Redistricting, broadband, public education, and COVID-19 are some of the issues facing the Texas Legislature in its next session, according to State Representative Geanie Morrison.
Morrison met with Calhoun County commissioners via telephone for a workshop on what issues were important in Calhoun County and to inform the court of what the legislature might be doing this year during a Dec. 16 workshop.
For the court, it’s unfunded mandates, border security, and the possibility of not having a lobbyist as its eyes and ears in the legislature.
“We will be sworn in on Jan. 12 and will be voting on rules for the first week or two,” said Morrison. “Not much will happen until with get our committee appointments, but I just wanted to touch base with all of you.”
Commissioner Vern Lyssy asked Morrison her stance on the push to not have lobbyists paid with public funds.
“Why is this being pushed so hard to silence us from having our voice on the floor and to use lobbyists to speak for us?” he asked.
Morrison said this bill was targeted more for the large communities such as Houston, and “there are things that do not pertain to us in the same way.”
The biggest issue, she said, is the perception of lobbyists and what they do.
“They are someone you hire to stay in touch with what’s going on in the legislature and someone that is your eyes and ears and to be there in committee and communicate back with you things that could be harmful within your community that you’ve been elected to. I think it’s a total misunderstanding of what a lobbyist is.”
Calhoun County Judge Richard Meyer said, “It is a valuable tool. There is always a bad apple in every barrel, and that’s the perception a lot of people have of lobbyists. But it is a very useful tool because we don’t have the time to do the research and find out everything we need to know about certain things.”
Morrison said the bill would be detrimental to rural areas because of the need to have someone to communicate with who also knows how to talk with legislators and ascertain what is happening.
“Most of this stuff is coming from the large areas like Houston and Dallas, who some see as abusing what they have, but they are making the bill applicable to everyone,” said Morrison.
“The cookie-cutter deal doesn’t work for everybody. If it’s their district, they can do it that way,” said Lyssy.
Unfunded mandates were another issue Lyssy brought up.
“That’s a big deal for us. It seems like as things get tighter and tighter, and budgets get tighter and tighter on the state’s side and the county’s side, it seems like y’all tighten your belt and then pass things to us, and there’s nothing left for us to do,” said Lyssy, pointing out that the state has locked counties into not being able to raise taxes. “Don’t do anything unless you are going to send money. I’d like to see that happen. It’s preaching to the choir on this court, but it’s just so frustrating on our end when we try so hard and get hit at the end of the year, and we’re left to try and figure out how to pay.”
Morrison replied, “That is an issue that has gone back a long time, and I think as you say if a program needs funding do it and move one.”
She noted that an issue for many county judges is the increase in indigent defense costs.
Meyer asked about the border wall, and Morrison said the state puts a lot of money into border defense to keep citizens protected.
“We would like the federal government to reimburse us because that’s not our role but the federal government’s role. As far as fences, not sure where that’s going with the change in leadership,” she said.
Redistricting could go into a special session of the legislature as the numbers are not expected until April, and the session ends in May.
“We want to get started on redistricting because if we don’t, it will go to the courts, and that will not be good for us,” she said.
Texas is picking up two, possibly three, congressional seats due to the rise in population. However, the rural area could be losing seats as the population is centered east of Interstate 35 and mainly in the areas of Dallas, Houston, Austin, and San Antonio.
Another concern Morrison had with the numbers is she doesn’t believe Hurricane Harvey was taken into account.
Morrison congratulated the court on its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and noted that it had brought out an issue with the lack of broadband access for rural areas, most notable when schools had to close down and not all students had access to the internet.