Weekly Session Update 15 — Highlights of the 83rd Session
June 12, 2013

I am honored to represent you as your State Representative down in Austin. This Session, I am proud to report that I was able to get much accomplished for House District 68.

Currently we are in a Special Session called by the Governor to address redistricting. This week I am excited to announce, he added pro-life issues and transportation to the call.

As we continue into the Special Session and interim, I wanted to make sure you had the contact information for both my office in the district and in Austin:

District Office:                                          Capitol Office
Contact: Jennifer Vogel                              Contact: Travis McCormick
(940) 759-6868                                           (512) 463-0526
110 W. Main St.                                            PO Box 2910
Gainesville, TX 76240                                Austin, TX 78768

Through sticking to my conservative principles and looking out for the needs of rural Texas, I was able to pass good common sense legislation and kill harmful legislation that would have had negative consequences for our area.

Below is a brief overview of the 83rd Legislative Session, broken down into the topics of Rural Life, Agriculture & Water, Protecting Life & Family Values, Second Amendment, Education, Healthcare, Transportation, and Budget & Taxation:

I was pleased to receive a spot on both the Agriculture & Livestock Committee and the Land & Resource Management Committee for the 83rd Session. Both of these committees gave me a stronger voice on rural and agriculture issues, as I was able to help determine which bills would make it to the House Floor.

I filed and signed onto numerous bills to help rural Texas this Session. One I was especially proud to put my name on was HB 4, the State Water Plan. Through this Legislation, we were able to put in place the State Water Implementation Fund of Texas (SWIFT), the method for financing water projects for the next 50 years. This will ensure our state is able to continue to grow and mitigate against long term drought.

Many of the issues brought to my attention before Session had to do with excessive regulations and fines from the TCEQ. To address this problem, I filed HB 3222 which would have forced the TCEQ to take into account population size when assessing a penalty. Although this bill failed to pass this Session, it enabled me to establish a working relationship with several top level directors of TCEQ, giving me a greater ability to work with them as issues come up. As we go forward into the future, I will continue to push for this common sense reform.

Another issue I heard frequently in my district travels was about the lack of access to DMVs in many rural areas. To remedy this, I signed onto a bill by Rep. Ken King that would allow for smaller counties to designate a county employee to administer this service. While this bill passed the House, the version the passed the Senate only establishes a pilot program. This means they will test this concept in a few counties before making this available to the entire state.

In addition to authoring these and other measures, I became well known around the Capitol for amending bills to carve out rural areas from expensive regulations and reporting requirements. Many times bills are passed with only urban interests in mind, causing unforeseen consequences for citizens of less populated areas. I kept a close eye out for legislation like this and on numerous occasions was the representative that provided the fix.

One area I felt we fell short this Session was in regards to protecting life and family values. Myself and others offered several pieces of legislation that would have advanced this goal, but unfortunately few, if any made it to the House Floor.

One bill I was proud to author and fight for was HB 1568, which would have prevented school districts from using taxpayer dollars, intended for educating children, on domestic partner benefits. Only a handful of districts are doing this, but several others are considering similar measures. In the City of Austin alone it is expected to cost state taxpayers over $600,000 per year.

I was proud to stand for unborn life this Session. I was a co-author of all the major pro-life bills including HB 2364 (Laubenberg) the Fetal Pain Bill that prohibits abortions after 20 weeks and HB 2816 (Burkett) which makes the requirements more strict for abortion doctors.

Because these and other bills failed to pass during the Session, 64 legislators and myself signed onto a letter by Rep. Hughes asking for Governor Perry to add pro-life issues to the Special Session. Earlier this week, we were notified that the Governor had decided to add pro-life issues to the call for the Special Session.

Throughout the Session, I was an enormous advocate for eroding unnecessary restrictions on the Second Amendment and protecting Texas gun owners from Federal overreach. I filed multiple bills and signed onto over a dozen measures that would help accomplish this.

Perhaps the bill I am most proud of and one I will definitely be pursuing in future Sessions is HB 3218, which would allow for concealed handgun license (CHL) holders to carry virtually everywhere. It makes no sense to me for law abiding citizens to be limited as to where they can protect themselves and their loved ones.

Another piece of legislation I am proud of is HB 698, which will give people in rural areas more flexibility when submitting their fingerprints for a CHL. Currently many must drive close to 100 miles to get to an authorized facility to receive their fingerprints, my legislation will require the DPS to develop an alternative method for them to submit their prints.

