Cy-Fair and Tomball's Rep. Tom Oliverson talks special session, school finance reform

Rep. Tom Oliverson[/caption]

District 130 Rep. Tom Oliverson, who covers Harris County regions Cypress, Tomball and Waller, was named Freshman of the Year by his Republican colleagues at the end of the 85th legislative session. 

On Tuesday, Oliverson will return to Austin for the special session with a 19-item agenda including Senate Bill 6, known as the "bathroom bill." He held an open house event July 12 to greet his constituents and answer questions about local issues. The following conversation has been edited for clarity and length: 

How do you feel about being named Freshman of the Year?

It was a totally unexpected honor. I guess in retrospect, we were the first office to file a bill, I was the first freshman to pass a bill, I passed more bills than anyone else in my class and I was on two very powerful, very influential committees and was involved in a lot of decision making and shaping other people’s legislations. I’m a humble guy. I really didn’t see this coming. It’s one thing to get nominated by people who are representative of a special interest group or something like that, but to be chosen by your peers as the best new guy is a big deal.

Are there any bills you are filing for the special session?

I am refiling a bill that we filed during the regular session that had to do with involuntary organ donation when an incapacitated person basically gets made an organ donor without their permission by a hospital administrator. I see it as an end of life issue. We’re going to be looking at end of life decision making and consent, making sure that before a [Do Not Resuscitate Form] is put into a chart, the patient or a family member actually agrees to that. Organ donation is basically like a DNR. If you become an organ donor is because you’re in the position to be donating organs. That will end your life.

Is this a common problem?

It’s not a common problem, but it has happened. It represents a tiny fraction of donated organs. Less than one percent—like one-half of one percent. And the problem is it’s the only ethically challenged part of that. Everything else is done with consent. You get it on your driver’s license, you let your family members know and you get consent. But there’s this tiny fraction of people that become organ donors when they are brain dead. It’s not necessarily against or with their will—their wishes are unknown. In most cases, they’re homeless, they have no identification, they have no family. These are very vulnerable groups. This is basically someone who is found down in a park who doesn’t recover and the hospital says the kidneys look good and make them an organ donor so they can save lives. I see that as an end of life issue, so I’m going to file that bill.

Are there any other bills you’re looking to file related to the district?

I do have an annexation reform bill. We’re working on something related on that so stay tuned. We have a bill that’s not necessarily related to the call, but I think it’s a really important bill for our community. It didn’t make it across the finish line, but it says there should be a difference in criminal penalty for robbery, which is breaking and entering like cat burglary, and home invasion where you kick somebody’s door in because you know they’re home.

I had some judges that came to me and said somebody who commits a home invasion for the first time that assaults, physically restrains or does bad things to a person’s spouse in the process of committing burglary is eligible for probation for the first offense. No automatic sentencing. There is no mandatory sentencing for that, [and] my bill says that should not be. If you’re trying to avoid conflict and you break into someone’s house when you know they’re not there and you’re there to rob them, you made a bad choice and supervised probation is appropriate. If you break someone’s door down when you know someone’s wife or kids are at home, you have intent to harm them. We’re going to file that again.

Does the bill have to relate to the agenda of the special session?

One of the things about special session is that the bill you file doesn’t have to be related to the call—you can file whatever you want to file. Because of the House rules, if you get a bill heard and it gets voted out of committee and it’s not related to the governor's call, when it gets to the House floor, somebody could kill it because it’s not related to the governor's call. There’s no reason we can’t go out of bounds on something if it’s important to you. That was a bill that was important to me and to our communities. I think about all of our unincorporated areas and how home invasion is on the rise, and I’m tired of reading about it in the paper.

What are your thoughts on school finance reform?

I think we need to have school finance reform. For us out here in Cy-Fair, the largest part of our tax bill is our school tax. Even though the court ruled that the current formula of funding is constitutional, they raise serious questions about its fairness and the quality of it. There’s a tremendous amount of inequity in the system between districts, and as a result of that you have the property rich districts and the property poor districts—the districts that are paying into recapture and the districts that are getting money out of recapture. It’s almost Byzantine. It’s one of those things when I first came up as a newbie that there were very few people in the capital who truly understand the formula. That’s how complicated it is.

My thought was we needed something simpler, something that is more equitable and fair that treats all students equally regardless of what part of the state they happen to be blessed to live or not live. I understand that there could be various things that might make it more expensive to educate a particular child because of their needs or because of the area they live in. Those are all things that can be taken into account at the state level.