Austin, TX - The Capitol Complex came alive on Tuesday, January 13 as both the Texas Senate and House of Representatives convened for the beginning of the 84th Texas Legislature.
We return with a host of challenges and a fresh lineup at the top, including the first new Governor and Lieutenant Governor in more than a decade. The Legislature meets for 140 days every other year, not counting specially called sessions.
Proudly on Tuesday, I took the Oath to uphold the constitutions of Texas and the United States and serve the Citizens in Hardin, Jasper, Newton, Polk, and Tyler counties. As I took the Oath, I was joined by four great Southeast Texans: Lonnie Grissom, Gil Tubb, and Heyward and Kathy Fetner.
As Pastor of the Day, Pastor Chris Kirkendall, who also serves as a Hardin County Commissioner, began the day Wednesday with a powerful and uplifting prayer that immensely blessed the members of the Texas House. We also considered our Housekeeping rule or H.R. 3 concerning housekeeping resolutions. One specific amendment in this resolution proposed to allow legislators to install DPS panic buttons in their offices at their discretion. I voted against amendments that would increase our budgets and provide legislators with added security in the Capitol. With Southeast Texas families and small business still struggling in this tough economy, government office budgets should increase. Also legislators should not afford themselves with added security measures not provided to visiting Citizens.
My floor desk assignment is Desk 77. In each desk in the Texas House, there is a Christian Holy Bible. In the front of the Bible, a member writes his name, the House District he serves, the session number, and a scripture that will inspire him throughout the session. After prayerful consideration, I chose 2 Chronicles 1:10 KJV: "Give me now wisdom and knowledge, that I may go out and come in before this people: for who can judge this thy people, that is so great?"
Constitutionally, there is only one bill that your Texas Legislature must pass: the budget (H.B. 1). This week your Texas House of Representatives released its two-year state budget plan. This is a constructive conservative beginning point that spends $202.4 billion during the 2016-17 budget cycle, up from an estimated $202.1 billion in the current cycle - an increase of only 0.2 percent.
This is significantly less than the sum of population growth and the increase in the rate of inflation. This base House budget projects to leave $13 billion in state coffers in order to respond to emergencies and address future one-time infrastructure needs.
However, it prioritizes public and higher education by funding enrollment growth, increasing graduate medical education in order to begin addressing shortages of medical professionals in Texas and also increases TEXAS Grants. The House budget extends and expands Department of Public Safety operations along the border through the end of August 2017.
In addressing our transportation challenges, this budget ends diversions of the State Highway Fund, with all of the money in that Fund going to the Texas Department of Transportation. Moreover, the House budget maintains expansions in mental health services from the current budget while committing additional dollars to mental health care for veterans.
On Thursday, January 15 the House passed H.R. 4 having to do with the rules which will govern the order of standing committees, floor procedure, order of business, and calendars in the Texas House for the 84th Legislature. There were amendments and ensuing debates on a wide variety of rule changes.
Wrapping up this week in the House, Governor Perry gave his farewell address to a Joint Session of the Legislature. With his usual energy and optimism, Perry pointed out that during his 14 years of leadership that the state led the nation in job creation, saw its population grow and enjoyed a prosperous economy. He also emphasized greater bipartisanship and political compromise to ensure a greater Texas.
Lastly, but certainly not least, I was honored to be able to connect with West Hardin students Josiah Atkinson, Lilly Payne, and Brett May, and Onalaska student Brittany Lightfoot as they competed in the State Finals UIL Mock Congress competition at the Capitol. I am so proud of them for their hard work and achievements that will take them far in life.
P.O. Box 395,