If Sen. Lois Kolkhorst were playing baseball during the 86th Legislature, she would be credited with three home runs, more than eight runs-batted-in, and a flyout.
The Brenham Republican who represents Senate District 18 spoke about her accomplishments in the last Legislative session during a Sealy Chamber of Commerce luncheon, held Sept. 11 at the Liedertafel. She hit home runs on her top three legislative priorities to reform public school finance, provide property tax relief, and to secure funding for recovery from Hurricane Harvey.
“Twenty-one of the 21 counties that I represent, were in the natural disaster,” she said, noting that hurricane recovery has been on the forefront of her priorities for two years now.
“Some areas of our district are worse than others. Judge Tim Lapham, we almost didn’t get into the federal disaster for public assistance in Austin County,” she said. “But, you know, we worked with Congressman (Michael) McCaul to make sure that Austin County got some of that public assistance money that is really important.”
Kolkhorst collected additional RBIs with funding for state parks and historic sites, rural healthcare, mental health care, human trafficking, and transportation, among others. She hit a shot to deep centerfield with an eminent domain bill that was caught in committee for her only out of the session.
Kolkhorst led off talking about school funding. She said it was a priority for both the Senate and the House, but the proposed bills were different.
“We finally came together with the House on how we’re going to do this. I mean, the Senate wanted a big teacher pay raise, the house wanted to push money, give a lot of flexibility to the schools. We did a combination of that,” she said.
Kolkhorst frequently addressed Sealy ISD Superintendent Sheryl Moore, who was in attendance with some of the school board members. Kolkhorst noted that the school district’s maintenance and operation budget had a tax rate of $1.04, but raised it to $1.11 due to the hurricane, but then lowered it back to $1.04. This year, due to the financing reform, it is $.97.
“That’s below a dollar for your maintenance and operation. That’s really incredible,” Kolkhorst said.
She said Moore told her there was a glitch with Texas Education Agency (TEA) because it thought Sealy’s tax rate was still $1.11.
“It looks like we’re only going to get an additional $250,000 versus $1.2 million,” Kolkhorst observed. “This next year, we’re going to fix that somewhere.”
She said she was proud that the Legislature was able to work school financing in such a way that local districts could lower taxes.
“The other thing that happened in that bill, which was $11.5 billion overall, was it there was a great deal of money pushed to school districts, again, teacher pay raises, but then to also the things like special education, which we did the supplemental bill, and some other monies right now,” she said.
Because of the way the bill was structured, homeowners should find even more relief next year.
“Next year, the same thing will happen … your property tax rate will go down again,” she said.
Although she touted school funding reform as a tax relief measure, she failed to mention Senate Bill 2, which placed caps on how much local governments can raise taxes without triggering a rollback vote.
With her appearance occurring on the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Kolkhorst took some time to acknowledge and thank the many first responders and veterans in the room. She also took some time to talk about recent mass shootings that have taken place in El Paso and Midland/Odessa.
“So, if you look at the shooter in Midland/Odessa, again, I talked to the executive director of DPS (Department of Public Safety) yesterday, there were all kind of warning signs on him,” she said. “I mean, you know, I like to hunt as much as the next person. I’m definitely wise to the weekends. But I don’t sit in my yard in Brenham in the city of Brenham, and shoot things. I mean, if I did, my neighbors would probably report. The shooter actually called 911 to warn them. There are all these warning signs that the Midland/Odessa shooter we probably could have been prevented.
“The one in El Paso, a little different, a little bit different,” she said, noting that, “he did write a manifesto. He was a copycat, he was a copycat shooter from someone who in Europe, hated Muslims. And so his manifesto was basically a copycat manifesto.”
The big thing she wanted to talk about, however, was Hurricane Harvey, which made a direct hit on her district.
“The other thing that I went to the session and focused on was Hurricane Harvey. I had to do it,” she said.
She helped pass several bills related to recovery and preventative measures for future storms.
“Senate Bill 7 is the trigger by which we’re pushing a bunch of monies out for cities and counties. Under President Trump, without public assistance, we got a 90% from the Feds and 10% local. That’s an incredible number, probably will never happen ever again. But that just saves our local taxpayers. The state of Texas is going to pay 75% of the local match,” she said.
Kolkhorst also mentioned that the Texas Department of Emergency Management has been moved from DPS to Texas A&M.
“It’s not just an A&M thing, it’s a Texas thing because those Aggie agencies serve all of Texas. So I feel very positive about that,” she said.
Her plan is to work with the department to create a statewide flood plan.
“We’ve learned a lot of lessons,” Kolkhorst said. “We’re going to be working with the Texas Department of Emergency Management on best practices, things that we’ve learned from you all, and we’re going to put it into basically a manual. We’re going to be able to train some of our emergency coordinators and responders.”
Another item Kolkhorst was proud of was passing an amendment to voters that, if passed, will require all of the sporting goods tax to go to state parks and state historic sites. It is on the ballot as Proposition 5.
“So on Nov. 5, you have the opportunity to vote on a proposition, Prop 5, and Prop 5 says we’re taking that sporting goods sales tax and we are going to constitutionally dedicate it to the Texas Parks and Wildlife and the Texas Historical Commission to do deferred maintenance,” she said.
The one area where Kolkhorst failed to score in the Legislature was on her eminent domain bill.
“I really believe that with pipelines and power lines, it’s a high order when they take your land and there should be a fairer way to do that and give landowners some more rights,” she said. “So, minimum easements, a better upfront offer, we were able to get that bill out of the Senate. It was a really good bill. Texas Farm Bureau, Texas Cattle Ranchers, and Texas Wildlife Association, among many other groups, were supporting that.”
She said her bill was snagged in committee.
“Unfortunately, the bill was referred to the wrong committee,” she said. “The chairman of that committee basically took it over and rewrote the bill. And it made it worse for the landowner than it is today. But I will tell you that the majority of the House membership, I believe, wanted a good strong eminent domain bill to protect our private property rights.”