Cecil Bell Jr.

Texas State Representative Cecil Bell Jr., a freshman legislator representing parts of Montgomery and Waller counties in District 3, is wrapping up his first legislative session.

Bell authored 30 bills in his freshman term, and 16 bills became law. He served on two committees—appropriations and small business and economic development—and on a subcommittee on natural resources.

Texas House District 3 was created during last year's redistricting process because of population growth in the area. Bell was elected in May 2012.

Bell, who lives in Magnolia, serves as the CEO of his own business, B-5 Construction in Magnolia. He has served as president of the Magnolia ISD School Board of Trustees and chairman of the Greater Magnolia Economic Development Partnership.

How was your first legislative session?

I think we had a successful session. Obviously, we went up there with some objectives. We wanted to address the concern that we saw here in Magnolia during the tri-county fires. We wanted to be certain that we didn't find ourselves as Texans in a situation where the resources that were available could not be used because of the liability inherent to the volunteers. House Bill 487 passed and has been signed by the governor as a statewide effect, not just addressing fires, but any type of natural or man-made disasters. It lets individuals volunteer their services to the county, to the municipality, to the emergency management coordinators or volunteer fire departments and for that volunteer, as long as they are working under that structure, to be protected from liability.

What other legislation did you work on this session?

We find in our population today a percentage of our kids who struggle to find relevancy in the education we're offering them. I wanted to put in place House Bill 842, which says that public schools can interface with their community colleges or universities to establish distinguished career and technology graduation plans.

What are your other bills that passed this session?

House Bill 3142 is a really simple bill supported by the Texas State Rifle Association and the [National Rifle Association] that says, when you test for your [concealed handgun license], the proficiency test can be with a revolver or semi-automatic. [Previously], if you test with a revolver, you can only carry a revolver; if you test with a semi-automatic, you can carry either. In a state that likes its gun rights, that is a piece of legislation that does help to clean up that process. It's the last piece of legislation I passed this session.

Did you have any bills that didn't pass? Do you plan to continue working on those in the next session?

House Bill 1338 would set a five percent cap on property tax increases [for businesses]. Right now we have a cap on residential property appraisal increases, but we don't have it on business property, so our business owners are seeing enormous increases in their taxes. The effort was to try to provide some level of protection so you don't have a tax fee that doubles, or worse, for a business. You won't see that on a residential side. Here in Montgomery County, we have businesses that have literally seen their tax costs double or more in a single year.

Businesses are willing to invest in the capital in Texas, but don't have an ability to identify what the potential tax consequence will be.

This cap would leave dollars in the pockets of Texans and Texas businesses so they can then put them to work instead of growing the coffers of the state of Texas. They would stay in those businesses and in those local communities to be used to retain people and expand operations and strengthen the state.

Can you talk about your support for the State Water Plan?

In Texas, we've been in a prolonged drought for a period of time. Texas has a 50-year water plan. That 50-year water plan has in the past not been funded, so what the legislature did was elect to put $2 billion into an account, called the SWIFT account, but basically it's a funding and underwriting account for the Texas Water Plan.

It is important for Texans to know that the legislative intent is there. SJR 1 will be on the ballot in November. SJR 1 will be the constitutional authority to create the SWIFT account, and when that is done, the legislation is in place and House Bill 1025 can then take $2 billion out of the Economic Stabilization, rainy day fund, and put those dollars into that SWIFT account to be used only for the purposes described in the Water Plan.

Can you talk about transportation issues in Texas?

I think the intent is not to see a continual expansion of the toll roads idea. I think toll roads have simply provided a funding mechanism, but I really don't hear TxDOT enamored with toll booths. There are some private, public partnerships that are out there. Anytime the public sector is willing to put it's money into some projects, as long as Texas maintains ownership of the property and as long as the costs for Texans aren't disproportionately high.

For every dollar spent in transportation, for an area that is growing rapidly, you see about a $9 return on that dollar. That's the effect that strong roads and bridges have.

What bills do you plan to author in the next session?

My bills are generally going to be efforts to strengthen our business climate to increase the opportunities available to Texans to be independent and to have a higher quality of life.