In addition to these measures I signed onto HB 553 (Otto), HB 627 (Krause) and HB 1076 (Toth) which would protect Texas gun owners from Federal overreach. I also signed onto HB 972 (Fletcher) which would allow for CHL holders to carry on a college campus and HB 223 (Huberty) which would allow for school board members to carry at meetings.

The Second Amendment is one of the most important rights we hold as Americans. We made several large strides this Session towards strengthening this right. Next Session, I hope to go even further towards ensuring all Texans are able to protect themselves.

This Session, I am proud to report that we restored funding to education and brought it back in line with population growth. We also moved more towards equity between school districts, and we are waiting to see how these measures are going to impact the ongoing lawsuit.

On the campaign trail I often expressed my major concerns with education were that as a state we test way too much and that an increased emphasis on vocational education is necessary to ensure students are more work force ready. I am proud to report that we passed several bills this Session that achieved both of these goals.

One of the most significant bills this Session was HB 5, which moved the number of required end-of-course exams from fifteen to five and promotes vocation education in graduation plans. This is an excellent step in the right direction for public education.

An issue many of you contacted me about this Session was CSCOPE. Many were concerned with the content in the lesson plans and the lack of oversight this program had from the State Board of Education (SBOE). It is for that reason that I signed onto legislation by Rep. Toth which will ensure that lesson plans developed for our classrooms are vetted by our SBOE.

The first bill I passed this Session was HB 697, which exempts booster clubs around the state from charging taxes. It is not right for the state to require these organizations that exist exclusively for the benefit of our school children to charge these taxes, just so the state can make a few extra cents off the sale of a Dr. Pepper at a football concession stand.

In a time where retirement plans across the country struggle to remain solvent, we were able to take the necessary steps to bring actuarial soundness to the Teacher Retirement System in Texas through the passage of SB 1458. This legislation demonstrated the culmination of several months of bringing together both retired and active teachers to find a solution that will have long term benefits for both parties.

In healthcare, we improved the funding mechanism for doctor-hospital reimbursement, which will help rural hospitals stay viable when competing against urban areas for quality medical care.

We also increased funding for mental health, which will improve the lives of thousands across the state and have positive effects on public safety and longterm cost savings for the state.

In SB 8, we set up a variety of provisions to help the state detect and prevent Medicaid fraud, a problem that costs the state hundreds of millions in tax-dollars each year.

I was also proud to co-author HJR 59 which would have helped the state combat Obamacare, through empowering individuals in their right to purchase healthcare.

Transportation was largely the priority that took a back seat this Session. From the beginning, it was not funded through the appropriations process, and it wasn’t until the very end did anyone try to address this problem, and its funding mechanism was a tax-increase.

We did, however, manage to find close to half a billion dollars for repairing the shale roads that have been run down by oil and gas production. These dollars will go far for helping ensure safe roads in rural Texas, where so much oil and gas production occurs.

Because it is so important that we address transportation sooner, rather than later, Governor Perry added transportation to the call for the Special Session we started earlier this month.

With close to $17 Trillion dollars in national debt, a top priority of mine has always been ensuring that Texas has a strong economy and is fiscally sensible with our budget, so we do not end up like the Federal Government or California. Unfortunately, by the end of Session, we passed few significant tax reforms and ended up with a budget that went well above its initial drafts in spending and additionally dipped into the Rainy Day Fund. It is for that reason, I had to vote no (you can read more on that here).

One thing to be proud of is that we did pass over a billion dollars in tax relief for the coming biennium. HB 500 (Hilderbran) offers $700 million in business tax relief and makes permanent the $1 million small business tax exemption. In addition, it cuts the tax rate for the franchise tax by 2.4% in 2014 and 5% in 2015. Also, 80% of Texas electrical consumers will see a small reduction in their electricity bills through some reforms done there.

If we want Texas to continue to flourish, we must continue to lower the tax-burden on small business and provide a climate that encourages companies to move to our state.

I could not have had the successful Session I had without the input of constituents just like you. Many of the bills I proposed and successfully passed were conceived from ideas and issues constituents had brought to my attention.

As we go forward into the interim, please continue to approach me with your ideas. The interim is the perfect time to work on bills for the next Session to make sure there is ample opportunity to perfect the language and get other members on board with our legislation.

The Session might be over, but that does not mean I am done working for you. Please continue to contact us with all of your questions and concerns. If you haven’t already, be sure to ‘LIKE’ us on Facebook and ‘FOLLOW’ us on Twitter to receive realtime updates on everything happening in House District 68.

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