85th Legislative Report

August 1, 2018

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

First and foremost, I am honored and thankful to serve as your voice in the Texas Legislature as your Representative. After meeting with many of you throughout the interim and working with constituents serving on our District Advisory Teams (DATs), I continue to address the important issues facing our community and state in the Texas House.

Representing District 26 is a privilege and it is one that I take a great pride in.  My sole purpose is to serve and to make the right decisions for the right reasons from a constitutional conservative perspective that seek to preserve personal liberty. In this newsletter, I hope you will take the opportunity to review what the Texas Legislature accomplished during the 85th Legislative Session. 

Feel free to contact me at either the District Office or Capitol Office if you have a concern or issue that I may assist with.  Again, thank you for granting me the opportunity to serve, so that Fort Bend County and Texas can continue to be the best place in the nation to live, work, and raise a family. 

God Bless Texas,

Rick Miller

 

Session Highlights:

FISCAL DISCIPLINE - BUDGET
SANCTUARY CITIES
CPS REFORM
ELECTION INTEGRITY
PUBLIC EDUCATION
PROTECTING LIFE
CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS
HONORING VETERANS, MEMBERS OF THE MILITARY
IMPORTANT LEGISLATION AUTHORED BY REP. MILLER FOR DISTRICT 26
PUBLIC SAFETY
SPECIAL SESSION

 


 

Fiscal Discipline—Budget

The legislature passed a conservative, balanced state budget in Senate Bill 1 which appropriates $215.9 billion in all funds.  The growth of this budget was less than the rate of growth of population and inflation, the desired goal of a conservative budget.  In a difficult budgeting session, due to the estimated revenues being less than the previous budgeting cycle in 2015, priorities had to be decided in determining what received funding and what did not.  However, significant investments were made in the areas of public education, border security, community mental health services, and Child Protective Services. 

Below is a chart that details exactly what percentage of funds went to particular areas of government spending. 

 


 

Sanctuary Cities

Senate Bill 4 addresses “sanctuary” jurisdictions.  Under this legislation, a local government entity or campus police department may not adopt a policy limiting the enforcement of immigration law, or disallowing a peace officer from inquiring about a detained or arrested person’s immigration status.  Noncompliance with any part of this legislation can result in civil fines being levied, as well as responsible individuals being removed from office. This bill will promote public safety for Texans by eliminating magnets that encourage illegal immigration.

 


 

CPS Reform

Texas Child Protective Services (CPS) has been the focus of intense debate throughout the 85th Session. Beginning late in 2015, a federal judge ruling set in motion much public discourse over the state of CPS and its parent agency, the Department of Family and Protective Services. The need for reform and improvement in these agencies was highlighted by revelations early in 2016 that the Department suffered from a backlog of abuse and neglect investigations, triggered by high turnover of Department caseworkers.

In response to these issues, House Speaker Joe Straus appointed a bipartisan work group of House members to examine CPS and develop recommendations and legislation to improve investigations and address the shortage in foster care capacity.  I was pleased to be a member of this workgroup throughout the interim and to work with members of the Legislature in passing House Bill 4, House Bill 5, and Senate Bill 11 which will result in drastically needed overhaul of the system. 

Specifically, the bills increase the monetary assistance available to “kinship care” families that meet income eligibility requirements, move DFPS from the umbrella of HHSC oversight and establish it as a standalone agency, and expand community-based foster care.  Allowing DFPS to exist as a standalone agency will ensure the agency head is fully accountable to the governor and additional layers of bureaucracy are removed between front line CPS workers and state leadership.  Existing as a single independent agency will also allow the DFPS Commissioner to set priorities for the agency without consideration of an entire system of programs vying for the same pool of administrative services.

One critical part of the CPS system that was not addressed during the session was in the area of evidenced-based trauma training for all people who interact with the children in the Foster Care System.  I carried a bill to further these goals and will be working during the interim and ready to file the bill in the next Session in 2019. 

 


 

ELECTION INTEGRITY

Senate Bill 5 expands the list of acceptable identifications (ID) types that may be used when voting.  Under the bill’s reforms, passport cards that are recently expired may be used, as well as gun licenses, bank statements, certified birth certificates, and paychecks. We must ensure the integrity of the ballot box and in addition to strengthening the Voter ID law, we also passed legislation to help prevent fraud that exists from mail in ballots.

