Politics & Government

The good and bad of the 2015 Texas Legislature

The Texas Capitol

Local lawmakers packed their bags and headed to Austin five months ago, filled with high hopes and big goals for the 84th legislative session.

Here’s a look at what Tarrant County lawmakers said in part were their highs and lows from the session that wrapped up Monday.

Sen. Konni Burton, R-Colleyville

Highs: “Helping solidify a group of new, like-minded senators into a consistent block in favor of limited government, personal liberties and fiscal responsibility.”

Lows: “The items that needed long-term reform that the Legislature didn’t get to finish. Ethics, which was declared an emergency item by Gov. Abbott, wasn’t completed due to political games in the Texas House. There were plenty of agreed reforms both chambers could have signed off on, but chose not to. In addition, the state issues billions in new debt for tuition revenue bonds, while not fully addressing our growing infrastructure problems.”

Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills

Highs: “This has been a solid, conservative legislative session. We tackled big issues like border security and transportation funding while still finding $3.8 billion in tax relief for Texas families and businesses. I would call that a win for all Texans.”

Other: “It has been a privilege for me to serve as chairman of the Texas Senate Republican Caucus and the Senate Administration Committee. As administration chair, I was pleased to see that the Local & Uncontested Calendar process ran smoothly and facilitated passage of some strong legislation. And as caucus chair, I couldn't be more proud of the way our caucus operated this Session. We communicate and work well together, and we’re glad to call each other colleagues and friends.”

Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound

Highs: “We passed a responsible budget that makes wise investments in transportation, education and border security as well as providing significant tax relief to businesses and homeowners. This budget will keep Texas strong and prosperous.” She also said: “Texas will improve upon our success following what we accomplished this session. We have made Texas even more attractive to businesses by reducing the franchise tax, made our government more accountable and transparent and also helped our most vulnerable citizens by reorganizing our state's health and human services agencies.”

Lows: “I wanted to retire more of our state’s debt. There were several good ideas put forth, and we will continue to work on this issue during the interim.”

Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury

Did not respond to Star-Telegram survey.

Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake

Highs: “One of the key priorities of the session was ethics reform. While not every ethics bill made it through the process, I am excited that my bill, House Bill 1295, joint-authored by Rep. Charlie Geren and sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Kelly Hancock, made it to the governor’s desk. This bill provides for sweeping changes in contract disclosure, requiring a publicly available list of all interested parties in government contracts — including those agreements with elected officials and government employees.”

Lows: “While a record number of bills were filed during the session, we passed the lowest number of bills since 1995. It is a good thing that not all of them passed, yet there are a more than a few that I wish would have made it to the finish line.”

Rep. Nicole Collier, D-Fort Worth

Highs: “One of my biggest accomplishments during this session was successfully passing several bills, including ones that increase help for injured workers, improve access to affordable housing, boost workplace safety, and facilitate the growth of the Fort Worth Transportation Authority. She also said she believes that “this session was a symbol of hope for the 85th Legislature. There was room in the budget to close gaps in public education, improve access to healthcare through increases to the Medicaid reimbursement rates for our medical professionals, in addition to the tax relief we provided, but not all were addressed this session. However, we will have a renewed starting point to begin working on these same critical issues during the next session while riding on this year’s momentum.”

Lows: “I do not feel disappointed about the session but I do believe more consideration should have been given to the potential impact of various legislation before they were implemented.”

Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth

Highs: “Actually negotiating with the Senate so we [were] able to get out of here on time … on the tax package, margins tax, homestead exemption, sales taxes,” he said. “All was on the table and we had the chance to play ‘let’s make a deal.’” He also said the Legislature “ passed a good, good budget. I think that is probably is the highlight. We put more into education, public and higher education. We put a lot of money into border security, a lot of money into transportation.”

Lows: “I guess the legislation requiring the disclosure of dark money. We were able to [pass it] in the House but the Senate didn’t agree.”

Rep. Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth

Highs: “I am proud to have championed multiple bills that focused on the deregulation of various licensed industries. … The bills that did pass in which I authored were primarily cleanup legislation that helped to make law, and the way those laws are enforced in our local communities, easier to understand and enforce. My goal was not to come to Austin to create new law; rather my hope was to clean up what has already been on the books.”

Lows: “I am not disappointed with how my personal efforts played out this session. I represented my constituents and filed legislation that created dialogue and highlighted areas of reform that I am passionate about addressing. One of my major goals coming into this session was to eliminate the franchise tax, and while we did not get rid of it completely we took a major step in doing so by giving a 25 percent across-the-board cut to business that pay that tax.”

