After passing Alicia’s Law last session, we continued our work to combat human trafficking. We secured $1.6 million in funding for the Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Forces in the State of Texas. These highly trained officers work tirelessly to pursue those committing crimes against children. One of my biggest legislative priorities was HB 2268. This bill streamlines bureaucratic procedures that hinder prosecutor's ability to retrieve evidence for prosecution against perpetrators who are using the internet for crimes; this allows states to honor search warrants across state lines. In this legislation, we also created the strongest privacy laws in the nation protecting all your email content from search and seizure without a search warrant. In addition, SB 742 will help law enforcement to better identify children who are at risk of human trafficking and create a system of reporting for attempted abduction of children. HB 2637 increases penalties for sex offenders who have been found to have used someone else’s identity.
Continuing to work on government efficiency and streamlining governmental functions, I co-sponsored SB 512, SB 809 and SB 1457. These bills were all designed to decrease paperwork, streamline governmental programs, and reduce bureaucracy in state government.
Water, it is absolutely critical to our state! This session, we were able to come together and strengthen the framework to provide water for Texans for the foreseeable future. Texas has a State Water Plan for the next 50 years that was created by local communities in collaboration with the state. This plan must be funded, so the Legislature got to work and passed HB 4 and SJR 1 to set up a revolving loan program for local communities to fund their water projects. Voters will have the opportunity to vote on SJR 1, a constitutional amendment, on the November ballot. This will allow $2 billion to be used from the Economic Stabilization Fund to support the development of water projects across the state. The focus on water is occurring at a great time considering the extensive drought conditions we have been experiencing.
The Legislature passed several bills that were key to protecting gun rights, religious freedom, and the sanctity of life. In response to the threat of local and federal regulations for gun owners, legislators passed SB 987. This bill will give the Attorney General the ability to obtain a temporary or permanent injunction against a city or county that attempts to enforce unlawful restrictions on gun owners. In addition, we passed SB 1907 to allow concealed handgun license holders to transport and store firearms and ammunition in private vehicles on college campuses. We also passed several bills to decrease the bureaucracy in obtaining a concealed handgun license. To address the onslaught of lawsuits related to religious freedom, the Legislature passed HB 308. The bill allows Texas public schools the freedom to educate students on the history of traditional winter celebrations, including Christmas and Hanukkah and allow students and teachers to say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Hanukkah” without the threat of restriction of religious freedom. Schools will also have the freedom to display scenes or symbols associated with Christmas or Hanukkah. It’s too bad we had to pass this type of legislation, but it was necessary to ensure our religious freedom. During the 2nd called Special Session, the Legislature passed HB 2 to increase safety and protection for women seeking an abortion and stopped the practice of abortion after five months.
As a member of the Pensions Committee, we worked closely with teacher and state employee groups to create state policy that will ensure that the Teachers Retirement System (TRS) and Employee Retirement System (ERS) are a stable source of retirement for years to come. We also provided a cost of living adjustment in HB 1458 for teachers across the state who have been retired since August 31, 2004. In addition, I joint authored HB 13 that will increase transparency and oversight of our public pension plans. Thank you to all of you from Lubbock who came to Austin to advocate on behalf of teachers. It was great to see you during the legislative session!
This session, legislators worked hard to enhance growth in the state economy by cutting taxes. House Bill 500 makes a variety of changes to the state franchise tax. We cut the margin tax by 2.5% in 2014, and 5% in 2015 as funds are available. The $1 million business exemption was restructured and businesses can now deduct up to the first $1 million in gross receipts. In the past, if a business had gross receipts just over the $1 million threshold, they were not allowed any of the $1 million exemption. Targeted cuts were also directed to businesses treated differently than their competitors under current franchise tax law. All these steps were specifically taken to decrease
the cost of doing business in the State of Texas.
This session, the Legislature heard from many parents, teachers and school administrators, particularly related to testing and accountability. As a result, we passed HB 5 which includes significant reform. The bill creates more flexibility in the core curriculum, decreases the end of course exams from fifteen to five, and creates a new state rating system for schools. In addition, the bill encourages more technical training at the high school level. This legislation represents a concerted effort to bring needed flexibility while maintaining high standards for our students.
Much of my time during this session was spent in the committee process. I was one of only a handful of legislators appointed to serve on four different standing committees. The work of the House Committee on State Affairs consisted of major statewide issues, while the House Committee on Calendars set the bills for vote on the daily House calendar. Throughout this session, the House Committee on Pensions spent considerable hours working on
public pension system reform to ensure our system would continue to be able to meet its obligations to state employees and teachers. Finally, the House Committee on Administration is charged with adopting the rules governing the House and working closely with the Texas Department of Public Safety to maintain the safety and decorum of the House while making sure the legislative process runs smoothly.
This session we worked hard to look for ways to support our veterans across Texas. I authored HB 1678 to ensure we give surviving spouses of disabled veterans the ability to obtain a license plate in honor of their spouse for the same cost to the veteran. We passed HB 2254 to assist veterans in returning to work and will allow veterans to use military experience as credit for various occupational licenses. HB 97 creates a limited residence homestead exemption for partially disabled veterans and their spouses on homes donated to veterans by a charitable organization. To honor our service men and women, we passed HB 150 requiring flags to be flown half-staff at the Capitol to honor service members from Texas who are killed in action. SB 1476 establishes a Veterans Entrepreneurial Program.
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