The Sealy News | By staff
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.