Parker Says Legislative Session Was About Investment

By Chris Roark Flower Mound Leader

As the Regular session of the 83rd Texas Legislature concluded, Rep. Tan Parker (R-Flower Mound) looks at it as being one of future investment. Parker, who is serving his fourth term, said lawmakers entered the legislative session in a much-improved economic climate than in 2011. As a result, he said, legislators accomplished several things to set the foundation for the future.

“This session was about investing,” Parker said. “We invested heavily in the classrooms and in higher education, in the workforce, in water infrastructure and in transportation infrastructure.”

Regarding education, Parker points to $3.8 billion that was restored into the education budget after cuts were made in 2011.  Parker praised lawmakers for passing bills such as House Bill (HB) 5, which was headed by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock. Among the components of the bill is to reduce the number of end-of-course exams high school students must pass to graduate. It also establishes a plan that allows for more emphasis on career and vocational training options.

“We have to recognize that not every high-paying job requires a college degree,” Parker said. “And not every high school student aspires success only through a four-year university.”

In other education measures, Parker pointed to an expansion of the number of charter schools in the state with Senate Bill (SB) 2. He said that bill better meets the growing and diverse educational needs of the state. He also touted HB 29, which gives undergraduates the option of entering into a four-year fixed tuition plan for universities. HB 1843 changes laws to allow flagship universities to accept qualified students from high schools who are not in the top 10 percent of their class.

Addressing water infrastructure, Parker pointed to several bills that will dedicate money for essential water projects across the state, including $2 billion in a state water plan. HB 1025 focuses on the funding mechanism for that.

“Lots of water forecasts say that our water supply is going to decrease by 18 percent, that water demand is going to increase by 27 percent and that there will be a three trillion-gallon shortfall in Texas in the next 50 years,” Parker said.

Parker said another key accomplishment was promoting truth and budget principles by eliminating what he called accounting gimmicks to balance the budget. In other words, lawmakers opted to move away from financial diversions and “we got back to paying for what we use now,” Parker said.

Parker said he is also pleased that the legislature implemented $1.3 billion in tax cuts to residents.

Parker’s bills

Throughout the legislature, Parker authored or sponsored 12 bills that were signed into law.

Among his top authored bills was HB 1205. The law makes it a felony if a professional knows about a child abuse situation and covers it up or fails to report it. Right now, such an action is a Class B misdemeanor.

“We’re seeing a rash of activity in the United States and in Texas where professionals know that abuse is going on but would rather protect themselves, their firm or their colleagues than to protect a child,” Parker said. “Enough is enough. If someone knows this is going on and doesn’t do anything, it’s not tolerable.”

HB 1206 allows law enforcement to aggressively investigate missing child circumstances that they previously could not engage in.

Parker carried in the House SB 939, which expands on Jenna’s Law that Parker authored in 2009. SB 939, which was identical to a House bill that Parker authored, requires schools and public universities to provide child abuse prevention training for its employees.

Parker sponsored SB 1404, which helps foster students graduate on time with better coordination between schools. Parker said foster children often have a hard time staying on their graduation course because of constantly moving and changing schools.

Parker carried SB 1705, which allows the Department of Public Safety (DPS) to use the private sector, such as any driving instruction academy, to administer the behind-the-wheel testing portion as the drivers license test.  He said that should reduce the long wait lines at DPS offices, which he said has been a growing problem. The bill would also let some in the public sector, such as schools, administer the test as well.

Parker also carried SB 948, which equips the Denton County Transportation Authority (DCTA) with the tools to meet the ongoing transportation needs.

House Committee of Corrections

Parker said the majority of his time this legislative session was spent serving as chairman of the House Committee of Corrections.  His responsibilities cover all correction matters in the state, which includes 151,000 inmates in the system, 87,000 parolees, 111 correctional facilities in Texas and a $10 billion two-year budget.

“In my mind, it’s not just about having the third biggest part of the budget,” Parker said. “There is nothing more important than the safety of our community.”

Parker said he strongly supports rehabilitating non-violent offenders. Legislators passed laws to keep certain violent offenders in prison longer, as well as to provide more tools to rehabilitate prisoners who have demonstrated that they can be rehabilitated.

“Being chairman of this committee is an enormous commitment, and it’s a privilege to do it,” he said.