Panelists Say Texas Legislature Faced Fiscal Challenges

in 2017; More to Come in 2019

A panel of state legislators representing the Fort Worth area cheered and clashed on the results of the 2017 Texas Legislative Session and Special Session at the September meeting of the Women’s Policy Forum.

Panelists  Matt KrauseNicole Collier, Chris Turner, Stephanie Klick, and Konni Burton,  responded to questions from the audience and Moderator Bud Kennedy, Fort Worth Star Telegram columnist, commentator and political pundit. The panel tackled difficult issues such as abortion and Senate Bill 4 to shared passions for improving foster care and health care. The bi-partisan panel represented a range of political views in keeping with the WPF’s commitment to exploring issues relevant to the community.

The group agreed that this session faced strict budgetary limits and the next session in 2019 could be more challenging because of Hurricane Harvey and its impact on Houston. "Harris County contributes almost 25 percent of the state's revenues," Turner said. "Oil prices are depressed as well."

Panelists were pleased that the Legislature acted to improve the embattled foster care system. By separating the system from the Health and Human Services Department, the group felt the program would be more accountable and deliver better care. The Legislature also acted to continue health care under Medicaid for prison inmates after release, a decision that saved $7 million for taxpayers (Collier legislation) and added funding for families who are taking in foster children (Klick legislation).

Turner served on a special committee created by Speaker of the House Joe Straus to study mental health insurance reimbursement status and sought parity for mental health with medical care. Burton supported a bill to allow unused drugs to be donated to participating pharmacies to help those who are struggling with drug costs.

On more controversial ground, Collier spoke passionately about continued attacks on women’s rights to abortion and reproductive health care. She decried the bill that is now law requiring additional reporting complications from abortions within 72 hours as singling out abortion for burdensome regulation.  “We have more important things that deserve our attention,” she said. Turner also said a “rash of bills” to limit women’s right to choose distracted from the important issue of high maternal mortality rates in Texas.

Krause and Klick supported measures to preserve life and protect women from the adverse impact of abortion procedures. They argued that data informs the Legislature and the information will prove useful in future sessions.

Senate Bill 4, the so-called Show Me Your Papers bill, also drew fire from Turner for its imprecise language and potential to be overruled as unconstitutional. “Much of the law has been blocked by a federal judge, which means it will likely be found unconstitutional,” he said. Turner added that the bill was opposed by police chiefs statewide as eroding trust with Hispanic communities and made cities less safe. Burton retorted that immigration is a federal responsibility and law enforcement may only ask about immigration if there is probable cause.

“The Austin sheriff said the police would not report people with detainers,” she said. “The law is clear on the expectation that immigration violations must be reported to ICE.”

Burton added that the lawmaking process begins in the years when the Legislature is not in session and encouraged those who have an interest in influencing the Legislature to speak to their representatives now. “As a new legislator, I was surprised to learn that most laws have been written and vetted before the sessions even begin. If you want to have an impact, talk to your officials now,” she said.

Kennedy ended by emphasizing that the panelists all serve for minimal salary and devotes much of their time to crafting and passing legislation. “Our legislators serve because they want to contribute and help the state,” he said.

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WOMEN’S POLICY FORUM   |      P.O. Box 11246   Fort Worth, Texas 76110