Rep. Donna Howard 86th Session Recap

 
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Friend,

With another Texas Legislative Session behind us, I wanted to again thank you for the privilege of representing House District 48 and the responsibility you’ve entrusted in me as your State Representative. It can be a whirlwind keeping track of all the legislation in flux during the frantic 140-day session, but your support made it possible to focus on real policy.

In January, I sent you an email outlining priorities for my office, and that included:

  • School finance reform

  • Better policies to address sexual assault

  • Improving services and outcomes for the state’s foster youth

  • Greater access to healthcare - particularly for women, and the well-being of pregnant mothers

  • Maximizing the effectiveness of taxpayer dollars

I’m happy to report back that those efforts on your behalf were successful enough so that I was honored to make Texas Monthly’s Best Legislators list. I was also able to pass valuable policy on a number of other issues such as higher education affordability, responsible gun storage, our local environment, and women’s criminal justice reform. 

You can find more information about these topics on my website, but here is a summary:

School Finance 

The state passed a landmark school finance overhaul (HB 3) that injects an additional $7.5 billion into our schools. For years, I’ve been calling for the state to increase its share of school funding. This bill certainly does that, although the cost for this improvement will escalate dramatically after two years. You can read my assessment of it in the Austin American Statesman op-ed here

I successfully amended a bill that I’ve filed for the past five sessions onto HB 3. HB 314 allows public schools to use a dedicated stream of state revenue to pay for childcare and other services critical to the success of students with children of their own. 


Myself, Sen. Kirk Watson and Gov. Abbott right before the signing ceremony for HB 1590 creating a Sexual Assault Survivors’ Task Force.

Myself, Sen. Kirk Watson and Gov. Abbott right before the signing ceremony for HB 1590 creating a Sexual Assault Survivors’ Task Force.

Supporting Survivors

This session was notable for the comprehensive approach the legislature took to address sexual violence. I’m proud to have played a key role in those efforts, having passed two bills that have been hailed for their significant policy approaches to sexual assault. HB 1590 creates a Sexual Assault Survivors’ Task Force in the Governor’s office, pulling together a multi-disciplinary, interagency task force to establish survivor-centered best practices, and coordinate how these standards can complement each other. This task force will conduct a biennial survey of survivor services across Texas, and develop a gaps analysis that can show the public and policymakers what needs to be done to bring the state up to those standards. 

HB 1735 is a comprehensive “Texas Title IX” that puts into place fair and accountable processes for university investigations into sexual assault, harassment, stalking and dating violence. It ensures allegations are taken seriously, and makes prevention and education a vital component. SB 284, which I sponsored for Sen. Chuy Hinojosa, clarifies the disciplinary process for forensic scientists when misconduct is alleged.  

Foster Youth

To tackle some of the problems facing our foster youth, I was able to pass two pieces of legislation. HB 1702 directs resources to liaison officers at public higher education institutions to support students who are former foster youth. Although these students qualify for a tuition waiver, only three percent currently graduate with a bachelor’s degree. This legislation increases their chances of success. 

HB 475 provides additional training for our foster youth who are pregnant or parenting. These youth -- basically children having children -- can benefit from parenting training and support, and break the cycle of abuse and neglect. I’m hopeful this legislation will improve the lives of some of our most vulnerable Texans. 

Healthcare Access

A perennial problem for our state is Republican leadership’s inability to pass common-sense legislation, such as Medicaid Expansion, that would increase healthcare access and lower costs. Nevertheless, I fought for both simple and intensive healthcare legislation. 

I passed HB 961, which gives school nurses the ability to remove concussed students from athletic activities as well as serve on their school district’s concussion oversight teams. I also worked with Republicans to prioritize funding for the state’s waiting lists, the longest in the nation for home and community-based services for individuals with developmental disabilities. 

Finally, I filed HB 1146 to protect healthcare professionals by requiring employer-run workplace violence prevention programs. With significant support, I made great strides on this landmark bill. While it, unfortunately, failed to move through the legislative process in time, I’m confident it can pass next session. 

