Freshman lawmakers tackle issues big and small at Capitol

Ask a freshman legislator in the Texas Capitol how the first several weeks of the session are going, and their answer is usually a variation of this:

"I just feel like I'm drinking from a fire hydrant," said newly elected Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels. "I've got my work cut out for me."

By that, she said, she means learning the issues, navigating the marble halls of the "Pink Dome," meeting hundreds of new people every day and doing it all under the watchful eye of the media inside a frenetic 140-day legislative session that can make or break even the most seasoned lawmaker.

These are the trials of the newly elected, and it is not lost on this unusually large crop of new state legislators that voters replaced more incumbents with fresh blood during the past election cycle in Texas than at any other time in memory.

"If there was a mandate from the voters, it is that the status quo is no longer acceptable," said Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake.

Filed bills

State Rep. Steve Toth, a Montgomery County Republican, co-sponsored HB 760, which would ensure that e-learning curriculum used in public schools falls under the oversight and approval of the State Board of Education.

Republican Rep. Cecil Bell Jr. of Montgomery County filed a bill allowing volunteers to help firefighters—a direct response to the 2011 wildfires that affected much of Montgomery County. Bell also has a school finance idea he says would offer more paths to higher education.

Campbell is teaming up with two other medical professionals in the Senate—Greenville Sen. Bob Deuell and Sen. Charles Schwertner, a former House member from Georgetown serving his first term in the Senate—to require that all abortions be performed at an ambulatory surgery center, of which there are only a handful in the state.

Capriglione said he is prepared to take on immigrant-rights advocates who could object to legislation he has filed, a bill proposing a voluntary Made in Texas certification for businesses that use the E-Verify system to ensure their workers are in the country legally.

Gun rights focus

Much of the freshmen delegation campaigned during a season in which gun rights were a big part of the discussion, particularly in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Newtown, Conn.

Several legislators have jumped into the discussion with legislation that seeks to protect or expand residents' rights to carry weapons. Many are involved in bills or amendments that offer a preemptive strike against any plans the White House may have to limit access to guns.

"I believe this administration has now realized they have woken up a giant," said Toth, who filed the Firearm Protection Act that would, among other things, withhold funding from local governments in Texas if they enforce any federal gun bans. "All over the United States, Americans are crying out for something to be done to protect their Second Amendment rights. The American people understand this is not just about gun rights, but about all constitutional rights. They understand once you compromise one Constitutional right, all others can be in jeopardy."

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