At noon on January 8, 2019, the 86th Texas Legislature took the oath of office. I am honored to have been chosen to represent you. We will only have 140 days to pass bills, so covering everything important to you requires focus and a great deal of communication.
I made a promise to keep you informed and to seek out your input directly, and these Sit-Reps in the Advocate are a part of fulfilling that promise. From now until June, I will be writing regularly, and will share information about the legislative session, and direct requests for your input and feedback about specific issues and decisions coming before the legislature.
Since the close of the 85th Session a year and a half ago, your HD20 staff and I have been working to assemble a legislative agenda for the 86th session. Take a look at the top ten items that are on our list so far, along with my position on those issues—in 100 words or less. I would appreciate your feedback and input on these issues, and any others you believe should be brought to the forefront.
10. Improving the Process and Leadership in the House
With a new Speaker of the House, there is an opportunity to shake up some of the old rules of the House that don’t serve us anymore. If we provide a way for the members of a committee to put a bill up for consideration even if the chair doesn’t want it heard, and for putting a bill with more than 76 sponsors on the floor for consideration by the full house, we can make sure that one representative can’t hold up legislation important to the entire state.
9. Criminal Justice Reform
We are the most imprisoned nation on Earth, with more than 1,000,000 people incarcerated. While imprisonment is a powerful tool to punish criminals and protect society, it doesn’t do us any good when we release people back into society with their links to the outside damaged; and their access to legal forms of income limited or completely eliminated. Doing so sets them up for a lifetime of resorting to crime. By looking at all the tools we have at our disposal, including rehabilitation, special veterans and drug courts, and counseling, we can reduce crime and imprisonment at the same time.
8. Public School Safety & Counseling
Following the tragic shooting in Santa Fe, Governor Abbott convened a panel of teachers, school administrators, legislators, as well as community and faith leaders to address not only how to make our students safer from physical violence, but to examine the core of what has made violence in our schools, from bullying to shootings, a more common occurrence in the last few decades. I commend Governor Abbott on this approach, and I look forward to finding a way to address these weighty issues in manner that respects the fundamental rights of parents, teachers, administrators, and students alike.
All children deserve a chance to make something of themselves, but not everyone is best served by attending a four-year university. Over the last few decades we have focused our students so much toward college readiness that we have stigmatized vocational training as less than desirable. However, with Futures Command, BitMain, and other industries coming to Central Texas, we will see abundant opportunities in trades and vocational fields. If we want to take full advantage of the economic engine we need to fund, support, and champion students who choose to pursue vocational fields.
6. Ending the
Driver’s Responsibility Program for Small Violations
The Driver’s Responsibility Program was designed to punish DWI offenses, adding a surcharge of $3000 – $6000 to each offense to help pay for trauma care costs. Over time, though, this penalty—purposefully designed to be overly harsh—was extended to any series of three minor violations, from a broken tail light to light speeding, within three years. It carries a minimum of $1,800 in surcharges, at least $600 more if you get another ticket, and a suspended license if you can’t pay. These punishments don’t fit the crime. We should limit this program to DWI level offenses and higher.
Improvements and Toll Road Reform
Texas has the most road miles of any state— 313,656. The next closest is California with 180,000. As Texas’s growing population places increased strain on our transportation infrastructure, it also places pressure on us to rise to the challenge it presents. That starts with looking past the two-year budget cycle and structuring our roadways, not only for the needs we have now, but also facilitating growth for the future. With companies such as BitMain moving into smaller communities like Rockdale, improving our rural roads to support commercial levels of traffic is essential to maintaining growth.
4. Public Education
Funding Formula Reform
The method we use to calculate funding for our schools is broken. It is the result of decades of bad compromises and political games, using testing scores, attendance, local tax rates, and the special needs of students to calculate how much the school gets for each individual student. Every time the legislature patches the system up just enough to get through the next two-year cycle we make it a little more complicated, and a little bit worse. Justice Willett of the Texas Supreme Court said it best; “Our students deserve a funding system designed for the 21st Century.”
3. Public School Finance Reform
Education finance reform is property tax reform. Constitutionally, funding education is supposed to be the responsibility of the state government, not local school districts. However, over the last 60+ years, the state has used one workaround after another to slowly shift that burden to local property taxes, which now make up more than half of the average property tax bill. The Texas Supreme Court made it clear, while all those workarounds are not technically unconstitutional, they have created such a mess that the only workable solution is to start over from scratch. Real property tax relief requires school finance reform.
2. Aggregate & Stone Mining
Texas’ explosive growth requires raw materials to build roads, houses, stores, and offices. That concrete comes from quarries. The lax regulations and permitting that allowed industry to expand exponentially while operating far from inhabited areas doesn’t work when a quarry is next to a housing development. New rules are required if we want residential and industrial economic development to grow together, and I’ll have a full breakdown of my proposed plan for those rules in an upcoming newsletter. If you would like a sneak peek, you can look at a breakdown of my proposed legislation at Capitol.Texas.Gov and look up HB509.
1. Long Term
Prosperity for All Texans
As Texas continues to burst at the seams with new growth, we have an opportunity take a long-term view of Texas’s future to continue that growth. If we expand our focus beyond our major metropolitan areas and build up our rural regions as well, we can begin to lay the foundations that will support the next steps in our continued growth. From infrastructure spending to vocational education, when we invest in our rural communities, we invest in all of Texas. I am committed to expanding our record growth into all areas of the state, and far into the future.
As important as all of these issues are, nothing is more important to me as your representative than hearing your voice. No matter who you supported in November, in January we come together as one district and work to better not only our district but our state and nation as well. I want to hear what is important to you and why it is important. I read every communication, and do my best to respond in kind, so please email me at email@example.com let me know your thoughts on upcoming bills and issues coming before the House.
Is your top priority on the list?
If not, let me know! I want to make sure that every voice is heard going into this legislative session. I took an oath to go to work for you with everything I have, and I will answer every email and respond to every call, on every issue, for each and every Texan.
I believe in keeping the people in control, even when it comes to communication. If you would like to subscribe to my e-mail newsletter, please visit my website TerryWilsonForTexas.com and submit your email address in the page footer or email me at Terry.Wilson@house.texas.gov