It’s hard to believe we are approaching the end of 2016 and are already looking ahead to the start of a new year. During the next two months, your Texas Legislature will be transitioning from the interim period to being fully engaged in the 85th Legislative Session.
Once the next legislature is sworn in on Tuesday, January 10, 2017, we have exactly 140 days to complete our work for the betterment of Texas. Since we are a biennial body, anything still pending on Day 141 will have to wait two more years before it can be considered again.
Over the past year, I have devoted considerable time to visiting with my colleagues and constituents about their priorities for this session, and how to best address many critical issues. Through these conversations, I am most encouraged by the priorities we will tackle and the results that will ultimately be achieved.
Texas faces some unique challenges that must be addressed during the upcoming legislative session. Certainly, ensuring that we strengthen our state’s success over the next biennium is our top priority. We want to make certain that Texas remains a competitive leader in comparison to other states and countries throughout the world.
Writing a state budget is never an easy task, but this session will be particularly challenging due to declining revenues from the oil and gas industry. However, I feel certain that once session has concluded, lawmakers will have developed a fiscally responsible two-year spending plan that makes great advancements based upon the priorities of this state while also making sure overall state spending is not greater than increases in population and inflation growth.
As Texas’ population has rapidly grown, so too have our needs for greater water and road infrastructure in the state. These critical improvements will remain top priorities for the Legislature to address. While we have made drastic improvements on both these fronts over the last two sessions, more work is necessary as we review concerns related to our state’s future water supply and the growing congestion on our state highways.
No responsibility is greater to me than that of protecting our children in the state of Texas. Recently many disturbing reports have come to light related to the state’s foster care system and the Legislature will make every effort to improve the state’s system for protecting and helping abused children in response to these allegations. Although we previously passed numerous reforms to the Child Protective Services system (CPS) and increased funding to CPS by $231 million, it is clear the statewide foster care system is broken and must be fixed immediately.
The next step in providing for our children is to ensure they are equipped with strong education systems. The Texas Legislature has been reviewing key aspects of the state’s school finance system while out of session, and I would not be surprised to see several pieces of legislation filed to address the many shortfalls within our state’s education funding structure. I am confident that we will be able to improve overall education quality while also making our school finance system more efficient and fiscally sound this next session.
Securing our international border has remained an issue at the forefront of lawmakers’ minds during the interim. Although the Texas Legislature provided the Texas Department of Public Safety with $840 million to protect Texas’ border over the last two years, there continues to be risk related to criminal activities, including drug smuggling and human trafficking in counties neighboring Mexico and in large metropolitan areas of the state.
Finally, serving as Chairman of the House Committee on Investments and Financial Services has provided me with the opportunity to better understand the challenges facing our investment, financial, and banking climates in the state. As the Committee prepares its interim report ahead of session, we will make recommendations on what legislation should be filed to better safeguard our elder population from financial exploitation and protect everyday consumers online. Likewise, we must continue to improve and innovate the investment tools in Texas to adapt to our growing economy, bring more jobs and businesses to Texas and meet the needs of existing businesses in the state today.
Though many important issues ranging from tax relief to public safety and veteran services will be discussed and debated during the 85th Legislative Session, I expect these topics to be the most predominate. As always, it is an honor to serve you in the Texas House of Representatives, and I welcome your feedback on these and any other critical state issues. If you would like to share a thought with me, please always feel free to contact me at my Capitol office at 512-463-0688 or by e-mail at [email protected].