 


 

Public Education

Much work is still left to be accomplished in the realm of public education, however several significant reforms were passed. 

House Bill 22 adopted a new accountability system which includes three domains (Student Achievement, Student Progress, and Closing the Gap) instead of five. STAAR scores will account for less than 50% of accountability metrics for high schools and the new system removes attendance as a metric.

Major reform for the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) was passed in House Bill 3976.  Without legislative changes and additional funding to TRS-Care, the program would have gone into a death spiral and collapsed, providing an underfunded health care system for retired teachers statewide. With the passage of HB 3976, teachers will be provided (1) a pre-65 plan for those retirees who are not Medicare eligible - targeted premiums over a four-year period and a high deductible, as well as a (2) single Medicare Advantage option for the Medicare eligible post-65 retirees - $146/month premium and largely the same plan as they've had in the past. The bill also provides four years of zero cost healthcare for disability retirees, the ability to opt-out and re-enroll at the age of 65 with no penalty, and free generic maintenance drugs to the pre-65 retirees.

I was personally pleased to author legislation that will require that students enrolled in kindergarten and 1st  grade in a public school will be screened for dyslexia.  It also requires that each regional education service center must employ a dyslexia specialist to provide assistance and resources to parents and school districts as necessary in regard to their dyslexia programs.

 


 

Protecting Life

The 85th Legislature made considerable strides in protecting the life of the unborn.  A total of 6 pro-life bills were passed that will solidify the prohibition on partial-birth abortion, address the disposition of fetal remains, regulate the use of adult stem cells for terminally-ill individuals, and protect doctors from being sued on charges of wrongful birth of a child.  Most significant in these efforts was Senate Bill 8, which bans partial-birth abortions.  These types of abortions are already illegal under federal law, but state prosecutors cannot enforce federal law.  This bill provides an enforcement mechanism for Texas to prosecute those who perform partial-birth abortions.  The bill also prohibits the sale of fetal tissues and organs, provides for the humane disposition of fetal remains, and prohibits dismemberment abortions. 

 


 

Constitutional Rights

The 85th Legislature acted to safeguard religious liberty by passing Senate Bill 24, which prohibits a governmental entity from compelling the production or disclosure of sermons delivered by religious leaders during religious worship or to compel the religious leader to testify regarding the sermon.  Additionally, House Bill 3859 was passed which prohibits state discrimination or adverse action against a child welfare services provider for making decisions based on sincerely held religious beliefs. 

Article V (Convention of the States) of the U.S. Constitution gives states the power to address national problems when our federal government refuses to yield.  Article V provides an alternate path to amendment when Congress refuses to act in the best interests of the county.  An amendment to the Constitution must be considered if two-thirds of state legislatures call for a convention.  Once a convention is called, the amendment is accepted if three-fourths of the state legislatures or state conventions ratify it. 

Senate Joint Resolution 2, which I authored and carried in the House, along with Senator Brian Birdwell, is a mechanism by which the Legislature applies to the United States Congress to call a convention under Article V of the United States Constitution for the purposes of amending the Constitution to: (1) Impose fiscal restraint on the federal government.  (2) Limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government.  (3) Limit the terms of office of federal officials and congressmen. 

 


 

Honoring Veterans, Members of the Military

As a thirty-year Navy veteran providing services to our veterans is always a top priority of mine.  This session, serving as the Chairman of the Veterans Caucus, I was pleased to author two important bills for Texas veterans.   HB 271 establishes the Veterans Recovery Pilot Program to provide veterans suffering from Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) with hyperbaric oxygen treatment.

HB 929 extends the given time for military personnel to submit their oversea ballots to six days.  It provides more time to those ballots that might be sent late or arrive late due to various circumstances related to overseas receipt of ballot

Legislation was also passed to provide eligible veterans property tax exemption if their homestead was provided to them by a charitable organization at a cost of no more than 50 percent of its market value.

 


 

IMPORTANT LEGISLATION AUTHORED BY REP. MILLER FOR DISTRICT 26

  • HB 931 facilitates the creation of statewide hike and bike trails through the use of electric utility property. Utility companies are free from some legal liability for use of right of way for recreational purposes. This legislation will facilitate the creation of additional miles of hike and bike trails but at no cost for the land to local government.

