Monday marked the end of the 86th Legislative Session. Every session has its own personality. Many have described this one as a “buck stops here” session, and I agree.
From the outset we tackled the tough, overdue reforms — namely, school finance, property taxes and an insolvent Teacher Retirement System. We also responded to Hurricane Harvey and ensured we are better prepared for future catastrophic events. All this was accomplished in 140 days.
You may recall that we began the session with new Speaker of the House Dennis Bonnen. Our successes are owed largely to his bold vision, as well as the leadership of Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.
This also could not have been accomplished without the support and feedback from our East Texas communities. I heard from property taxpayers, parents, teachers, retired teachers, small business owners — your voice matters and it helped me better represent you. Here are a few of our key accomplishments.
The one law that must pass every session is a two-year budget. The 2020-2021 budget (House Bill 1) is balanced, responsive, and makes several critical investments:
■ $5 billion in property tax relief
■ $4.5 billion for education reforms
■ $950 million for DPS border security
■ $2 billion for teacher raises
■ $589 million to provide retired teachers with a “13th check” ($2,000 on average)
■ $755 million to stabilize the Teacher Retirement System and TRS-Care
■ $2.6 billion for the governor’s flood infrastructure fund and FEMA matching funds.
Revenue can swing up and down. In years of higher revenue it’s important we balance investments that shore up our future with direct returns to taxpayers. I believe we accomplished both and I was proud to support HB 1.
The most important investment we can make is educating the next generation of Texans. Our future economy is only as strong as the workforce we are educating today. Our school finance plan, HB 3, is a once-in-a-generation reform to the way we fund our public schools.
This measure increases the state’s share of funding from 38 percent to 45 percent, reducing the burden on local property taxpayers. It also increases the amount of funding per student and reduces our reliance on Robin Hood. But more than just increasing spending, HB 3 targets those dollars to the classroom — to our students and our teachers. Every ISD in Gregg and Upshur counties will benefit from HB 3.
Simply put, property taxes are getting out of hand. While the state does not collect property taxes and therefore cannot cut rates, the state can direct the process. The reforms in SB 2 will bring greater transparency and protections to taxpayers, such as real-time notice on the tax rate-setting process, increased financial disclosures from taxing entities, and expanded opportunities to protest and appeal property value appraisal. Now, voter-approval elections will be automatically triggered, generally at a 3.5 percent tax increase, with some exceptions. There are provisions to ensure local governments are able to fulfill all of their essential functions.
Again, although the state does not set property taxes, I believe through these reforms we can begin reversing the skyrocketing trend of our tax bills.
I also continued my fight against the opioid epidemic. From my work on the Interim Opioids and Substance Abuse Committee, I learned that a majority of abused opioids come from leftover or unused prescriptions. But there is a lack of awareness and availability of safe disposal options. Texas is working closely with the Trump administration to expand the number of take-back locations, but folks still need to know where those are. Under my bill, HB 2088, consumers will be given notice of how to find the nearest take-back location with every opioid prescription.
In response to local concerns about the proliferation of game rooms near churches and schools, I authored HB 1404 and joint-authored HB 892, allowing Upshur County to specify where game rooms can operate.
Finally, given that we just celebrated Memorial Day, I’ll mention one more bill I authored HCR 120. This resolution awards the Legislative Medal of Honor to Longview’s George Benton Turner, a World War II hero. I was extremely proud that our hometown hero was selected as the only recipient from the pre-Korean War era.
In closing, thank you for again entrusting me to represent our East Texas communities in Austin. Serving as your state representative is the honor of a lifetime, and one I cherish each and every day. While session has ended, please let me know if I or my office can be of assistance. I hope you will join me at an upcoming town hall meeting — details forthcoming! I wish you and your family a blessed and restful summer.