House District 126 Rep. Kevin Roberts outlines his special session priorities
Rep. Kevin Roberts, R-Spring, whose district includes parts of Cypress, Spring and Tomball, was first elected to the state House of Representatives in 2016. His House Bill 871 was signed into law in May, expanding options for voluntary guardianship in the foster care system.
On Tuesday, Roberts will return to Austin for the special session. His responses to the following questions from Community Impact Newspaper have been edited for clarity and length:
What are some areas you hope to be able to address in the special session?
I look forward to the opportunity to continue advocating for transparent and limited government, pro-life causes and private property rights. There are a lot of issues on the proposed agenda to be excited about if you live in House District 126. We have [people with] unique needs living in an unincorporated area of Harris County, and the conversations on property taxes, public school finance, municipal annexation and consistent and efficient permitting will present opportunities to improve the lives of my neighbors.
What emerged as the most divisive or unifying issues in the regular session?
The issue [on which] we saw the most bipartisan cooperation all session was the issue of reforming the Department of Family and Protective Services. The foster care system had been under significant strain with kids sleeping in DFPS offices, low morale and compensation amongst employees as well as a lawsuit that was the result of years of neglect. I was proud to have both Republicans and Democrats co-author my legislation—which Gov. Abbott signed into law—to allow the nonprofit and faith-based communities to play a greater role in keeping families together and children out of the foster care system. The Legislature also made significant bipartisan reforms to DFPS itself, through bills such as House Bill 4, HB 5, and Senate Bill 11. I am hopeful that this cooperation will continue into future legislative sessions and that this will continue to be a priority for the state.
Which of the priorities that the governor has expressed align the most closely with your own?
During the regular session, I had worked with my fellow House members to pass legislation that would have given citizens the ability to vote on whether or not they wanted to be annexed into a city. Unfortunately, this legislation was killed at the last minute in the Senate and did not make it to the governor's desk. The fact that this right does not currently exist is truly undemocratic and is a threat to areas like House District 126. Many people move to our neighborhood specifically because they don't want to live within the city limits of Houston, and should the city ever try to annex our area, there would be very little that could be done by citizens to stop it. I look forward to the opportunity to create true protections for my neighbors on this issue.
Are there any areas you were hoping to be able to revisit that you anticipate will not come up during the special session?
One area that I wish we were able to have a detailed conversation about is the impact of unelected bureaucrats in Austin. I had filed legislation during the regular session that would have asked voters to give authority to the Legislature to be able to review individual regulations and provide some legislative oversight to the process. The 2016 NFIB Problems and Priorities Report identified that "Unreasonable Government Regulations" as one of the top five issues for small business owners in this state, and I do look forward to continuing to push legislation on this issue during the next legislative session.
Are there any areas of special concern that your constituents have made known to you since May?
After the bill filing period ended in March, I was contacted by a constituent who let me know that he was a disabled first responder and that he was truly struggling to pay his property tax bill. Since there will be a larger conversation on property taxes happening during the special session, it is my intention to file legislation that exempts first responders who have been injured in the line of duty, who are disabled and face significant levels of trauma in their daily lives as a result of serving Texans. The cases that I am talking about are folks who have severe burns on 40 percent of their bodies, lost limbs or lost eyesight as a result of their willingness to protect the rest of us.
Do you think that longer or more frequent legislative sessions might ultimately be needed in Texas?
Sam Houston and the founders of Texas did a very smart thing when they set up the Constitution to only allow the Legislature to meet for 140 days once every two years and allow the governor to call for 30-day special sessions as necessary. While you don't always get everything you want out of a legislative session, I'd rather have some good bills that don't make it than have a lot of bad bills get passed. I think this limited-government approach requires the "cream of the crop" to rise to the top and ensures that only laws that are necessary make it to the governor's desk. If you need to see the results of a legislative branch that meets full-time, just look to California and the thousands of people and businesses every year who are leaving the state.