A look back

Brazoria County Judge Matt Sebesta (center) introduced four state legislators from Brazoria County for a Wrap Up reviewing the actions of the 86th Legislature at Brazosport College. Sitting from left to right, State Representative Ed Thompson, State Senator Larry Taylor, State Senator Joan Huffman and Texas Speaker of the House Dennis Bonnen.                                  (Photo by Joshua Truksa)

The Economic Development Alliance for Brazoria County and the chambers of commerce for Alvin-Manvel, Angleton, Brazoria, Sweeny, West Columbia, Pearland and Brazosport joined forces Oct. 2 to host the 86th Legislative Session Wrap Up, featuring House Speaker and District 25 State Rep. Dennis Bonnen, State Sen. Joan Huffman, State Sen. Larry Taylor and State Rep. Ed Thompson to discuss the accomplishments of the most recent Texas Legislature.

After being introduced by Brazoria County Judge Matt Sebesta, Bonnen spoke first, telling the audience how lucky Brazoria County is among all counties in the state to have the representation it has, in that all of Brazoria County’s state representatives and state senators live in or near the county.

“There are many state senators who have to represent areas that they don’t live in because they have huge districts,” Bonnen said.

Bonnen said the senate and house worked phenomenally in the 86th legislative session, passing a budget without Gov. Greg Abbott using a single line-item veto.

“Honestly, we don’t know the last time a governor did not veto a dollar out of the budget,” Bonnen said.

Bonnen said Abbott agreed the successful collaboration between the two of them and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick removed any need for line item vetoes. Bonnen recounted Abbott’s explanation.

“He says ‘Because, you’re my partner, Gov. Patrick (sic) is my partner and the three of us led together this session. This is y’all’s budget. It is my budget. We are in this together,’” Bonnen said.

Bonnen humorously highlighted the ongoing issue of long wait times and queues at the Angleton Department of Public Safety driver’s license renewal office, saying he wanted to avoid being asked whether he was aware of the issue.

“I know, we’ve been working on it. Because of the four people on the stage today, there will be a new driver’s license office in Angleton, Texas,” Bonnen said, adding that he was disappointed that reporters from other parts of the state didn’t inquire about it during his meeting with the media the last day of the session before he mentioned that he had heard rumors of news agencies’ intention to “pop” him for ensuring money in the budget for a new driver’s license office in his hometown.

And one reporter goes, ‘Oh, you know about that?’ I said, ‘I’m waiting for you to write it! I’m proud of it!’ I said, ‘I want every one of you to put it on the front page of every newspaper, blog and whatever you guys represent. Yes, we demanded a new driver’s license office in Angleton, Texas.”

Huffman concurred with Bonnen that the 86th legislative session was much more cooperative than others in the past.

“You’re completely correct that it was a different legislative session,” Huffman said to Bonnen.

“It was just a pleasure of being able to take care of your business, the people’s business in the way that we were able to do it,” Huffman said.

Both Taylor and Huffman highlighted their success to reform public education funding this session, a priority issue for Abbott and a flagship issue this year for Taylor.

“I was able to pass Senate Bill 12, which was — finally brought the Teacher’s Retirement System to be actuarily sound,” Huffman said.

Huffman also spoke about the legislature’s passage this year of solutions to tackle human trafficking (such as more resources for victims and harsher punishment for criminals who engage in human trafficking), sexual assault on college campuses and school safety.

“This session was particularly stressful for me but it was also, at the end of the day, as it all finally worked out, highly successful,” Taylor said, before crediting Bonnen’s, Patrick’s and Abbott’s leadership in enabling education reforms to go through.

Taylor said that education funding is addressed by the legislature only about once every 30 years and that Texas has seen a major demographic shift since the issue was last evaluated.

“Our largest demographic now of our student population is kids who qualify for free or reduced lunch — 60 percent. It’s also our fastest growing demographic, and it’s historically and unfortunately our least educated. We’ve done the worst job with our largest and fastest growing demographic,” Taylor said.

Taylor said the state not only increased state funding, but prioritized funds where they were most needed, including increasing teachers’ salaries to make compensation competitive and attract “good, bright, young people” to pursue careers in teaching and incentivizing teachers with increased pay for better performance and willingness to work in more challenging schools.

Taylor said the new legislation for school funding would also translate to relief for Texas taxpayers, as the state’s share of school funding has been increased by $5 billion across the state, relieving Texas taxpayers of approximately 5 cents per $100 value on their property. The more important change however, Taylor said, was the 2.5 percent revenue cap on school districts.

“Here’s the way the current system works. You got a glass of water, however much they fill up with local property value, the state makes up the difference,” Taylor said, before explaining that the rising property values were decreasing the states share significantly and it would soon be nothing, leaving the local taxpayers of each district to hold the full brunt of their schools’ funding needs.

Under the new system, if a district’s property values increase by more than 2.5 percent in a given year, the district is limited to raising the tax rate no more than 2.5 percent and the state makes up the new difference, increasing its share.

Thompson briefly mentioned his work on the Environmental Regulation and the Transportation Committees.

Thompson said air quality is a major issue for Brazoria County as it is a non-attainment county, and such a designation limits certain expansion and other activities that businesses could otherwise engage in for the betterment of the county’s economy.

“We’ve really got to get our hands on that. One of the things you hear a lot about today is people are talking about climate change and whatever the science, whatever you believe, it’s an important issue. It’s an issue that we need to be looking at and talking about and thinking about,” Thompson said.

Thompson then gave some examples of how Texas’ economy is growing, citing British automaker McLaren’s decision to move its U.S. headquarters to Colleyville from New York City and Toyota’s move to Plano from California.

“You could go down the list of companies that are moving to Texas. They’re moving here because of — number one I believe because of the people, because of what they see here, but also they’re moving here because of the opportunities and we have to keep those opportunities alive, and I think everyone on this stage, and if the 181 were all on this stage they would all say the same thing, that that’s what we’re to be about. We’re to be about doing the business of Texas,” Thompson said.

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