Several state senators and representatives of the Fort Bend Delegation predict challenges or the next legislative session. Legislators gathered for a panel Tuesday, hosted by the Fort Bend Chamber of Commerce and Central Fort Bend Chamber at the Safari Texas Ranch in Richmond.
Sens. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, and Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, as well as Reps. Ron Reynolds, D-Missouri City, Phil Stephenson, R-Wharton, John Zerwas, R-Richmond, and Rick Miller, R-Sugar Land, all agreed during the panel that the 86th legislative session will confront the affects of Hurricane Harvey on school and property taxes.
“I think right now I would have to say [the most pressing challenge facing our state right now is]how we face the challenge of Harvey recovery,” Huffman said. “It has devastated many areas of our state, individuals, small businesses, large businesses … That’s the biggest issue facing us in the immediate future.”
Kolkhorst agreed and reiterated the devastation that the storm brought.
“Harvey … will dominate I think what we will do for the next two years in many ways,” Kolkhorst said. “Those pictures that you saw of the flooding is going to impact business activity.”
Reynolds added that meaningful healthcare and school finance reform are priorities for the next session.
Room for improvement
When asked to grade themselves as a legislative body this past session, most of the delegation gave higher marks for actions impacting Fort Bend County and were more critical for progress made on the state level.
Kolkhorst said passing the General Appropriations Act, the only bill required to pass during a special session, was a major accomplishment.
“I think there were a lot of good bills — human trafficking bills, a pro-life bill … I think that we can do better but I don’t think that we failed this last session,” she said.
Zerwas and Miller praised legislative action taken to address child protective services, foster care and mental health issues.
“That system was totally messed up, it now has a chance to survive and get better with more money — money, people and some new programs that were put in place,” Miller said of the state’s foster care system. “Those kids belong to Texas and so we needed to do something with that.”
Other members of the delegation did not sugar coat the challenges to come.
“We focus on too many divisive issues instead of issues that many Texans care about,” Reynolds said. “We didn’t do anything for job creation, for infrastructure — many of the issues that we dealt with were issues that most Texans don’t agree with.”
Huffman said she was disappointed the legislature failed to tackle some topics, namely school finance reform.
“I am hoping and hopeful that the commission on public school finance will get us some answers that we can really dig into next session,” she said.