2007

Here are some of my accomplishments in the 80th Legislature:

Reducing Taxes

As one of three joint authors of HB2, I initiated an unprecedented $14 billion property tax cut mandate this year and next year.  This legislation lowered DISD and RISD school property tax rates this year by 20%, on top of the 11% cut ordered last year by HB1 (another bill that I joint authored).  These were the first reductions in school tax rates since 1984.  I was also a co-sponsor of HB735, which abolished the Telecommunications Infrastructure Fund tax on our telephone bills, and saved Texas taxpayers an additional $200 million per year.

Protecting Our Water

North Texas will gain about 8 million new residents by 2060, and will require new water reservoirs to meet their water needs.  Dallas water planners have identified best sites to build these reservoirs.  Some rural legislators and environmentalists, however, strongly oppose the construction of our new reservoirs and seek to interfere with these sites.  Therefore, I filed HB2187 to give special protection to our reservoir sites and ensure an adequate water supply.  My bill was replaced by SB3, a Senate companion, which I supported and helped pass.  The Dallas Morning News referred to this legislation as “historic” and “the most serious step in water planning since the 1960s.”  I was the deciding vote on the House-Senate Conference Committee which gave Dallas the victory it needed.

Fighting Crime

Car Burglaries.  Thieves break into thousands of cars in Dallas each year.  Car burglaries constitute more than 25% of serious crime in Dallas and cause millions of dollars in property damage.  Because these crimes are only Class A misdemeanors, criminals consider arrests and convictions a minor cost of doing business -they rarely serve more than three months in the county jail, and receive no enhanced punishment for repeat offenses.  But the damage to car windows and dashboards; the loss of cell phones, purses, identification, and audio equipment; and the assault on owners’ sense of security all inflict major trauma on law-abiding citizens.

To fight this plague, I co-sponsored HB1887, which enhances penalties on repeat offenders to stop the revolving door for car burglars.  This legislation requires offenders to serve a minimum 6 months in jail and 1 year of probation on their second offense; and enhances the third offense to a state jail felony.  Deferred adjudication (which is often used with first-time offenders) would count as a conviction for purposes of this enhanced punishment.  This legislation will help get career car burglars off the streets.

Sexual Assault. Approximately 80% of sexual assault victims know their attacker.  Less than 10% of sexual assault victims seek medical care because of shame, fear, or hurt.  I was a joint author of HB1751, which will provide $25 million in new funds each biennium for sexual assault treatment, prevention, and intervention.

Helping Public School Teachers

Texas has always struggled to provide sufficient teacher salary and pension benefits to hire and keep good teachers.  This session, we focused on teacher retirement benefits.  I co-sponsored HB1105, which required the state to increase its required contributions to the teacher retirement pension fund to make it actuarially sound, and to issue a one-time “13th check” this year to retired teachers.  HB1105 was replaced by SB1846, a Senate companion, which I supported and helped pass.

Improving Healthcare

Private health insurance pays for a major part of healthcare costs in America.  An enormous inefficiency in our healthcare system is the difficulty of doctors and hospitals to obtain quick, reliable information about their patient’s private health insurance coverage and payment schedules.  Hundreds of thousands of man hours are wasted each year in Texas because healthcare staff have to call insurance companies (and be placed on hold) to obtain basic insurance information that could easily be placed on a magnetic strip on each patient’s insurance card.  I was one of two joint authors of HB522, which establishes a large-scale pilot program to require insurance cards to contain basic, encoded health plan information.

Lack of health insurance is a heavy burden for hospitals and doctors who receive little if any compensation for uninsured patients and for the patients who experience huge wait times for treatment.  I was a joint author of HB1751, which will provide $90 million in new state funds each biennium to the Texas Health Opportunity Pool, to partially offset uncompensated costs of hospitals and assist Texans in obtaining health insurance.  I anticipate that the federal government will provide $270 million in matching funds.

Improving Our Justice System

Justice of the Peace courts are designed for Texans to seek speedy justice for small disputes without hiring a lawyer.  In order to make these courts more available, I carried SB618, which increases the jurisdiction of JP courts from $5,000 to $10,000.  This jurisdiction had not been increased since 1991.

Cases of child abuse and neglect require special attention and sensitivity.  To help achieve this, I authored HB3505, requiring judges who hear these cases to receive periodic, professional education about the needs and problems of abused and neglected children.

Keeping Government Responsive

Record Votes. Texans loudly called for mandatory record votes when legislation is passed.  I voted to put this requirement in the House Rules and also in the Texas Constitution.

HPV Vaccination. In February, Governor Perry issued Executive Order RP65 mandating that all sixth-grade public school girls receive the largely untested HPV vaccine, which is only produced by Merck.  Many concerned constituents viewed this Order as interference with parental authority and an effort to bypass legislative review.  In response to these concerns, I jointly authored HB1098, which repealed the Executive Order and restored parental authority.

Tran Texas Corridor.
In 2003, the Legislature gave the Texas Dept. of Transportation enormous leeway to enter into contracts with for-profit businesses to build and own toll roads in Texas.  Great concern arose about the possibility of a foreign-controlled business acquiring ownership of the massive Trans Texas Corridor, which will run from Oklahoma to Mexico.  I was a joint author of HB1892, which imposed a two-year moratorium on state contracts to build or own the TTC.  HB1892 was replaced by SB792, a Senate companion, which I supported and helped pass.



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