Katy-area state legislators reflect on 86th legislative session: 'We had big bills to pay with a lot of pent-up demand'

From left, State Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, State Rep. Cecil Bell Jr. and State Rep. Gina Calanniu2014with Katy-area Chamber of Commerce Directors and panel moderators Margaret Laney and Greg Henryu2014discuss the 86th legislative session at an Aug. 22 luncheon at Perry's Steakhouse & Grill.

From left, State Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, State Rep. Cecil Bell Jr. and State Rep. Gina Calanniu2014with Katy-area Chamber of Commerce Directors and panel moderators Margaret Laney and Greg Henryu2014discuss the 86th legislative session at an Aug. 22 luncheon at Perry's Steakhouse & Grill.

State Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, of District 18 opened a panel discussion Aug. 22 with her positive view of the 86th legislative session, which ran Jan. 8-May 27.

“Without a doubt, I think for me and my 10 terms that I have served, [this was] the most successful session I've been a part of, and the most successful session that I [have] serve[d] for my district,” she said.

Kolkhorst, along with State Reps. Cecil Bell Jr., R-Magnolia, of District 3, and Gina Calanni, D-Katy, of District 132, reflected at a luncheon hosted by the Katy Area Chamber of Commerce.

Kolkhorst said her biggest wins this session were for policy regarding school finance reform, property taxes and Hurricane Harvey recovery. She also boasted of the $8.5 billion going to transportation projects across the state.

“We went into this session knowing that we had big bills to pay with a lot of pent-up demand for a very growing state,” Kolkhorst said.

Bell, who serves on the House Appropriations Committee, said he thought the big successes this session were in school finance and property taxes.

“[We worked hard] so that everyone sitting in this room would be able to actually see something tangible on their tax bill,” he said. “I think that you’re going to see that [tax] compression hold, where in the past, that hasn’t necessarily stayed in place.”

Bell remarked that House Bill 3745 “seemed to have a lot of energy."

Signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott, this bill extends the expiration date of surcharges and fees for the Texas Emissions Reduction Plan—a plan providing incentives to organizations and businesses to reduce emissions from vehicles and equipment. The bill also created a Texas Emissions Reduction Plan trust fund for distributing funds to implement and administer the plan’s programs.

Calanni, a first-time state legislator, said she was happy to work with Katy City Council and Sen. Kolkhorst to get a law passed allowing the Katy Police Department to enforce regulations on commercial vehicles in order to reduce wear and tear on city streets and make roads safer.

The representative said she ran on a platform of public education finance, flood control and anti-human trafficking resources and programs.

“[The anti-human trafficking effort] is something that we need to continue to work on,” Calanni said. “We did pass some legislation to fight it, but there's more that needs to be done, including providing resources for those survivors ... we don't have enough for them.”

The trio agreed nonprofits are the heart of the Katy area. Bell said next session, legislators need to work to get more dollars to the nonprofit sector. Meanwhile, Calanni pointed out Texas needs to expand Medicaid to help provide preventative health care to Texas residents.

Calanni and Bell also encouraged panel attendees to contact them about the wants and needs of the Katy-area community.

“What's very important is if there's something that concerns you—whether it's a current bill that's going through that you don’t want to see, or a bill that you do want to see—to meet with us and talk to us,” Calanni said. “I’ve met with several constituents [and] we actually put forth bills to address their concerns. … Please speak up. Come in and tell us [your priorities].”

Bell added: "Be a part of this process for our form of government to [help] yield the result that it is supposed to yield ... Let us know what your issues are and what your thoughts are on the bills that are from the house [and] what the priorities should be for the next session.”
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