Reproductive Rights

Sadly, women’s health was dealt with more harm than good yet again. Republican leadership decided to focus on legislation that armed them with political rhetoric for the next election cycle rather than addressing actual issues like maternal mortality and morbidity. HB 16, the purported “Born Alive Bill,” was offered on the false premise that infants in Texas are being killed after failed abortions. Rather than engaging in partisan politics, I simply spoke the truth about the bill - specifically, that there are no such cases in Texas

There was also SB 22, which prohibits women’s health providers like Planned Parenthood from receiving public funds from local jurisdictions to provide preventive care services. My conservative colleagues ignored the fact that no abortions are performed at these clinics, and furthermore, that abortions already cannot be funded by public funds. Instead, SB 22 has been signed into law, and will only hurt our local women’s health providers’ abilities to fund important services unrelated to abortion like HIV tests and breast and cervical screenings. 

There were glimmers of hope, including my HB 800 which would have provided contraceptive coverage to young Texans in the Child Health Insurance Program, or CHIP. I was pleased to receive bipartisan support to vote the bill out of the House. It was disappointing, however, that the Senate did not even give it a hearing, despite the fact that Texas is one of only two states in the entire country that does not provide this coverage. Regardless, women’s health will always be an issue that I will fight for in the legislature because Texas women deserve better. 

Responsible Budget for Taxpayers

This was my fourth session to be appointed to the House Appropriations Committee, which crafts the state’s budget for the upcoming biennium. I have always advocated for a responsible budget. This means prioritizing investments that will actually help Texas families without breaking the backs of taxpayers. As our population grows so do funding liabilities like healthcare, education, and pensions. This is why I was an author on HB 20, the Texas Legacy Fund bill, which is an idea that I have championed since 2017. This legislation would have created a long term fund comprised of dollars from the state’s savings account, the Economic Stabilization Fund, that would be strategically and responsibly invested in order to generate revenue for the state - all without raising taxes on Texans. Unfortunately, the bill failed to pass through the Senate. I will be back next session to continue pushing for responsible fiscal policy like HB 20, to ensure that our families are taken care of without unnecessary and unjustified tax increases. 

I was also able to leverage my experience on the Appropriations Committee to direct funding towards impactful investments. From healthcare insurance premium assistance programs to increased funding for higher education to air quality improvement initiatives, I advocated on behalf of investments that Texans will benefit from in their daily lives. For a complete view of the work I did in the Appropriations Committee, give my blog a read. In particular, I am proud of the work I was able to do for sexual assault survivors throughout the state by promoting the expenditure of an additional $64 million in funding across a wide range of policies impacting justice and care for survivors of sexual assault. 

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Other items

Environment

I’m proud to say that I was one of 10 legislators this session to receive a ‘perfect’ rating on the Environment Texas legislative scorecard. For as long as I’ve been on the Appropriations Committee, I’ve been working with local governments to restore and maintain state funds for regional air quality monitoring via Rider 7 in the TX Commission on Environmental Quality’s budget. Last session, this important rider was vetoed, but this time I was able to restore $4.5 million in funding by working with the Governor’s office and my colleagues. I also worked with my colleagues to kill two other bills on the local and consent calendar that would have impacted our central Texas aquifers. Finally, I worked with Sen. Watson to find a flexible way to tap into local funding and philanthropy to preserve the open space at the historic Lions Municipal Golf Course.



College Affordability 

The rising cost of college is a problem facing Texans in every district, and HD 48 is no different. Using my position on the Higher Education and Appropriations Committees, I was able to work on several pieces of legislation to help bring down costs.

HB 2206 ultimately got folded into a larger bill, and allows public finance corporations to utilize federally designated, tax-exempt bonds to substantially lower interest rates for student loan refinancing. 

