The 85th Legislative Session ranks among the most difficult in my ten years in the Texas House. Ultimately, efforts to find common ground fell victim to partisanship and continued an unhealthy trend toward ultra-conservatism at the expense of public policy. Ultimately, the cavalier attempts by ideologues to grind government to a halt proved to be a death knell for numerous positive initiatives proposed by both Democrats and Republicans alike.
Despite challenges, my office and I worked tirelessly to represent San Antonio and Bexar County. I am proud of several critical successes we achieved in the past 140 days .
Supporting Veterans and their Families
This session, I had the distinct honor of serving as the Chairman of the Defense and Veterans’ Affairs Committee. My committee succeeded in passing several pieces of legislation that will have a transformative impact on returning service personnel and their families.
House Bill 1934 creates a temporary teaching certification for spouses of military members who move to Texas from another state, while House Bill 827 develops a database for prospective employers to qualify veterans’ service experience for employment qualifications. These measure will allow employers to meet workforce needs while ensuring a smoother transition for both active-duty personnel and veterans into the civilian job market.
Kitchen table issue are not the only challenges facing our heroes- criminal justice reform and mental health services require immediate redress, too. House Bill 322 allows for an easier pathway to arrest record expunctions for veterans who have been receiving treatment as a result of issues from their time as active duty, while Senate Bill 578 to develop a comprehensive action plan to prevent veteran suicides.
When I became Chairman, I immediately explored options to improve treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Untreated, PTSD can exacerbate chronic issues such as veteran homelessness and place unspoken burdens on our heroes and their families. Throughout the legislative session, I championed legislation to create the National Center for Warrior Resiliency at the UT Health Science-San Antonio in order to make San Antonio and Texas the premiera leader in PTSD treatment. Through an amendment to Senate Bill 27, the Legislature was able to allow the UT System to establish the Center.
Putting Military City USA and Local Communities First
Annexation arose of a major issue in the latter part of the legislative session. In its final form, Senate Bill 715 would have required an election by unincorporated areas. Reforming the annexation process is a meaningful issue to tackle, however the final version of this bill stripped negotiated language to protect local military bases from encroachment. As the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process begins anew, this would threaten the viability of bases across the state, placing tens of thousands of jobs in danger. This flawed attempt to address a real issue thankfully died on procedural deadlines, and I look forward to working with my colleagues to address annexation again next session in a way to supports local control while protecting our bases’ capacity to complete their missions.
Ending the Silence on Sexual Assault
In 2016, one in seven young women at the University of Texas at Austin reported being raped. Baylor University has played host to an administrative culture that routinely blamed victims for their own assault. As a father, I am disgusted by this climate of tolerance for perpetrators at the expense of aspiring students like my daughters. It cannot continue.
This session, I spoke out against a status quo that leave victims without recourse. I was proud to join with my colleagues to pass measures allowing for rape allegations to be reported on campuses anonymously and to raise additional finances to reduce our rape kit backlog. Unfortunately far, far more must be done. Our leadership must take the lead in comprehensive reforms to protect young women.
Standing Up for Civil Rights
This session, unfortunately, saw repeated attacks fundamental American civil rights. Though opposed by faith groups, law enforcement and business community, Republican leadership passed Senate Bill 4 purely on party lines. This intolerable measure chains local police with an unfunded mandate to enforce federal immigration rules. Ultimately, this law will make communities less safe as fewer individuals will feel comfortable reporting crimes, and this legislation faces expensive litigation at taxpayers’ expense.
However, while the Capitol played witness to the restriction of rights, there were wins in the legal system. After Congressional maps previously adopted by the Legislature were ruled earlier this spring to discriminate against minority voters, a date has been scheduled in July for court hearings. As a member of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, I look forward to fighting for fairer representation for all Texans.
I appreciate your support, and I welcome your ideas and concerns as I invite you to visit your Capitol. My door is open and my staff and I are here to serve you. For more information, please visit www.house.state.tx.us and remind your friends to follow me on Twitter and Facebook.
Yours in Public Service,