Every session crafting a two-year spending plan involves making careful, sometimes difficult decisions and understanding our priorities. Nothing embodied this process more than writing our current budget while facing a significant revenue shortfall. In the end, lawmakers focused on our core public service priorities, cut 8.1% out of spending and were able to balance the budget without raising taxes. Here are some key highlights from Texas’ new spending plan:
- Increased the state’s share of K-12 public education funding by over $3 billion, helping to close the funding gap created through decreased property tax revenue and federal education dollars. Education in Texas now accounts for 57% of state revenue spending.
- Lawmakers maintained or increased funding in such critical areas as border security, state supported living centers, veterans affairs, foster care, Texas’ state highway system, community mental health programs, economic development programs and others.
- Cut spending in non essential areas, such as: Office of the Governor (18.5% reduction), Legislative Offices (13.2% reduction), State Preservation Board (20.5% reduction), regulatory boards and commissions (12.8% reduction).
- Addressed our revenue shortfall by cutting $15.1 billion spending and not raising taxes.
Governor’s Emergency Items
Governor Perry started this legislative session by declaring five emergency items for lawmakers to immediately consider, thus speeding up the legislative process and ensuring that successful legislation on these topics wwould be passed. Here is a look at what the Legislature accomplished with the Governor’s emergency items list:
- Enacted a Voter ID law that will preserve our election integrity by requiring voters to bring photographic identification to the polls to verify their id. Our law does exempt disabled citizens and those who recently had to endure a natural disaster.
- Curbed frivolous lawsuits by designing a “loser pays” system that will award legal fees to defendants in lawsuits that are found by a judge to lack merit and in other circumstances as well. This new law will further safeguard our economy whil also removing the burden of meritless lawsuits from our judicial system.
- Added to Texas’ Informed Consent Laws by requiring a woman first recieve a sonogram and that the procedure’s results be shared with the woman prior to recieving an abortion.
- Strenghtened private property rights by passing sweeping legislation that returns eminent domain to its original purpose, requires local governments to first make a good faith effort to purchase property before using eminent domain and allows for landowners to repurchase their old land if that property is not being used by a governmental entitiy for its intended purpose.
- Propelled the national debate on fiscal responsibility by passing a concurrent resolution calling upon the national government to submit to the states an amendment to our US Constitution calling for a balanced federal budget.
Along with our fiscally responsible state budget and acting on the Governor’s emergency items, state lawmakers also accomplished the following:
- Passed bills to add to our tool box of managing natural gas drilling by requiring companies to disclose the contents of their fracking fluids and by funding up to 20 more air monitors in the Barnett Shale region.
- Passed all four redistricting maps that make meaningful changes to Denton County, including: making the 26th Congressional District more of a Denton County only seat and adding a 4th seat to our State House delegation.
- Reauthorized the $1 million exemption to the business franchise tax.
- Further secured our second amendment rights by allowing CHL holders to store their firearms in their locked cars while at work.
- Created a “Choose Life” license plates program that will fund programs that educate women on the alternatives to recieving an abortion.
- Updated our election law to better facilitate the cancellation of voter registrations for individuals who are either deceased or not eligible to vote. We also adjusted our election dates to ensure that our overseas military personnel are able to cast their ballots.
New Laws Authored by Representative Parker
This past session I was thankful to author a set of new laws that are based on the principles that we share. My highest honor of the session was to sponsor legilsation that will better equip teachers and other school employees with the tools necessary to better detect and prevent all forms of child abuse. Senate Bill 471 builds of “Jenna’s Law”, which I wrote in 2009, and sets the national model for other states to follow in preventing reocurring child abuse. Here is a look at the additional new laws I authored this session on child protection and well being:
- House Bill 434 – gives statutory guidance to day care facilities that will ensure the proper care of children with special medical needs.
- House Bill 240 – sets a new industry standard that will “child proof” home septic system lids so that our children will not be able to accidentally gain access to them.
- House Bill 807 – requires CPS to give at least 48 hours notice before a foster child can be removed from their foster home, ensuring that foster families will have a chance to say proper goodbyes and also preserving the only parental relationships that some of our foster children have.
- House Bill 2367 – establishes an advisory panel to study child custody laws in Texas and see if improvements can be made to ensure that a child’s well being and the interests of their parents are not put in jeopardy.
With three North Texas lakes that touch House District 63, I have become increasingly aware of the need to enhance lake safety in Texas. Every year there are preventable deaths on our public waterways and understanding that the concern needs to be addressed I created the Advisory Panel on Boating Recreational Safety to conduct a year long study on this issue and recommend changes made to our current laws that will keep more lake enthusiasts safe while engaging in this outdoor activity.
The cornerstone of the panel’s recommendation was a bill I authored that creates Texas’ first ever boat operator educaiton law. Under House Bill 1395, all operators born on or after September 1, 1993 will have to take a Texas Parks and Wildlife approved boating education course to operate a watercraft on our public waterways. This slow phase-in approach mirrors Texas’ system of hunter education, which led to a 50% reduction in hunting fatalities and accidents in Texas.
Adding Texas to the list of states that require some form of boat operator education was a tremendous victory for lake safety, but we didn’t stop there. I also passed House Bill 673, which will include instruction on general lake safety tips in drivers education courses in Texas. This will reach all our children with basic tips to keep them safe on lakes, rivers and coastal waters. Finally, I was tremendoursly honored to pass House Bill 596. Appropriately named after Britteny Lindt, this bill outlaws the dangerous maneuver of boats circling vulnerable water-skiers, which has led to fatalities in Texas.
Transportation and Other Key Issues
- House Bill 2985 as amended to Senate Bill 1420 (Authored by Rep. Tan Parker) – Authorizes the Department of Transportation to enter into a comprehensive development agreement to expand capacity on I-35 E from north Dallas to the city of Denton. This 28 mile expansion of I-35 E will create significant economic activity, grow jobs, ease congestion, improve air quality and most importantly improve safety for all citizens who utilize this central transportation artery in North Texas.
- House Bill 239 as amended to House Bill 2194 (Authored by Rep. Tan Parker) – Ends the bounty system of paying voter registrars a set amount for every voter registration card they turn in, a pay for performance model that led to much of the recent voter registration fraud that Texas and the nation experienced in recent elections.
- House Bill 199 as amended to Senate Bill 1 (Authored by Rep. Tan Parker) – Moves the Sales Tax Holiday weekend to the second weekend in August (currently hosted on the 3rd weekend in August) so that more families will have the opportunity to take advantage of this tax savings weekend for their back to school shopping needs.
- House Bill 200 (Authored by Rep. Parker) – Requires the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to notify local law enforcement of the release of a prisoner back to their jurisdiction in real time as opposed to standard mail, which will improve the speed and efficiency of this important inmate release process and provide significant taxpayer savings.