Texas is a vast state and to get legislation passed, a state representative needs to find other regions with similar problems to support solutions. District 21 State Representative Dade Phelan, whose district includes Orange County, said the new house speaker should be “supportive of our issues.”
Phelan talked with Gary Stelly Wednesday morning during The KOGT Morning Show. The two talked about a vast range of issues facing District 21, which also includes parts of Jefferson County.
The biennial session of the Texas Legislature started this week with the first new house speaker in a decade. Phelan said Speaker Dennis Bonnen could help District 21 because the speaker is from Angleton, which is on the coast, was affected by Hurricane Harvey, has rice farms, and has petrochemical plants.
“Eighty percent of the time it’s rural versus urban” in the legislature on issues like education, water, and health care. “At the end of the day, we’ve got to get things done,” he said
Phelan said he would like to get a hospital in Orange County and a Class Two Trauma Center in Southeast Texas. Health care issues are also prominent in The Valley area of South Texas, he said. The two areas could work together for their needs.
Education and school finance will once again be in the spotlight for the session, which lasts until the end of May. Phelan also wants the state to look into property taxes, a subject Governor Greg Abbott is stressing.
He said property taxes, though, are set on a local, not state level. And that is tied into education. “The state has absconded on school financing, putting it on the back of property taxes,” he said.
The less people pay on local property taxes for schools, the more the state will have to pay, he said. A couple of years ago, the state was going to mandate a teacher pay raise, but was not going to pay for it. Phelan described it as telling teachers, “congratulations, you’re going to get a pay raise, but you’re going to have to pay for it.”
Don’t look for the legislature to eliminate mandatory statewide student testing. “It’s the No. 1 complaint I get from parents,” Phelan said. He’s heard “horror stories” of students vomiting in school parking lots on test days.
“Testing is an $11 billion issue,” he said. When President George W. Bush signed the “No Child Left Behind” act, the law required states to test students or not receive federal money for education. Texas gets $11 billion a year and cannot afford to stop testing, he said.
Phelan said people need to realize when the state cuts its budget and expenses, that means people get less service. He cited lines to get driver’s licenses at Department of Public Safety offices as an example.
Another subject Stelly and Phelan discussed was water releases from Toledo Bend and Sam Rayburn reservoirs. The state representative said Toledo Bend is required to follow Federal Energy Regulatory Commission rules and Sam Rayburn is overseen by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
He complained about how difficult it is to get the federal agencies to make changes in policies. “It literally takes an act of Congress,” he said.
District 14 U.S. Representative Randy Weber, and District 36 U.S. Representative Brian Babin, who represents Orange County in Congress, are working on the reservoir issues, Phelan said.
-Margaret Toal, KOGT-