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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.