The 84th Texas Legislature convenes Jan. 13. Commissioners in Travis and Williamson counties and Leander ISD board members have stated their highest priorities for new or revised laws.
Williamson County Commissioners Court discussed the first draft of the county's legislative agenda Dec. 3 during a joint meeting that was attended by State Rep. Tony Dale, R-Cedar Park; State Rep. Larry Gonzales, R-Round Rock; and State Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown. Among the items included are:
Property tax appraisals: Commissioners said they want to participate in dialogue about capping property appraisal increases. They said they want to keep county property tax rates stable, not raised or lowered based on property value assessments that fluctuate from year to year.
Transportation funding: Commissioners said I-35 badly needs improvement in Williamson County and the Austin area, and they suggested drawing funds from new revenue diverted to the State Highway Fund by Proposition 1.
Water: Commissioners support state-level explorations for alleviating drought symptoms.
Mental health: Commissioners said they are concerned about dwindling funds for mental health programs and the state's plans to consolidate health agencies.
Student health: Commissioners said they believe state law should allow school nurses to give students medications during emergency situations such as allergic reactions.
Juveniles' legal status: Commissioners said juvenile suspects who receive tickets for minor offenses such as speeding often become enmeshed in lengthy legal processes and mounting offenses, whose costs to the county exceed revenue the county receives.
On Nov. 18, Travis County Commissioners Court adopted a set of guiding principles and priorities for the upcoming legislative session. Commissioners said they support collaborative efforts on legislative issues with other counties.
Program funding: Commissioners said they oppose any laws that would shift costs of state-funded programs to local governments because of state budget shortfalls. Commissioners said growing counties need flexibility to address their needs before they fund state mandates.
County authority: Commissioners said Texas counties need greater authority and tools better suited to address local challenges of rapid growth and urban expansion.
Transportation funding: Commissioners want more state funding to improve countywide mobility, including rail and public transit programs.
Unfunded mandates: Commissioners oppose state budget decisions that would create unfunded mandates or divert county revenue.
Local programs: Commissioners support funding for programs benefiting county residents. These could include more funds for mental and physical health care in the criminal justice system, and management tools and quality-of-life programs for unincorporated areas in the county such as extraterritorial jurisdictions.
Tax clarification: Commissioners want a state law that will clarify where a county can enforce ad valorem tax liens on businesses' property.
Leander ISD school board members approved their list of state legislative priorities Dec. 4.
Testing standards: The board supports streamlining the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills standards for students. The board also wants more funding for the Student Success Initiative in light of rising standards for the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness.
English standards: The board prefers not counting English language learners' or limited English proficient students' first three years of standardized test scores toward district ratings. The board said state educators should be allowed to propose definitions of failing schools and other labels.
Bond funding: The board wants to maintain LISD's ability to issue capital appreciation bond debt to build schools if the district must build within existing state debt limits. However, board members said they believe Leander ISD should be allowed to levy higher taxes for current interest bond debt instead.
50 cent debt restriction: To keep up with growth, the board said it supports updating the 50 cent debt law passed in 1991, which limits a district's debt repayment property tax rate to 50 cents per $100 of property valuation.
Instructional Materials Allotment: The board wants the State Board of Education to raise the Permanent School Fund payout, boosting funds for the Instructional Materials Allotment that supplies textbooks and other materials. They said funding has dropped from $313 to $71 per pupil per year.
Mental health: The board wants more legislative funding of mental health services and supports legislation that would make more mental health resources and training available to schools and youth support agencies.