With the 86th Texas Legislature ending May 27, the Victoria area is poised to see the benefits of a positive legislative agenda.
My session goals were to provide property tax relief, deliver an overhaul of the school finance system, fully recover from Harvey, improve rural health care in Texas as provide major investments in our state parks and historic sites. I’m proud to report that we achieved these goals.
As a member of the powerful Finance Conference Committee, I was one of ten lawmakers to write the final version of the state budget, totaling $250 billion.
Through the state budget as well as HB 3, approximately $5 billion was provided for property tax relief, $4.5 billion for education reforms including increasing the state-funded “Basic Allotment” per student, and $2 billion to directly provide teachers with a meaningful pay raise.
To protect the Teacher Retirement System, $1.1 billion was dedicated to the TRS fund so it will remain actuarially sound. Additionally, I co-authored Senate Bill 12, providing all retired teachers a one-time "13th check" beyond the monthly allocation they currently receive.
As chair of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, I passed multiple bills to expand access and improve the quality of healthcare across Texas, such as SB 749 that ensures hospitals in Victoria can continue to provide critical neonatal and maternal care.
Working with local law enforcement, we wrote and passed SB 632 seeing that Local Mental Health Authorities (LMHA) appoint two sheriffs to their board to ensure that law enforcement is involved in the budgeting of how local mental health dollars are spent in our communities.
Through the state budget, I successfully secured a record $106 million for rural hospitals to benefit our Victoria area hospitals. Also $59 million in new funding to increase outpatient community mental health treatment capacity and avoid future waitlists; as well as an increase of $26 million for 50 new community inpatient psychiatric beds was also secured.
To protect state park and historic sites, I authored and passed Senate Joint Resolution 24 and Senate Bill 26 which will offer a significant and long-term funding increase for state recreation and historic sites across Texas. Under this legislative package, the entire amount of an existing state sporting good sales tax will be constitutionally dedicated to parks and historic sites.
As for Senate Bill 421, my grassroots eminent domain reform legislation, I’m proud that it gained the support of landowner groups statewide, but I was disappointed it failed to cross the finish line for the third consecutive session. My fight for landowner property rights will continue because there is a balance that must be struck that allows industry to flourish while respecting the basic rights of property owners.
In response to Hurricane Harvey, Texas passed a series of monumental bills that are designed to improve disaster preparation, response, and recovery.
I co-wrote Senate Bill 500 that secured nearly $3.5 billion for Harvey recovery statewide. Of that total, I saw that Victoria ISD will receive an additional $3 million and the University of Houston - Victoria will receive an additional $1.7 million for Harvey expenses.
Authoring Senate Bill 6, my office enhances the training for local emergency management professionals so that they cannot only respond to disasters in the short term, but can prepare to assist their communities in recovery on a long term basis. Additionally, Senate Bill 6 establishes a disaster loan program of $10 million for small communities who see over 50% of their tax base wiped out in a disaster.
With Senate Bill 7, we create two funds that will be administered by the Texas Water Development Board for flood projects: the Flood Infrastructure Fund with $793 million and the Texas Infrastructure Resilience Fund with $857 million.
With Senate Bill 8 we create a network of regional watershed groups overseen by the Texas Water Development Board with emphasis on watershed planning.
Serving the people of Senate District 18 is a great honor, and with your continued comments, suggestions and support we will continue building a great future for the Crossroads region. - Senator Lois W. Kolkhorst (R-Brenham)