The bill also provides limitations on the utility’s liability in a cause of action resulting from such access or use, providing that the doctrine of attractive nuisance does not apply and that the utility would be liable for damages caused by the utility’s willful or wanton acts or gross negligence with respect to a dangerous condition existing on the premises.  Additionally, the agreement may require the political subdivision to provide or pay for insurance coverage for any defense costs or other litigation costs incurred by the electric utility for damage claims arising from the public access granted.

  • HB 1647 - Current state law allows the rebate of state and local hotel occupancy tax revenue in certain cities for the construction or expansion of a convention center hotel project. Certain convention center hotels located in certain cities may be designated as "qualified hotel projects" and entitled to a ten-year (10) rebate of: state hotel occupancy taxes, state sales and use tax and state hotel occupancy tax collected within the hotel project, and various local taxes including local ad valorem taxes and local sales and use, local hotel occupancy and local mixed beverage gross receipt taxes.  This legislation simply adds the City of Sugar Land to this list of cities eligible to pursue such a project.
  • HB 2557 - With recent improvements to the Panama Canal, the Brazoria-Fort Bend Rail District, Brazoria County, Fort Bend County, and Port Freeport are seeking to capture a larger portion of market share from the West Coast and realize the associated economic benefits by financing and constructing improvements that will accommodate these larger freight ships. To do so, these local governments will need to participate in or support: (1) widening and deepening of the channels at Port Freeport, (2) constructing a rail line and/or intelligent transportation system to transport goods from Port Freeport to an inland intermodal hub, and (3) constructing highway improvements to permit the movement of additional freight. This legislation will permit these local governments to work collectively to finance and construct the rail line/intelligent transportation system and intermodal hub described above.  This legislation presents a huge economic opportunity for Fort Bend County and the state of Texas.
  • HB 3504 - This bill expands on legislation that was passed during the 84th Legislative Session that gave the county the authority to annex a portion of a road (including drainage) within municipal boundaries into a county assistance districts (CAD) as long as there is permission from the municipality. HB 3504 expands this to county property being used for a public purpose. Having the ability to utilize CAD funding for these types of projects would help limit the amount of taxes needed to contribute to them.
  • HB 4297 - This legislation creates the Telfair Tract 5 Commercial Management District.  The primary purposes of the Telfair Tract 5 Commercial Management District are to coordinate and manage shared, structured parking, as well as, coordinate security and maintenance throughout the commercial area in Sugar Land known as “Tract 5”. The creation of the management district will help in making the “Tract 5” area a destination location for the region and the State.
  • SB 1501 - Worked to add language to SB 1501 that allows a commissioner’s court in a county adjacent to a county with a population of more than 3.3 million to direct a towing company to remove a vehicle from a roadway that is impeding the safe movement of traffic and relocate the vehicle to the closest safe location for the vehicle to be stored.

 


 

Public Safety

4 bills were passed to better equip and support law enforcement officials and their families as they make the daily sacrifices for the safety of all Texans.  One such bill creates a grant program to assist law enforcement agencies with purchasing new body armor, another bill creates a “blue alert’ system to aid in catching individuals suspected of killing a law enforcement officer.  Senate Bill 798 officially designated July 7th as Fallen Law Enforcement Day and Senate Bill 15 creates a tax exemption for the surviving spouse of a first responder who is killed or fatally injured in the line of duty. 

 


 

SPECIAL SESSION

Gov. Greg Abbott called the 85th Texas Legislature back for a special session beginning July 18, initially to pass legislation needed to keep five state agencies in operation, and then to address a longer list of proposals for everything from privacy issues to local tree ordinances. The governor limited the special session to only 20 items.  Through our work during the Special Session we were able to pass legislation that provides additional funding for our public schools and our retired teachers, adopt pro-life measures, property owner protections and legislation to ensure election integrity.

Although I am disappointed that we did not pass property tax relief, we did pass legislation that will create The Commission on Public School Finance. This commission will report back to the legislature with solutions for overhauling our antiquated school finance system.  Continuing down our current path of funding schools, which is heavily reliant on your property tax dollars that account for nearly 70 percent of all funds to our schools, is not sustainable.  The commission will include recommendations for a new method of financing that is reflective of our current economy.   The only way to see real property tax relief and adequately fund our public schools is to create a new school finance system.