Monthly Archives

June 2019

The Sealy News: Kolkhorst touts successful legislative session for Senate District 18

June 13, 2019
The Sealy News | By staff

Contributed report
The 86th Legislature ended on May 27 and while Gov. Greg Abbott is still signing legislation, State Sen. Lois W. Kolkhorst (R-Brenham) is touting legislation that positively impacts Senate District 18.

“My goals this session were to provide property tax relief, deliver an overhaul of the school finance system, fully recover from Harvey, improve access to healthcare in rural Texas, as well as see major investments in the state and historic parks,” said Kolkhorst. “It was a long session with many twists and turns but in the end, we achieved these goals and more.”

As a member of the powerful Finance Committee and Budget Conference Committee, Kolkhorst was one of 10 lawmakers to write the final version of the state budget, totaling $250 billion.

Through the state budget and House Bill 3, $5 billion was provided for major property tax relief, $4.5 billion for educational reform in the classroom including increasing the state-funded “basic allotment” per student, and $2 billion to provide teachers with a meaningful pay raise.

To protect the Teacher Retirement System, $1.1 billion was dedicated to the retired teacher’s pension fund to ensure that it remains actuarially sound. Additionally, she co-authored and served on the conference committee for Senate Bill 12, which will give all current retired teachers a one-time “13th check” beyond the monthly allocation they currently receive as a cost of living adjustment.

As chair of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, Kolkhorst authored and passed bills expanding access to and improving the quality of healthcare across rural Texas. Responding to issues local hospitals had with state bureaucratic rulemaking related to neonatal intensive care units and maternal designations, Kolkhorst authored and passed SB 749 to clarify and ensure that rural hospitals can continue to provide critical neonatal and maternal care.

Inspired by discussions with local sheriffs, Senate Bill 632 requires local mental health authorities (LMHA) to appoint two sheriffs or sheriff representatives to their governing body. This legislation will ensure that local law enforcement is involved in the planning and budgeting of how local mental health dollars are deployed in their communities.

Additionally, through Senate Bill 633, LMHA’s are required to now plan, develop, and coordinate local policy, resources, and services for mental health care regionally beyond the boundaries of the service district in order to coordinate more mental health beds and more efficiently leverage tax dollars for the communities in their shared regions.

To preserve rural hospitals, Senate Bill 1621 instructs the Health and Human Services Commission to create a strategic plan to ensure access to hospital care in rural areas. Kolkhorst successfully secured a record $106 million for rural hospitals in the state budget that will benefit rural hospitals in populations of less than 50,000. Through the state budget, Kolkhorst also secured $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.

To promote and protect state park and historic sites, Kolkhorst 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 currently collected state’s sporting good sales tax will be constitutionally dedicated to parks and historic sites.

“The sporting goods sales tax is not a new tax but rather a tax that was intended to fund our state parks since 1993,” said Kolkhorst. “By constitutionally dedicating this tax, our parks can keep up with deferred maintenance and plan for the future. This legislation passed with unanimous and bipartisan support because we can all agree that these special places are vital to our economy and to our heritage, culture, and way of life.”

As for Senate Bill 421, Kolkhorst’s premier eminent domain reform legislation, the senator said she was proud of the legislation which gained the ardent support of landowner groups statewide but was disappointed it failed to cross the finish line for the third consecutive session. Kolkhorst said that her 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.

As a co-author of Senate Bill 500, Kolkhorst helped secure $3.5 billion for Harvey recovery statewide. Of that total, $1.4 billion was allocated to the Texas Education Agency to reimburse school districts for property value losses after Harvey. Additional appropriations within Senate Bill 500 include: $1.7 million for the University of Houston at Victoria, $10.2 million for the University of Texas Marine Science Center in Port Aransas and $4 million to the Department of Housing and Community Affairs for affordable rental housing in Port Aransas.

“During the 86th Texas Legislative Session, one of my top missions was to address the loss of life and property from Hurricane Harvey, which severely impacted much of Senate District 18,” said Kolkhorst. “Survivors and victims of Harvey must never be forgotten and the best way to pay tribute to them is to unite as Texans helping other Texans and creating an action plan for the next disaster.”

To protect the state against future natural disasters, Kolkhorst authored and passed Senate Bill 6 to enhance training and education for local emergency management professionals to ensure that they cannot only respond to disasters in the short term but that they are prepared 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.

Kolkhorst also co-wrote Senate Bill 7 creating 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. Senate Bill 8 was also passed to create a network of regional watershed groups developed and overseen by the Texas Water Development Board with emphasis on watershed planning.

“Serving the people of Senate District 18 has and continues to be one of the greatest honors of my life, and I look forward to continue serving,” said Kolkhorst.

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Source: http://sealynews.com/stories/kolkhorst-touts-successful-legislative-session-for-senate-district-18,81586 

Texas Monthly: Texas Parks Are Broke. But There’s Good News: Voters Can Rescue Them.

