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.