For 140 days every other year, the Texas Legislature meets in Austin to work on crafting policy that is intended to improve the state and lives of Texans. Memorial Day marked not just a day to honor fallen American warriors but also the end of the 85th legislative session.
I worked throughout the session to help pass a conservative balanced state budget along with several key pieces of legislation. The Texas House gave overwhelming final approval to the state budget, Senate Bill 1, which keeps state spending flat while making significant investments in critical priorities for our state. The budget appropriates $217 billion over the next two years, including $49.1 million for state parks' weather-related construction and repairs, $160 million for deferred maintenance at state schools and hospitals, $350 million towards TRS-Care, and an additional $22.9 million for community colleges.
Crafting and passing the state budget is the most important thing we do as legislators, and I am satisfied this budget accomplishes as much as we could. We came into this session facing a considerable shortfall, but we balanced the budget while also addressing the critical needs of our growing state.
During the last interim, I served on the House Committee on County Affairs, which held multiple hearings on the ongoing crisis at Child Protective Services (CPS). The approved state budget helps end that crisis by providing an additional $508 million for CPS to address the shortfall in case workers, as well as additional support for family members who take in abused children, which is also known as kinship care.
It is our responsibility to make sure that the most vulnerable of Texans, our children, are protected. We have made significant strides this session that I believe will address the financial needs of CPS as well as addressing policies and procedures that make more sense.
Locally, I authored House Bill 848, which allows smaller municipalities to have the ability to protect schools and youth-oriented areas from registered sex offenders. The bill, attached to another bill that successfully made it to the Governor’s office, awaits the Governor’s signature.
I also passed legislation creating a County Court at Law to help with the case load burden on existing District Courts in Grimes County, as well as legislation amending the Colorado County Groundwater Conservation District's enabling legislation to allow the district to assess export fees that are more consistent with surrounding districts. I sponsored and helped pass two bills relating to high speed rail: one that would prohibit state funds from being used to finance any potential private high-speed rail line has already been signed into law. The other would require the operator to comply with certain safety guidelines as well as coordinate with local, state, and federal law enforcement officials; it awaits the Governor’s approval.
The session was also not without its share of disappointments. House Bill 3904, a bill I authored after the Fayetteville valedictorian was denied admission by the University of Texas, would have required public universities to admit qualified valedictorians automatically despite their class size, a problem mostly faced by small-school students. HB 3904 passed unanimously out of the House Committee on Education, but was one of many local bills killed on what has been called "The Mother's Day Massacre." No reason was given why the bill was included in the list targeted by the late-stage parliamentary maneuver that killed HB 3904 and a large number of other bills.
One of the biggest disappointments of the session was that House Bill 21, the school finance bill authored and passed by the House, died in the Senate.