- Straight-ticket voting. The Texas House voted late Friday night (with final passage on Saturday) in favor of House Bill 25, which would eliminate straight-ticket voting in Texas. I voted against the bill because I don’t believe we should take away an option from voters to vote straight-ticket, particularly in Harris County, where our ballot can be eight pages long and include dozens of races. I have never heard one single voter in our district say they want to get rid of straight-ticket voting. Nevertheless, the bill is moving to the senate, where it is likely to pass and be signed by the governor.
- School accountability. This week, the House also passed House Bill 22, which will re-work the A-F grading system the legislature passed last session, which would grade districts and campuses in the same manner students are graded, so parents can have a better understanding of how well their child’s school is performing. The new bill will delay implementation until 2019 and eliminates the most important (and controversial with school districts) element of the A-F system — giving overall grades to campuses and school districts. While schools don’t like it, this provision would have created a clear statement to parents of the level of education their children are receiving and whether they need to actively push their local schools to improve. Although our two school districts (Katy and CyFair) are high-performing districts, there are plenty of places in Texas where parents need to know that their schools aren’t serving their children well. There were several good accountability changes in the bill that more accurately reflect how a school or district is performing. So, as with several bills this session, I voted for House Bill 22 so that we can send it the senate with the hope that we can negotiate a better version of the bill for final passage.
- Lawsuit abuse.On Thursday, the House passed House Bill 1774, which will rein in abusive and excessive lawsuits after storms. The bill will prevent lawyers from driving up everyone’s insurance rates by filing thousands of lawsuits after every hail storm, hurricane or wildfire. A few lawyers have made a business model of filing hundreds of lawsuits, vastly overestimating the amount of damage and hoping to get large attorney’s fees awards, all while circumventing the law requiring them to give notice before the suit so the insurance claim can be settled without the need for litigation. After a storm, people need help to repair and rebuild, not a flood of lawyers looking to capitalize on their misfortune.
- Incentivize school tax cuts.I added an amendment to a bill this week to give school districts an incentive to cut taxes going forward. House Bill 486 was designed to allow school districts that cut their tax rates to go back up to whatever level voters had previously approved. The idea was that districts would be afraid to lower tax rates if they couldn’t raise them back to the current rate if they had a tough budget year. However, the bill as written would have allowed districts to take credit for prior tax cuts when determining what tax rate they could go back up to without a vote of the people — including the one the legislature already gave them money to offset when it passed the franchise tax in 2006. Since the bill’s authors argued that this tool would be necessary to give school districts incentives to cut taxes, my amendment provides that it only applies to tax cuts the districts make in the future. If our goal is to incentivize districts to cut taxes in the future, let’s apply the bill only to future tax cuts, not cuts that have already been made and reimbursed to the districts.
- Lower gun license fees. The House also passed Senate Bill 16, which will reduce the fees for a license to carry a handgun from $140 to what it actually costs the state — $40. A renewal would drop from $70 to $40. The state should not make a profit off of license fees, nor should it raise them to discourage people from getting a license. The fee for any license should only be the amount necessary to pay for the state’s cost in granting the license.
- Sanctuary cities update. Last week the House passed Senate Bill 4, which prevents sanctuary cites (and other local governments and colleges). The bill, which I supported, will require local governments to follow the law and honor requests by the federal government to detain prisoners in their custody who are illegal aliens. The House made some amendments, which the senate accepted. The bill now goes to Governor Greg Abbott for his signature.
You can follow all of my bills at http://www.house.state.tx.us/members/member-page/?district=132 , but here a few that made progress this week:
With only one week left to pass House Bills out of the House and send them to the Senate, the House Floor debate routinely goes far into the night and into the weekends. On Thursday, I passed HB 2927, which ensures that orders signed by associate judges are final, so people can be sure their adoptions, child custody rulings, and divorces are legally granted.
On Saturday, HB 523 was passed, which closes the loophole on recording of school board meetings. Some school boards have avoided recording and posting some meetings by moving them to a special meeting. HB 523 would ensure school districts follow the existing requirement to record meetings if they hear testimony or take a vote.
This week, I had 3 more bill hearings in the final week of committee hearings for House Bills in the Texas House. The Committee on Urban Affairs heard and voted out HB 2214, giving Katy a path forward to acquire more land for a cemetery, since Katy cemeteries are filling up. House Ways and Means also voted out a bill to close a loophole which was preventing tax masters from being paid for their work.
*Public Input Request*
After the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the federal RESTORE Act was passed to help cleanup and rehabilitation. This program hopes to bring economic development and environmental restoration of the Gulf Coast.
Now is your chance to speak up if you have interest in this issue. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is looking for public input on the Texas Multi-Year Implementation Plan, which will be submitted in order to apply for grant dollars under the RESTORE Act. This draft plan will be up for public comment until June 26. Visit www.restorethetexascoast.org to learn more and submit your comments.
Please feel free to contact me with support or opposition to legislation or legislative issues.
God bless Texas!
House District 132
Katy & Cypress