I continued to promote open educational resources (OER) - free or at-cost instructional materials. Textbook costs increased 88% from 2006-16, and I focused on bringing that down.  I passed riders to fund the creation of an online repository for OER materials; expand the existing Texas Education Agency funding for OER to dual credit courses, and worked with Chairman Chris Turner to ensure that dual credit articulation agreements include an assessment of OER availability. 

Finally, I was able to partner with colleagues to pass college transferability legislation that will help ensure fewer credit hours are lost due to transfer, therefore speeding up the pace toward graduation and lowering the overall cost of a degree. 

Responsible Gun Use

I was pleased that the legislature included my budget rider directing the Dept. of Public Safety (DPS) to spend $1 million to implement a safe storage public safety awareness campaign. This common-sense measure does not create any new laws. It simply reminds firearms owners to safely store their guns similar to PSAs like “Click It or Ticket” and “Don’t Mess with Texas.” With a significant number of Texas children accessing unstored firearms and causing harm to themselves or others, as well as the frequent use of unsecured firearms in suicides, we need to do what we can to encourage responsible ownership.

Equal Opportunities for Women.

After learning that incarcerated women have inequitable access to educational and vocational opportunities, I filed HB 3227, which requires the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) to adopt and implement policies that will promote incarcerated women’s access to educational, vocational, and other pre-release programs. Sixty-four percent of the women in TDCJ are there for non-violent offenses, many of whom are struggling with complex trauma, poverty, mental illness, and substance use disorder. It is in everyone’s best interest for these women to use their time in prison to avail themselves of opportunities that will allow them to turn their lives around.

Thank you again for the opportunity to represent HD 48, your support and feedback makes it all worthwhile. This is just a portion of what I was busy with during the session. Please visit my website for further details.  As always, please feel free to contact my office on these and other issues. You can also keep up to date via Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. I’m looking forward to hearing from you.



Thanks,

Donna

My staff size doubles when we are in session. From left to right: Koby Ahmed, Elizabeth Stitt, Renzo Soto, Rep. Howard, Cristina Masters, Laura Gorsky, Alyssa Foy.

My staff size doubles when we are in session. From left to right: Koby Ahmed, Elizabeth Stitt, Renzo Soto, Rep. Howard, Cristina Masters, Laura Gorsky, Alyssa Foy.

Rep. Howard Statement on Border Conditions

I’ve heard from a number of constituents asking what my office is doing to address the inhumane conditions we are seeing at detention centers in Texas. Please click the photo below to read my statement on the situation, and for those that are able, you can use this list by the Texas Tribune to connect with organizations providing aid to those stuck in such horrible conditions.

Rep. Howard Statement on HB 1, Texas State Budget

Governor Greg Abbott has signed and approved the budget for fiscal years 2020 and 2021. See my statement on its passage below. Clicking the image will take you to a pdf version.

 
 

Admittedly, the Legislature's process for writing the budget is not the easiest to follow. That is why I also want you to know about the funding strategies that I personally worked on and managed to get into the final budget:

  • Education

    • Funding to maintain national and regional educational partnerships that provide cost-saving resources, such as professional development for teachers and access to accredited post-secondary online courses;

    • Increased funding for TEXAS Grants, the state's primary higher education financial aid program for students with financial need;

    • Creation of a state repository for open-education resources to help combat the rising costs of textbooks in higher education;

    • Increased formula funding for all higher education institutions in Texas;

    • Increased research funding for all eligible higher education institutions in Texas;

    • Commission of a study to reevaluate and reconstruct higher education funding formulas to prevent the continued degradation of funding for higher education institutions;

    • Funding for co-enrollment programs, which seeks to place community college students in four-year universities, such as ACC's Path to Admission through Co-Enrollment (PACE);

    • Commission of a study to reconstruct the state's higher education grant programs to reduce the state's nursing workforce shortage;

    • Protection of UT Austin's Darrell K. Royal Alzheimer's Initiative to ensure that it will only fund Alzheimer's research.

