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Sen. Hall, Rep. Holland speak on 85th Texas Legislative Session

State Senator Bob Hall gives an update on the 85th Texas Legislative Session at the Rockwall Chamber Partnership Breakfast on Thursday, June 15, at the Rockwall Golf and Athletic Club.

(ROCKWALL, TX – June 23, 2017) The Rockwall Chamber of Commerce welcomed State Senator Bob Hall and State Representative Justin Holland during last week’s Partnership Breakfast to hear what lawmakers accomplished during the 85th Texas Legislative Session.

The state budget, public schools, mental health, and child protective services were among the top priorities addressed by the House and Senate in the session, which ended on May 29.

Holland said public schools are one of the legislature’s largest expenses, with the vast majority of that going towards the Foundation School Program – the primary source of state funding for Texas schools. He said the state continues to maintain full funding for public school enrollment growth, with $75 million going to alleviate districts experiencing rapid property value decreases, $47 million to new instructional facilities allotment, $25 million for high speed internet in schools, and an additional $1 million for high speed internet in public libraries.

“While the Foundation School Program in the budget is more than what was proposed by both the House or the Senate, it does not include an additional $1.5 billion that was the subject of a debate between the two chambers,” Holland said. “House Bill 21 was originally intended to inject $1.5 billion into the state’s funding for the majority of public schools, and to simplify some of the complex, outdated formulas for allocating money to school districts throughout our state. This measure failed to pass in both chambers.”

Holland said while it’s unfortunate that the House and the Senate couldn’t come together on a plan to overhaul public school finance and reduce the burden on property taxes, the two chambers found other ways to improve education with the passing of House Bill 22.

“Legislature reformed the A-through-F rating system, which was a subject of a lot of debate going into the session,” Holland said. “To ensure schools are evaluated more fairly and accurately, the House was able to achieve reform efforts by passing House Bill 22 which allows greater local control in school accountability by allowing schools to be rated by a state accountability system or locally-developed accountability system. I was proud to work closely with Rockwall ISD Superintendent Dr. J.J. Villarreal to add a perfecting amendment to HB 22 and get it passed on the House floor.”

Legislators also tackled a crisis concerning the state’s child welfare system during the session with the passing of Senate Bill 11, which gives the Department of Family and Protective Services until the end of 2019 to implement a new community-based care system for abused and neglected children. The legislation also made significant changes to how Family and Protective Services handles its data, requiring department officials to retain abuse and neglect records for longer periods of time and to collect data on recurring reports of abuse or neglect to the same child or by the same person.

Hall said the bill was extremely difficult to pass due to legitimate concerns brought up by groups on both sides of the issue.

“You had one group that was very concerned about the fact that not enough was being done soon enough to take care of kids that were in jeopardy in their homes, and that CPS needed to step in,” Hall said. “The other group said CPS was reacting too fast, taking kids out of homes they had no businesses taking kids out of, and that they need to have a better process for what they do because children are best when left to their parents or relatives.

“Hopefully we came up with a process and money to address both of those issues so that it is appropriate, and that we do get the kids out as soon as we appropriately can and don’t make the mistake of taking them out too soon.”

Holland said the Legislature also passed 10 bills aimed at improving mental health care in the state.

“The bold, game-changing legislation that passed could make Texas a national model on how we provide, fund and evaluate mental health services in the United States. I really think this session is what starts the ball rolling on us improving mental health in the state of Texas,” Holland said.

The Legislature will reconvene on July 18 for a special session called by Texas Governor Greg Abbott due to the failing of the Legislature to reach a compromise on a bill preventing the closure of some state agencies, including the medical board. Other items on the special session agenda include a teacher pay increase of $1,000, property tax reform, and the controversial “bathroom bill” defining access to public restrooms for transgender individuals.

By Austin Wells, Blue Ribbon News.

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