Legislative Update from Celia Israel, State Representative, HD-50
I feel like Dorothy – back from the land of Oz . Only my Oz was the Texas House of Representatives. While there weren’t any REAL flying monkeys – there were definitely challenges. I resisted the temptation to drop a house on top of some of those who disagreed with me, and I opted for the more reasonable solution: work across party lines to get stuff done.
This was my first session as a member of the Texas House. We had 140 days to get as much done as possible. Thanks to my staff who prepared well before and during session, I had 15 hearings, 6 bills passed through the Texas House and 4 bills sent to Governor Abbott.
Since session ended last week, I have already had a couple of visits with constituents and advocates. It felt really nice to be back among people who just want to know ‘what did you all just do?’
Read below to see our summary of what we just did. Thank you for caring about working towards a better Texas.
The Good –
This legislative session was billed as “the transportation session.” In the end, we made many strides toward relieving our transportation crisis.
SB 1032, an effort by Senator Kirk Watson and myself, will make it easier for state employees to telecommute, greatly reducing rush hour traffic downtown without costing taxpayers a dime.
HB 735, another bill I passed, directs the Department of Motor Vehicles to begin keeping a record of the number of alternatively fueled vehicles in the state to provide a better perspective on providing the future solvency of our transportation funding.
SJR 12 ensured that transportation-related revenues will go toward congestion mitigation by ending the diversion of state highway funds to the DPS.
SJR5 – We approved a possible new way to fund transportation: sales taxes. Voters will have to approve this, but SJR5 would dedicate an additional $2.5 billion of the general sales tax revenue to the highway fund beginning in 2017, and continue to dedicate all revenues in excess of $28 billion through 2032. Both funding streams would have triggers attached to them in case of downswings in the state economy.
It was an honor to serve as the Central Texas representative on the House Transportation Committee. Central Texas growth has exacerbated our congestion issues. As someone who has lived here since 1982, I know we brought this upon ourselves, and it is up to us to stand up for multi-modal and innovative solutions to solve this crisis.
Republicans and Democrats came together this session to make conditions in jails better for Texas inmates and their families.
HB 1083 will require the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to perform a mental health assessment of an inmate before confining them to administrative segregation. Placing mentally ill prisoners into solitary confinement is cruel. I was thrilled to see this important bill become law.
HB 549 forbids county jails from limiting prisoner visitation for disciplinary reasons and requires in-person visitation options. I was proud to stand up for inmate families and support this bill.
HB 1140, one of my own efforts this session, brings greater accountability and transparency around pregnant inmate care. We have heard horrifying anecdotes of mistreatment of pregnant inmates, and this legislation will get to the bottom of what is really happening in our county jails.
We are taking the beginning steps to go from tough on crime to smart on crime. I was proud to see such consistent bipartisanship on this important issue.
The Bad –
Although we did many good things, I am extremely disappointed in the budget that was ultimately approved. You have probably heard me talk a lot about our big rocks: public education and transportation and infrastructure funding. Instead of taking advantage of a booming economy, we chose to kick the can down the road to make political statements for a small, vocal minority.
There is no area that exemplifies misplaced priorities like the militarization of the Texas/Mexico border. Instead of working with communities to improve education and stimulate local businesses, we are appropriating $800 million in taxpayer funds for additional troopers and surveillance technology. This is where some of those taxpayer dollars are being used.
$325 million to keep the National Guard on the border and hire and train 250 additional troopers.
$143 million for a 10-hour DPS workday statewide.
$7.5 million toward a new Pilatus aircraft for DPS.
We are not the federal government. This is not the job we were sent to do. What we are constitutionally obligated to provide is a quality public education.
The Texas Constitution reads, “It shall be the duty of the Legislature of the State to establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools.” I feel that we failed that obligation this session. Instead of taking advantage of a booming economy to finally support our schools, our teachers remain underpaid. Our classrooms remain over-crowded. And our school administrators continue to be asked to do more with less.
The final budget allocated $700 million less for public education than the House version I supported.
Instead of funding a statewide full day pre-K program, we simply created a grant of post settlement funding program that will only benefit a few districts. Remember that $800 million border security funding? We could have provided full-day Pre-K for less than half of that amount.
The Governor signed HB 2804, which reduces public schools to an A-F rating. I believe it is unreasonable to assign a simple letter grade to our struggling districts as we continue to neglect our role in helping them succeed.
The fact that we chose to spend $800 million on militarizing the boarder instead of restoring cuts to our schools is the major reason I chose to vote against the budget. I will not be complicit with such a stunning display of misplaced priorities.
During my first term in the Texas House, it has been an honor to represent the people of House District 50. I am always eager to hear your views, and my office is committed to bringing people together to fix our problems – whether we are in session or not.
Do not hesitate to contact my office at (512) 463-0821 if you ever need anything. Our office is always available to help you and your family.
State Representative- HD 50
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Copyright © 2015 Celia Israel, All rights reserved.