June 10, 2019
Texas Monthly | By Wes Ferguson

A constitutional amendment aims to shore up funding for Texas’s system of state parks and historic sites.

The Chinati Mountains State Natural Area in the Big Bend region will someday open to visitors.
Earl Nottingham/Texas Parks & Wildlife Department

Money intended for state parks and historic sites should actually be spent on state parks and historic sites, right?

It took lawmakers a little more than a quarter century to reach that conclusion. Since 1993, sales tax collected from the purchase of sporting goods and outdoor gear was supposed to fund Texas’s system of much-loved yet perpetually cash-strapped state parks and historic sites. Buy a kayak in Texas? In theory, you’re a park benefactor. Same for the purchase of baseball gloves and fishing poles, exercise bikes and the like.

But legislators couldn’t resist withholding the revenue from state parks in order to shore up the state’s general budget. From 1993 to 2015, in fact, just 40 percent of an estimated $2.5 billion in sporting goods sales tax ever made its way to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to both operate state parks and provide grants for local and regional parks.

“We’ve been on a roller coaster ride all these years,” says George Bristol, a top booster of state parks.

Bristol is expecting a smoother ride for TPWD in the very near future. On Friday, Governor Greg Abbott signed legislation allowing voters to decide once and for all whether the sporting goods sales tax will be used exclusively for the purpose it was originally intended.

The constitutional amendment will hit the ballot in November. It couldn’t come sooner: TPWD is staring down an estimated $800 million backlog in repairs and maintenance.

“It gets us out of a lot of problems—not all the problems, but a great many of the problems,” Bristol says. “Having a known flow of funds is a big step in the right direction.”

For years, TPWD never knew how much money from the sporting goods sales tax the Legislature would appropriate, if any. The agency was at the mercy of the political climate and the state’s fluctuating financial health. Even as the popularity of state parks has exploded to nearly 10 million visits a year, TPWD was unable to budget more than a year or two in advance. Aging facilities have fallen into disrepair. Long lines and frequent closures await visitors at the busiest parks. On pleasant weekends, forget about trying to get into state park system jewels like Enchanted Rock and Garner State Park without a reservation.

Meanwhile, land either purchased or donated to establish new parks has languished with no timetable to open. TPWD has also been forced to turn down land donations that could have led to the opening of more parks.

“The department couldn’t afford to take dedications of private lands for state parks that were given to us because we didn’t have the funding to open them and operate them. Isn’t that crazy?” says Joseph Fitzsimons, former chairman of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission and founder of the Texas Coalition for State Parks, a group pushing for the constitutional dedication of the sporting goods sales tax. “If somebody tries to give you a park and you can’t take it, something’s wrong.”

But now prospects are suddenly looking much brighter for new parks like West Texas’s rugged 38,000-acre Chinati Mountains State Natural Area, donated in 1996, and Powderhorn Ranch State Park, part of a 17,000-acre public coastal prairie on Matagorda Bay. One of the most eagerly awaited state parks in the works—Palo Pinto Mountains, on 4,400 acres of ridges, canyons, and lake on former ranch land 75 miles west of Fort Worth—got an extra boost from the most recent legislative session. Lawmakers appropriated $12.5 million to develop Palo Pinto, which was acquired in 2011. “It’s going to be an awesome state park,” says Rep. John Cyrier, R-Lockhart.

Cyrier authored the House’s version of the sporting goods sales tax bill. If approved by voters this fall, the constitutional amendment would take effect in 2021 and could only be altered by a two-thirds vote in the House and Senate followed by a statewide referendum.

TPWD will receive 94 percent of the sporting goods sales tax—a pot that has grown to about $160 million a year—and the Texas Historical Commission will receive the remaining 6 percent to operate the state’s 22 historic sites. Currently, the sporting goods sales tax funds a little more than half of state park operations, with the remainder mostly coming from entry and camping fees. TPWD would also continue to provide grants to city and county parks from its share of the tax revenue.

“I’ve got to tell you, this is going to be transformative,” Fitzsimons says.

In the past three legislative sessions, there’s been broad bipartisan support to provide steady funding for state parks. In 2015, the Legislature appropriated 100 percent of the sporting goods sales tax; in 2017, it appropriated nearly 90 percent. But legislation to make the funding permanent faltered. It finally got over the last legislative hurdle in late May, during the last full week of the 86th session.

“With Texas being over 94 percent in private lands, the opportunities for people to be out in open spaces are basically through our state park system,” Cyrier says. “Protecting those parks now and preserving them for the future is absolutely critical for the quality of life of all Texans.”

Bristol says his polling over the past decade shows that about 7 in 10 Texans support the constitutional amendment. “As somebody who’s been working on this for more than 18 years,” he says, “I’m more than delighted and glad it’s almost over.”

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Source: https://www.texasmonthly.com/politics/texas-parks-are-broke-but-good-news-voters-can-rescue-them/ 

© 2019 Texas Coalition for State Parks. Political Ad by Texas Coalition for State Parks PAC.