose after Dean learned that the Diana and Ore City communities were sending about $300,000 yearly in tax money to support emergency services but were seeing only $62,000 in services returned to their communities, he said.
Other bills that were signed into law included House Bill 1177, which protects gun owners during mandatory emergency evacuations; Senate Bill 18, which protects First Amendment rights on college campuses; and House Bill 234, which protects lemonade stands — a bill created after police in Overton shut down a stand set up by two young girls, he said.
“Now, you can go into a neighborhood (and) have a lemonade stand,” Dean said. “Life’s good.”