Rep. Stephanie Klick, R-Fort Worth

Highs: “The passage of Senate Bill 339. This bill allows patients with intractable epilepsy access to CBD oil, a promising new treatment, for their seizures. Having this treatment available in Texas is going to be a great benefit to them and their families. Gov. Abbott signed this bill into law [June 1]. [And] the passage of HB2950. This bill reinstates the Infectious Disease Task Force, established temporarily by Gov. Perry as a response to Ebola in North Texas, as a permanent task force under the office of the governor. This will allow Texas to be proactive in preventing the spread of infectious diseases, instead of responding to an infectious disease after it starts spreading.”

Lows: “We weren’t able to work out a compromise on Senate Bill 9. This bill would have put a limit on the rate of growth of the state budget. There is a strong rationale for budget caps to ensure that the state budget doesn't grow faster than the state economy.”

Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth

Highs: “It’s hard to narrow it down to just one. As an ardent pro-life supporter, I was honored to have played a large role in the most important pro-life bill of the session. As a joint author, I was able to add four substantive amendments to the judicial bypass bill which strengthened the measure. It was terrific playing such a significant role on such a significant bill. I am also quite proud of HB3387 — a bill I authored which would help protect the public from sex offenders. … On a more general note, I am glad that the Legislature more fully funded transportation and infrastructure on a renewable, sustainable basis.”

Lows: “I had some bills ranging from protecting Second Amendment rights, to criminal justice reform, to strengthening the family and others that did not make it on to the House floor. These were good policies that I look forward to pursuing further in the future.”

Rep. Ramon Romero Jr., D-Fort Worth

Highs: “Outside of building on relationships with colleagues in the House and Senate, we passed one-third of our bills out of both houses.” One was HB3982, which “targets the illegal and immoral practice of predatory bar owners using ‘ficheras’ or ‘bar girls’ employed by the bar to solicit drinks to patrons at triple or quadruple the ordinary price. Many times these women are victims of forced labor and human trafficking. I am truly honored to be part of the solution to stopping this terrible practice.”

Lows: “The absolute lack of mental health access. Our efforts to increase access through HB3995 and an amendment to SB202 both failed, placing in jeopardy not only the future of marriage and family therapists, but also those students in MFT programs like that at Texas Wesleyan University.”

Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford

Highs: “Stopping a lot of bad legislation from moving through the process.” He also said that the session rated a “C+” which is a step in the right direction from the previous session.”

Lows: “Not passing my bill to end in-state college tuition for illegal immigrants.” He also said: “I wish ‘Republican’ House leadership stopped micromanaging the entire process as much as it did. We should have been hearing conservative bills far earlier in the session, giving them a chance to succeed instead of failing. The ‘Peoples House’ should be allowed to work based on the merits of the bills instead of politics and retribution against individual members.”

Rep. Tony Tinderholt, R-Arlington

Highs: “Building rapport and relationships with the House members from both sides of the aisle. It’s imperative to have relationships in the House if you want to get anything done.” He also cited HB1237, which names part of U.S. 290 in Hayes and Travis counties the Lieutenant Clay Crabb Highway. “He was a close personal friend of mine who was killed in the line of duty as an Austin police officer. It was an honor to be able to do that for him, his selfless wife and three wonderful children.” He also said that “Texans will get tax cuts, but not enough. Spending was put in check when compared to the 83rd legislative session but still went over the inflation plus population when it comes to what Texas lawmakers appropriate. We did some good things but we can and must do better.”

Lows: “Not having the opportunity to vote on the House floor to further pro-life legislation.”

Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie

Highs: “Three years ago, I made a promise to my district that I would file and pass a bill banning ‘double dipping’ by elected officials. This session, I fulfilled that promise and this important ethics reform has been sent to the governor's office. Once law, this measure will prevent state elected officials from being eligible to receive state annuity payments as a result of their service until they have left office.”

Lows: “Public education continues to be underfunded, and there was no action taken to expand Medicaid, which would have made affordable healthcare coverage available to over 1 million working men and women in our state, as well as drawn down $100 billion in federal dollars. In addition, we failed to put a contingency plan in place in the event the U.S. Supreme Court decides in favor of the plaintiffs in the King v. Burwell case. If they do so, over a million Texans would lose their health insurance tax credit and no longer be able to afford coverage.”

Rep. Bill Zedler, R-Arlington

Highs: “For me personally, it was the adult stem cell bill I got through. In 2003, 2004, 2005, there was a lot of adult stem cell therapy through the state. … The FDA said they are going to classify that as a new drug and they are going to control it. We created a consortium to help us deal better with the encroachment of the FDA.” He added that the Legislature cut taxes, increased border security, put more money into transportation, did more to “protect innocent lives” and did more to protect the Second Amendment.

Lows: “We did very little about defending the state against the Supreme Court ruling that has to do with the institution of marriage. If they let every state do their own thing, we will be OK. If they overturn the ruling, we have done nothing to help ourselves. … Depending on what the Supreme Court rules, it could have a very bad effect on the state.”

Anna M. Tinsley, 817-390-7610

Twitter: @annatinsley