Author Archive

The Conservative Case For CPS Reform

May 16, 2017

By Rep. James Frank

The state’s child welfare system is a critical focus for the Texas Legislature during the 85th Legislative Session. Governor Abbott made it an emergency item, and the leadership of the House and Senate has repeatedly pledged to improve the beleaguered Child Protective Services (CPS) system. Hundreds of kids in foster care lack a placement in a home. They end up sleeping in offices or hotels, or they get shipped from their hometown to a foster placement in another part of the state. It is a system that does not or cannot act with urgency to ensure that children who have suffered from abuse and neglect can get services they need and be placed in stable, loving homes.

CPS is in need of transformation by making it more accountable to local communities and the children they serve. As a result, legislators are considering proposals from Republicans in both chambers (HB 6 and SB 11) transitioning CPS to a community-based model where foster care services will be managed regionally, enabling collaboration with local stakeholders in order to deliver more innovative, local services to children in foster and kinship care. Community-based care seeks first and foremost to ensure all children remain safe in care. However, the model encourages innovation throughout the system. It enables features such as prioritizing the placement of kids within reasonable distance of their own communities ensuring that children experience minimum placement disruptions and maintain their connections to family and their culture.

In the past, the Legislature has responded to crises in CPS by throwing more money at the status quo. This time, let us choose a path of real reform.

A longtime resident of Wichita Falls, Representative James Frank is currently in his third term in the Texas House of Representatives. Frank serves as the Vice-Chair of the Human Services Committee and is on the Natural Resources Committee and the Local & Consent Calendars Committee.

Local Control

May 9, 2017

By Rep. Paul Workman

Margaret Thatcher once famously quipped that the problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money.

Austin is fast approaching this condition.

The mayor and city council have mandated to private businesses in and out of Austin how they need to hire ex-offenders. They are spending $200,000 of taxpayer money to help illegal aliens stay in Austin while driving citizens out by curtailing development. They have told private property owners that if they want a development permit more quickly, they must get sign-off from a union front organization. To be “green,” the mayor and council signed a 30-year contract for solar power at almost twice the rate at which electricity can be purchased, costs be damned.

These, along with many other socialist-type ordinances and regulations drive up the cost of living in Texas, compelling me to file a number of bills aimed at reining in the city’s overreaches. After all, Austin exists because of a state-issued charter. The state has an obligation to ensure laws enacted by state-chartered cities do not have negative effects on their citizens or the state.

The state has a duty to step in based on the following principles: when an ordinance of one jurisdiction conflicts with an ordinance from another municipality(s); when ordinances from one jurisdiction affect citizens of another jurisdiction; when ordinances threaten the economic health of our state; and when ordinances infringe on the personal liberties of its citizens. These and other City of Austin ordinances fit more than one of these principles.

Personal liberties and economic health are vital to making our communities great places to live, work and raise a family. In these limited occasions, state action will help encourage city councils to protect the rights of its citizens, not remove them.

Rep. Paul Workman represents House District 47 which includes western and southern Travis County, including about 40% City of Austin constituents.

Looking Out for Our First Responders

April 28, 2017

By Rep. Jason Villalba

As a State Representative, my top priority is making sure that our families are safe from those who would seek to harm us. For me, that starts by supporting our first responders. Since my first day in the Legislature, I have been a tireless advocate for law enforcement and all other first responders.

In 2013, I passed HB 1009, which created the first ever School Marshal program in America. By appointing well-trained, covert and armed school marshals to protect our students in public schools, Texas has taken a bold step to prevent the types of tragedies that we have seen in other parts of the country. During the 84th Legislative Session, I passed legislation to expand the School Marshal program to include Texas community and junior colleges. This session, I filed HB 867 to allow Texas private schools to implement the School Marshal program.

This session, in response to the tragic events in my hometown of Dallas, where we lost five of Dallas’ finest, I carried Senator West’s SB 12 in the House, which provides for more secure bulletproof vests for police officers in Texas. The bill provides vests for 50,000 to 60,000 Texas officers to better protect them from high-caliber bullets.

As well, in response to the continuing violence against first responders, I filed HB 429 in collaboration with the state and local law enforcement authorities. Under HB 429, an attack on a first responder would be considered a hate crime – which provides that those who attack first responders would be subject to graduated penalties.

Finally, I am also concerned about safety at our local places of worship. Therefore, I filed HB 659 to allow churches and synagogues to commission private security officers or hire private citizens not affiliated with a security company. HB 659 allows churches and synagogues to hire these volunteers so long as they have undergone the required training and passed a simple background check. HB 659 provides a lower priced security option and, if the guard is a parishioner, it can decrease travel time in case of emergency.

As a champion of conservative values, I will continue to work with my colleagues in the Texas House to protect our first responders and the good people of Texas that I am blessed to represent.

Ending Unfunded Mandates – Once And For All

April 1, 2017

By Rep. DeWayne Burns

I’m a small government conservative. At its heart, that means I believe every decision that can be made at the local level should be made at the local level, and that it is up to the folks in each individual community to decide for themselves what is worthy of their time, talents and tax dollars. That is why I recently filed House Joint Resolution 73, which proposes an amendment to the Texas Constitution restricting the legislature’s ability to impose mandates on counties and municipalities without also providing adequate funding to comply with those mandates.

Unfunded mandates are effectively tax increases handed down by the legislature on local families and property owners. They may be unintentional when a bill is originally passed, but often they end up forcing counties or cities to raise taxes to finance the policy. This practice must be stopped, because it is fundamentally unfair and runs counter to everything we stand for as conservative Republicans.

But I’m not naïve. I understand that there are instances when the legislature must step in and dictate a state-wide policy. I do believe, however, that when those instances occur, they should be properly funded. Anything less is just passing the buck to our county commissioners and city councils.

If you agree that the practice of unfunded mandates should be ended, once and for all, please contact your State Representative and State Senator today, and encourage them to co-author HJR 73.

Rep. DeWayne Burns has represented District 58 in the Texas House since 2015 and serves on the House Committees on Natural Resources, Homeland Security & Public Safety, and Rules & Resolutions. House District 58 includes Bosque and Johnson Counties.

Producing Results that Matter

March 24, 2017

By Rep. John Cyrier

Over the past decade, Texas Republicans have provided a great example of how government can be limited, efficient, and also effective at solving problems.

During the previous legislative session, Republican leaders pioneered a buildup of manpower and technology for border security, slashed a burdensome business tax to create more jobs and investment in the Texas economy, and defended religious freedom.

There are many more success stories like these, and I want to share about one that is near and dear to my heart.

In 2011 and 2015, wildfires burned 39,000 acres in my House district and destroyed 1,700 homes. As a pilot, I flew aerial observation during the first wildfire and had a bird’s eye view of the devastation.

Following the most recent disaster, I was honored to work with a grassroots effort of citizens who studied the wildfire and our response. Together, these citizens produced a thorough study, which outlined key recommendations. One of the most significant was to establish an air base to equip heavy tankers with fire retardant.

This February, we did just that. Bringing together different state agencies, we found a way to use existing public resources to establish a tanker base at minimal cost to taxpayers and use existing personnel to train area firefighters on its use. As only the second such base in Texas, this provided much needed resources to combat wildfires throughout the state.

This is one more conservative success story of what happens when citizens and elected leaders work together to solve problems that really matter.

In this same spirit, Republican leaders in the Texas House are mapping out solutions to the pressing challenges that face our state. My colleagues and I are committed to reforming Child Protective Services, improving our public schools by investing in excellence and accountability, defending the sanctity of human life, continuing the important work of border security, and resolving a budget crunch in a responsible way that pairs spending reductions with long-term investment to protect our economy and essential services.

The challenges are great but I have never been more optimistic about what we can accomplish. We’re Texans. We’ve done it before and we’ll do it again.

John Cyrier (R-Lockhart) represents District 17 in the Texas House. He is founder and CEO of a commercial construction company that is consistently ranked among the Best Places to Work, and was twice nominated for CEO of the Year.

Health care (or lack thereof) in Rural Texas

March 17, 2017

By Rep. Gary VanDeaver

It won’t come as a surprise to many people, but hospitals in rural Texas are struggling to keep the doors open. The Texas Organization of Rural and Community hospitals (TORCH) reports that 15 hospitals in Texas have closed over the last four years. Also, the University of North Texas Health Science Center published a report in 2016, that said there are 35 counties in Texas that lack a practicing physician (https://www.unthsc.edu/newsroom/35-tx-counties/). Having spent all of his life in rural Northeast Texas, Rep. Gary VanDeaver (New Boston) knows firsthand the struggle to keep affordable, high quality health care available to area residents.

VanDeaver said “I have heard too many stories of families not only struggling to pay for doctors and hospitals but to even find any health care services nearby. Texas policymakers cannot forget that not every Texan lives in the Metroplex or in Houston and that every Texan deserves quality health care services.”

In a November 6, 2013 story by Lauren Silverman and produced by KERA (Dallas) it states that in Texas, “rural hospitals treat 15 percent of the population, but cover 85 percent of the state. In rural areas, patients are generally older, less healthy, and have less access to health insurance.” Here is a link to that story: http://breakthroughs.kera.org/rural-hospitals-struggling-in-texas/

The Washington Post published a story (“Rural hospitals, beset by financial problems, struggle to survive”) on March 15, 2015, citing the closure of a hospital in Mount Vernon, Texas, which is in VanDeaver’s House District. Mount Vernon and other rural communities across this state are struggling with how to provide needed medical care for their residents. Plus, there are no guarantees that additional hospital closures are not just around the corner as they struggle with a declining and aging population coupled with lower federal and state reimbursement rates.

In the 84th Legislature in 2015, Rep. VanDeaver passed House Bill 2280 and sponsored Senate Bill 1587 (Eltife) in the House to help address some of the funding challenges experienced by our smaller and more rural communities in trying to secure affordable access to health care. These bills allowed counties in Northeast Texas to take advantage of the Texas Transformation and Quality Improvement (1115) Waiver for health care funding to provide more health care options.

Now that we have a new president along with a Congress committed to “repeal and replace” Obamacare, VanDeaver went on to say that “we cannot miss this opportunity to restore sanity to our nation’s health care system because Obamacare has failed. We must strike a balance in reducing costs and administrative burdens while protecting access to health care for all Texans. Not only are lives of Texans at risk, the very viability of many small, rural communities are also at stake.”

Ending ‘Catch and Release’ Immigration Policies

March 14, 2017

By Rep. John Raney

For some states, illegal immigration is an academic debate, in Texas, it is a frontline reality. As a State Representative, I have focused on border security, illegal immigration, and human trafficking. As a House Appropriations Committee member, I am proud we stepped up and funded border security when Washington failed to do so.

Funding border security is only part of the solution, we must have the policies in place to deal with the detention and processing of illegal immigrants, victims of human trafficking, and drug smugglers. Under the Obama Administration, many illegals were given a free pass when they crossed the border. According to research, the failure rate of defendants showing up to their hearing was, at one point, as high as 98%.

The alarmingly high percentage is why I have filed House Bill 2225, to work with the new administration and help return to the “catch and detain” policies of President Bush. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is authorized to maintain immigration detention facilities, but current state law prevents Texas from doing the same. This puts us at odds with federal law, and frankly, our own security interests.

House Bill 2225 allows for the inspection and approval of the facilities so ICE can return to a detention policy, and practice sound border security policies. This will allow federal officials to determine those immigrants who are genuinely victims of the criminal element, and those who seek to do us harm. Since these facilities are federally run, my bill will not add financial obligations to our budget, and keeps federal responsibility where it belongs.

Immigration will always require vigilance, and it is good to see Washington join Texas in that mindset.

Prioritizing State Funding

February 24, 2017

By Rep. John Kuempel

The State of Texas is facing a tight budget this biennium. Comptroller Hegar issued his budget revenue estimate to the legislature in early January with a total of $104.87 billion available to build budgets for 2018 and 2019. That is approximately $3 billion less than what was available in 2016 and 2017 when the total revenue available for general spending was $107.73 billion. The decrease in money allocated for general spending is not due to a drop in the amount of money coming in, in fact, the Comptroller is projecting revenue growth. However, the state will start budgeting with less money as some of it is already dedicated to other things.

In 2015, voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 7 to dedicate portions of revenue from the state’s general sales and use tax, as well as from the motor vehicle sales and rental tax to the State Highway Fund for non-tolled projects. A deposit of $5 billion is expected to be made over this biennium. While this infusion of money over the next biennium reduces what the legislature has to fund other programs, it is important to remember that the voters made investing in our state’s infrastructure a priority with the passage of Proposition 7 and we intend to follow through with that commitment.

Balancing the state budget will be challenging but that does not mean that money for public schools and foster care will be ignored. Working to improve the school finance system and reforming the broken state foster care system will be a top focus for the House this session. Texans expect their government to live within its means so it is imperative that we fund our priorities this session while constraining the size and growth of government.

As the Chairman of the House Licensing and Administrative Procedures Committee, I plan to do my part to ensure fair and efficient regulation of all occupational licenses. The state oversees 38 licensing programs under the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation and a total license population of 704,154. With our state’s dynamic economic environment, it is vital that we reduce the administration and regulation costs and reduce barriers to entering into these licensed professions.

Working for Mental Health Reform

February 8, 2017

By Rep. Walter “Four” Price

Mental health impacts virtually every aspect of our society. Texans spend almost $3 .4 billion in state taxes each year on direct mental and behavioral services not including the billions of local dollars spent combating mental health concerns in hospitals, jails, and on our streets. As a result, Speaker Straus formed a select committee to study every aspect of mental health services in Texas.

I had the honor of chairing this committee and with 12 colleagues traveled this state to hear from everyday citizens, mental health experts, and law enforcement officials. In countless site visits, staff interviews, and more 40 hours of direct hearings, we found a patch work system where best practices are not shared among providers and may even be discouraged. In short, we found an inefficient system in need of reform.

During the 85 th Session, I will make the reform of our mental health system a priority. The expansion of the mental health delivery system will take more money, but reforms to increase the sharing of ideas and best practices will go a long way toward improving the system. Any successful reform will ensure we deliver better services earlier in the patients’ life and that we are spending Texans’ tax dollars efficiently.

Reform of our mental health system is not only the moral thing, it is the conservative thing to do. Many of the reforms our committee witnessed were locally managed and coordinated with religious organizations. My efforts will strengthen those local partnerships and ensure communities can address their unique mental health challenges.

Walter ‘Four’ Price (R-Amarillo) serves five Texas Panhandle counties in District 87. He was Chairman of the Select Committee on Mental Health during the 84th Interim.

Defending Life and Women’s Health

February 5, 2017

By Rep. Jodie Laubenberg

Protecting the lives of the unborn has been a calling since I was first elected and nothing – not even an activist Supreme Court – will deter me from that cause while I am in office. As the author of HB 2 (83rd Session, 2013), I have been proud to be a part of the Texas House of Representatives which has led the fight to protect the lives of the unborn and the 85th Session will be no exception.

Unfortunately for defenders of life and women’s health, the ruling in the Hellerstedt decision makes the job of protecting women and children more difficult. In that decision, the Supreme Court changed the standard for developing sound pro-life laws to a ‘rational basis’ test. This change will allow the pro-abortionists to seek out liberal judges and strike down the laws to preserve life and protect women.

While President Trump has signaled his intent to appoint Justices to the Court who will defend life, the cause of the unborn cannot wait. The Texas House of Representatives will act this session to pass laws scientifically demonstrating that better equipped medical facilities and better trained staff provide better health care; we can ban the sale of a baby’s body parts and tissues after an abortion; we will prove there is a rational basis for advancing the cause of life; and we will continue to ensure taxpayer dollars are not used to fund abortion services.

To be sure, the road to protect life is steeper and a little harder after Hellerstedt but I have never been afraid to walk the path of life. I know you will help me on this journey and continue to support the principled leadership provided by the Texas House of Representatives.

Jodie Laubenberg (R-Parker) is in her seventh term serving the citizens of District 89, representing parts of Collin County. She currently serves as Chair of the Committee on Elections.

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