Where We Are So Far: Legislative Update

When the 85th Legislative Session officially began on January 10th, 2017, we had already filed 24 bills. These pieces of legislation came from the neighborhoods, schools, and people we represent. Twelve were the direct products of my report on my conversations with the educators, parents, and students at the 55 public schools in my district. I viewed this report as a blueprint for nonpartisan, common-sense education policy in Texas. During my visits I didn’t find Democrats or Republicans, conservatives or liberals; I only found people who want the best for our students.

On February 9th I received my committee assignments from Speaker Straus: Vice Chair of Public Education and appointments to Urban Affairs and House Administration. I’m honored to have the opportunity to focus my efforts once again on both the urban core of San Antonio and on public education, this time to implement what I learned during my school visits.

You can find the full list of bills I’ve filed at Texas Legislature Online, but I’ve listed a few of my favorites below.

We also care deeply about many issues that are not found on our list. What we file must reflect the political realities of the Texas Legislature. For strategic purposes, some of the things we care about will be carried and championed by other Representatives and Senators, but we will be there to support them at every step.

If you have questions or want to voice your support for or opposition to one of these bills, please call our Capitol office at (512)-463–0532.

HB 367- Getting Uneaten/Untouched Cafeteria Food to Hungry Students

Educators at every school I visited told me about students who struggled with chronic hunger, especially when they left campus over the weekends. These same schools, however, threw out large amounts of uneaten, untouched cafeteria food at the end of each day for fear of violating federal, state, or district regulations. HB 367 clears up policy surrounding food disposal and donation by allowing school districts to designate a non-profit representative to distribute leftover packaged food (granola bars, bananas, etc) to hungry children on that campus. By allowing schools to efficiently redistribute unopened and untouched food, we help hungry kids be more ready to learn while reducing the amount of food thrown away each day. Read KSAT’s coverage of this bill here.

HB 413- People Over Textbooks

I was surprised to learn during my school visits that textbooks don’t have the same role in classrooms as they once did; many teachers now use a variety of sources and materials instead. Most educators said that they value hiring quality staff members over buying more textbooks that will just sit on the shelf. In their own words: “if I could spend the textbook money anywhere, I would spend it on people.” HB 413 opens up the Instructional Materials Allotment to allow for the hiring and/or support of classroom staff. Read KSAT’s coverage of the bill here.

HB 199 & HB 658- Voting Accessibility

After both the primaries and the general election, my office collected dozens of election complaints from voters. Two of our bills aim to address their concerns and to increase access to the polls. HB 199 allows for countywide polling places on Election Day, not just during early voting. HB 658 gives disabled or mobility-impaired voters priority in voting lines.

HB 195- Mammography Coverage

HB 195 requires insurance companies to cover diagnostic mammograms, ensuring that all women have their first mammograms covered. Read KSAT’s story on San Antonio breast cancer survivor Lisa Kerkez’s advocacy here.

HB 197 & HB 741- Payday Lending Regulation

I’ve been working to keep families from falling victim to predatory lending practices since my time on City Council. This legislative session I’ve filed two bills to protect consumers. HB 197 requires lenders to create contracts that can be easily understood by consumers in both English and Spanish. HB 741 prohibits a payday or auto title lender from offering a loan unless the consumer can demonstrate that they can repay the loan and all fees on time.

HB 198- Property Tax Payment Plans

Property values are spiking across Texas and many homeowners in my district have already seen their tax bills climb. The State allows Tax Assessors to offer property tax payment plans, which allow property taxes to be paid in installments, to senior citizens, disabled veterans, and the unmarried, surviving spouses of disabled veterans. HB 198 expands the list of those eligible for this program to all individuals who can receive a homestead exemption.

HB 182 & HB 379- Sales Disclosure

Appraisal districts are tasked with setting the value of all property in the state for taxation purposes. They are operating, however, on an information imbalance — sales data is easy to find for residential properties, but nearly impossible to dig up for commercial properties, resulting in frequent under-appraisal of commercial properties. School districts, cities, and other taxing entities are losing out on billions of dollars in potential revenue from commercial properties. This lost revenue is made up by burdening average homeowners with tax rate increases. With these two pieces of legislation, we are following in the common-sense footsteps of Bexar County legislators from opposite sides of the aisle. HB 182 (previously filed by Rep. Villarreal) asks the state to study the potential revenue gains of requiring the disclosure of property sales prices, while HB 379 (previously filed by Sen. Wentworth) requires this disclosure. Listen to TPR’s piece on these bills here.

HB 185- Principal Tracking

Campus leaders shape a school’s culture. As stated in What They Said, “at a school with high principal turnover, where leadership is a revolving door, teachers lose faith in the viability of any plans to improve their campus, undermining efforts for change.” HB 185 requires the Texas Education Agency to track principal turnover, and I expect, once tracked, that we will see some interesting correlations with campus success.

HB 186- School Finance Weight Study

In addition to the basic allotment that the State distributes to school districts for each student, schools receive additional money for “special populations” of students, including English Language Learners (ELL) and economically disadvantaged students. This additional money is calculated by a series of “weights,” which have not been adjusted or seriously studied in over thirty years. HB 186 requires the State to study the true cost of education for ELL and economically disadvantaged students. My hope is that the legislature, armed with up-to-date information, will make the desperately needed adjustments to these out-of-date formulas. Read KUT’s piece on this bill here.

HB 353- Behavioral Professionals in Schools

To quote from “What They Said:” “treat the child as a human, and what you’re left with, and what the teacher is left with, is a student who is ready to learn.” Schools should address the well-being of the whole child, and they need professional social workers, trauma counselors, and family specialists to do this work. HB 353 requires all schools with certain percentages of vulnerable students to hire an additional behavioral health professional, and provides funding to make that happen.

HB 188- Pre-Kindergarten Student:Teacher Ratio

As I heard during my school visits, quality Pre-Kindergarten is “not a luxury anymore. It’s a necessity…if we want our kids to make it.” National studies recommend that Pre-K classrooms have an adult to child ratio of 1 to 10; HB 188 requires our state-funded Pre-K programs to meet this ratio.

HB 816- Teacher Mentors

Many of the high-need campuses I met with were loaded with rookie teachers, even though those campuses required the most resilient and skilled educators if they were to succeed. HB 816 asks the Texas Education Agency to implement the recommendations of the Teacher Mentoring Advisory Committee, which was established by Rep. Villarreal’s HB 2012 in the 83rd Session. Texas loses an average of 30,000 teachers a year, costing the State hundreds of millions of dollars; these recommendations will support new teachers and reduce teacher attrition.

HB 192- Housing Discrimination

HB 192 adds to the Texas Fair Housing Act by prohibiting housing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.

HB 191- Simplified Open/Concealed Carry Signage

After the passage of Open Carry, our office provided free signage for businesses and congregations who wanted to stop the open carry of firearms on their premises. The statute, however, required these signs to be large, unattractive, and unclear, forcing small business owners who wanted to prohibit open carry to add an unsightly obstruction to their storefronts. HB 191 simplifies the requirements for Concealed and Open Carry signs and requires DPS to post the language for each sign in both English and Spanish on their website. DPS must also post a printable copy of the amended sign. We hope to respect the wishes of small business owners and congregations who want to create weapon-free zones.

HB 862- ID Fee Waivers for Homeless Youth and Youth in Foster Care

Youth in foster care or homeless situations experience many barriers to acquiring State IDs, which are required for jobs, housing, and social services. HB 862 waives all fees for ID and driver’s license applications for these vulnerable youth, lowering a financial barrier to these services. We are also working with state agencies to remove other barriers these youth may face in ID applications via inter-agency rule changes.