District No. 127 Rep. Dan Huberty provided a detailed update on the 86th Texas Congressional Session that ended May 27 at the Super Neighborhood Council meeting Nov. 20. When Committee President Stan Sarman introduced him following a school project presentation by a group of elementary school students, Huberty took a seat at the head of the table and said, “Just to give you some perspective, there were over 7,300 filings this past session. 4,700 bills passed the House and more than 1,400 bills and resolutions were sent to the governor. The governor only vetoed 56 so that was good. I actually felt like we were on a little bit of a roll.”
Huberty pointed out that, different from the federal government, Texas has to pass a balanced budget, which means that all of the legislation was also specifically funded and totaled $250 billion.
“So you think about the size of the state of Texas and where we are related to other countries; we are the 39th largest GNP (gross national product) in the world. Of that there are two areas in particular, Health and Human Services and Public Education that control the majority of the funds; $84 billion for Health and Human Services including Medicaid and Medicare issues and Public Education which is allocated even higher than that,” said Huberty.
Huberty noted one of the good things they did was to increase transportation funding. He explained one of the statewide complaints was about the high cost of toll roads. Using the Highway 99 Grand Parkway as an example, he said, “Grand Parkway is a brand new road but if you have ever gotten onto it to go between here and Highway 290 it costs you something like $10 to get from here to 290. So we put $6.1 billion in and gave it to Tx DOT (Texas Dept. of Transportation) so they could build new roads without them being toll roads anymore.”
Huberty explained one of the things they hope to see is for Tx DOT to start working with the county governments that have the existing toll roads to help them retire the debt going forward to the point of not having toll roads. He noted road tolls are among the most regressive of taxes, especially for persons working low-paying jobs who have to use them to work.
Huberty outlined the historic reform provisions of House Bill Three, the comprehensive School Finance Reform Bill that the legislators named The Texas Plan.
“The reason we called it the Texas Plan is because in past legislative sessions you seem to get into the situation where the House and Senate kind of butt heads and this time we did not do that. The governor, Lt. governor (who serves as president of the Senate) and the speaker of the house all were able to work together on it,” said Huberty.
Huberty summarized in detail the reforms, including the tax relief plans and the compensation increases, that the Texas Plan is intended to accomplish. It puts $ 4.5 billion into transformational reforms that increase the basic allotment of money for each student, funds full-day pre-Kindergarten of low-income students, creates the first dyslexia identification program in Texas history, and much more. He explained the provisions that provide $5 billion in statewide property tax relief and increases the share of the state’s funding from 38% to 45%. He described how the compensation increases for teachers, librarians, counselors and nurses will be funded with $2 billion while the plan also creates a merit incentive pay program for additional pay based on merit.
Huberty highlighted the legislation that addresses disaster and preparedness programs from the state level.
“The biggest thing for us in this community is disaster preparedness, Harvey relief, flood measures and things of that nature. Generally speaking, there is about $3.5 billion for disaster preparedness, flood control measures and flood control relief. Senate Bill 7 was a constitutional amendment that passed by about 77% in this last November Election,” said Huberty.
He also explained how the amendment gives money to the Texas Water Development Group so there is about $750 million that goes to the Texas Water Development Board. That allows them to be able to invest in the projects the state wants done.
“For example, Bear Branch continues to flood up by St. Martha’s and that’s money that can be used to be able to fix some of the bayou areas and other areas. In addition we provided the governor with $2 billion in disaster preparedness money,” Huberty said.
Huberty closed his presentation by highlighting a bill he was personally proud to have been a big part of in getting it passed. “One thing we did that I have been working on for eight years was the Cody Stephens Bill, named after a young man who lived in Crosby, Texas who passed away from sudden cardiac death because he had an enlarged heart,” he said.
Sponsored by Huberty and named House Bill 76 after Cody’s high school team football number, the resulting law is now called Cody’s Law. It makes it a requirement that all students requiring pre-athletic physicals have the opportunity to opt in or out of taking a simple test, an EKG, as part of the physical. The test is a reliable indicator for serious heart conditions that many students may never have been tested for in their young lives.
In other business, the committee was treated to opening presentations from several groups of second-grade students from Willow Creek Elementary School. About 10 of them, with some of their parents, came to the meeting as part of their projects to promote improvements in the community. Their presentations included a short speech about each project from a young speaker with posters and flat-table displays to help explain the projects. One was for beautifying the Kingwood greenbelts by picking up trash. Another group presented a proposed bike-sharing system for use on the greenbelts and another proposed a dog park to be located where Kingwood and Kingwood Park high schools’ FFA keeps their animals.
The council also canceled its December meeting due to its close proximity to Christmas. The next Kingwood Area Super Neighborhood Council Meeting will be Jan. 15, 2020 at the Kingwood Community Center.