  • Sexual Assault

    • Funding and three Full-Time Employees for Sexual Assault Survivors’ Task Force in the Governor's Office;

    • Funding for improved crime lab services and salary increases for forensic analysts;

    • Workforce pipeline for crime labs through partnerships with the University of North Texas and Sam Houston State University;

    • Creation of best practices to overall statewide efforts to address sexual assault through a state university such as UT Austin's Institute on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault;

    • Statewide audit of sexual assault investigations by the State Auditor's Office;

    • Funding for grants to Sexual Assault Forensic Exam-Ready facilities to ensure that sexual assault victims receive forensic exams.

  • Healthcare

    • Funding to provide healthcare insurance premium assistance to low-income and middle class small business employees in Central Texas;

    • Increased funding for women's health;

    • Reduction of the state's waitlist for home and community-based services for individuals with developmental disabilities

  • Environmental

    • Restored funding for air quality planning activities to reduce ozone in near non-attainment areas to achieve national standards for air quality throughout Texas, including Austin.

  • Firearm Safety

    • Creation of a statewide public awareness campaign on safe firearm storage, similar to "Click It or Ticket" and "Don't Mess with Texas", in order to prevent fatalities and injuries from inappropriate access to firearms, particularly by children.

Team Howard worked hard this session on behalf of House District 48 and the rest of the state to make investments that can actually make a difference for you and your family. It is always an honor to represent our community at the state legislature, and I look forward to continue working on your behalf over the interim before the next legislative session in 2021.

- Rep. Donna Howard



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Join Us For an HD 48 Town Hall Meeting!

Join Us For an HD 48 Town Hall Meeting!

Last week, Rep. Howard hosted the first in her series of October Town Hall Meetings in House District 48. There will be three more in the next couple of weeks, at locations across the district. Please join us to get a wrap-up of the recent #txlege session, to hear about what to expect in the legislative interim, or to voice your questions or concerns. 

Run the Tape: HD 48 Town Hall at Small Middle School

Run the Tape: HD 48 Town Hall at Small Middle School

On Wednesday, October 4th, Rep. Howard hosted the first in her series of October Town Hall Meetings. The event was well-attended, and it was a vibrant discussion that covered topics such as women's health, property taxes, school finance, redistricting, and transgender health, among many others. You can watch the video below, or by clicking this link.

HD 48 Town Hall Meeting w/ Rep. Donna Howard

HD 48 Town Hall Meeting w/ Rep. Donna Howard

On October 4th, Rep. Howard will host a Town Hall Meeting at Small Middle School in House District 48. She'll provide a recap of the recent Regular and Special Sessions of the Texas Legislature, discuss what to expect in the legislative interim, and answer questions from the audience. 

You can RSVP for the meeting by going to its Facebook Event Page

Resources for Hurricane Preparedness

Resources for Hurricane Preparedness

Forecasters have just upgraded Tropical Storm Harvey to a Category 1 hurricane, and it is expected to make landfall tomorrow. Computer models have already suggested it will increase to a Category 3 hurricane by landfall and could drop a dozen or more inches of rain in less than a day, posing risks of severe flooding and storm damage all along the coast. Here are some resources to help you prepare for the storm.

Team Howard Recap of Final Women's Health Advisory Committee Meeting

Last Monday marked the final meeting of the Women's Health Advisory Committee (WHAC), which is set to expire on September 1st of this year. The agenda featured two major items: a presentation on maternal mortality in Texas by Dr. Lisa Hollier, the Chair of the state's Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Task Force, and an update on the state's women's health programs. Here are a few key points from that discussion:

Special Session Wrap-Up: Here's What Passed

Special Session Wrap-Up: Here's What Passed

On Tuesday, the Texas Legislature wrapped up its Special Session. After 29 days, a total of 12 bills had been sent to the Governor's desk, all of which have now been signed into law. Here's a quick summary of those measures, and how Rep. Howard voted on them: