Local lawmakers see mixed results

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Denton area legislators had mixed results during the 83rd regular session of the Texas Legislature. Between them, they authored more than 230 bills and filed even more resolutions. Just 90 of those bills made it to the governor’s desk — with nearly half of those coming from Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound.

The bills covered a wide range of topics in many areas of public life, from specific housekeeping measures to major policy changes. For example, Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, authored Senate Bill 1873 to grant the Mustang Special Utility District new bond authority, which could affect the water rates for thousands of people in northeastern Denton County.

And Nelson shepherded SB 7, which moves some seniors and people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to Medicaid managed care. With the governor’s signature, about 18,000 people who have been on the state’s waiting lists for years are expected to receive services with SB 7.

A Denton Record-Chronicle analysis of reports from the Legislature found that the average state representative — 150 serve in the Texas House — filed about 26 bills during the 83rd session. And, on average, about five bills per representative passed both houses. The state’s 31 senators started with more and got more through, with about 23 of the 62 bills each filed, on average, making it to the governor.

Denton’s delegation emerged neither among the outliers who filed scores of bills nor those in the single digits. In the Texas House, that was Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, who filed 149 bills, and Rep. Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth, who filed nine. In the Texas Senate, it was Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, who filed 132 bills, and Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, who filed eight bills.

But, to the degree that moving legislation through each biennium is a numbers game, Estes wasn’t in the race from the beginning, having filed less than the average number of bills for a senator and seeing fewer pass.

Myra Crownover, R-Denton, Pat Fallon, R-Frisco, and Tan Parker, R-Flower Mound, were unable to get a large portion of their bills to a House vote. Only Nelson was able to get the majority of her bills out of committee, off the floors of both houses and to Perry’s desk.

Pat Fallon

A freshman representative, Fallon filed more resolutions than bills. Furthermore, eight of the 46 bills that passed both houses were joint-authored.

As the sole or primary author, Fallon was able to get just one bill passed, House Bill 1174.

HB 1174, which wasn’t seen as controversial, increases the fine for illegally passing a stopped school bus on both the first and second offense.

He served on the Human Services and Technology committees.

Fallon did not return calls for comment.

Tan Parker

Parker was the primary author on 36 bills. Six of those bills passed both houses, appearing to have drawn little controversy in Austin.

One bill defined the offense for failing to report a missing child and another specified the duties of police when receiving a report of a missing child.

Members of the banking industry initially testified against another, HB 2978, which outlines procedures for expedited foreclosure proceedings, but the matter went through the Senate without resistance.

Parker, though, did have some setbacks, specifically components of a bill package that he said would have provided incentives for manufacturing growth, allowed churches to act as overnight shelters for homeless teens, eliminate financial penalties facing certain land development and other matters that were important to his constituents.

“I do intend to work with the stakeholders on these issues over the interim in order to advance these measures during the next legislative session,” he said.

One of his joint filings, HB 431, was part of his work as chairman of the Corrections Committee. That legislation addresses parole eligibility for people convicted of injuring a child or an elderly or disabled person.

This was Parker’s fourth term, where he served on two other committees — Land and Resource Management and a select committee on criminal procedure reform.

Myra Crownover

Of the 32 bills she filed, Crownover filed the most bills under higher education and energy resources. Of that collection, only a fourth of those bills, all energy-related, made it to the governor’s desk. In all, 10 of her bills passed.

She served as vice chairwoman of the Energy Resources committee and as a member of Oversight of Higher Education Governance, Excellence and Transparency.

In her sixth term, Crownover served on more committees than the other two representatives combined, including the Calendars and Appropriations committees, where she also served on two subcommittees, as vice chairwoman of Appropriations — Article III and chairwoman of Appropriations — Budget Transparency and Reform.

Crownover believes serving on committees connected to their bills allows officials to work more effectively.

“As a member of both the Appropriations committee and the vice chairwoman of the Energy Resources committee, I had the opportunity to ensure that the Texas Railroad Commission was fully funded this session,” she said. “It is vital that the agency responsible for regulating the oil and gas industry in Texas has the resources needed to ensure that the most robust sector in our economy is adequately funded, and my committee assignments put me in position to get the job done.”

With HB 400, Crownover made another attempt at a statewide smoking ban. The bill had a companion in SB 86, which snared co-authors. However, it died in committee.

“I absolutely intend to file ‘Smoke Free Texas’ again,” Crownover said. “This is about everyone’s right to breathe clean air. This is a pro-life issue that I am passionate about. I intend to keep fighting for this legislation so that no pregnant mother in Texas is ever again forced to choose between the health of her unborn child and her paycheck.”

Craig Estes

Estes has served in the Senate since 2001. Many of his bills that were successful had passed through the committees on which he serves, including Natural Resources, of which he is vice chairman, and Agriculture, Rural Affairs and Homeland Security, of which he is chairman.

Estes points to the entire body’s ability to increase funding for public schools and lay the foundation for a permanent state water fund, saying he tries not to dwell on the disappointments. Just 22 of the 53 bills he authored or joint-authored passed both houses.

“There’s only one way to get a bill passed and a thousand ways to get it killed,” Estes said.

He was able to get five gun bills through and one of the few bills that cut taxes, he said.

Based on what analysts have said, he expects that HB 1133, which exempts certain telecommunications equipment from the state sales tax, will cost the state some revenue but, in exchange, create 24,000 jobs.

“It’s an economic development measure,” Estes said.

Jane Nelson

Nelson filed 40 bills related to health and human services, with more than two-thirds of those bills making it out of both the House and Senate. In addition to SB 7, she was able to pass SB 8, which helps address Medicaid fraud that cost Texas $6 billion between 2004 and 2011.

In all, she was able to move 43 of her 66 bills to the governor’s desk. Nelson has served in the Texas Senate since 1993 and is chairwoman of the Health and Human Services Committee. In addition to the Committee of the Whole Senate, she served on the Nominations and Open Government committees and on the Finance committee, including its subcommittee on Fiscal Matters.

Nelson said that most of her legislation was pre-filed, with much of the work done in committee long before the session ever began.

“I love that process because you have time to hold lengthy public hearings,” Nelson said. “It’s impossible to do that during the regular session.”

The process gives the committee time to vet issues not only with the public but all kinds of experts, including policy experts from other states, Nelson said. Then, when the regular session begins, she said she’s ready to go.

While the 83rd regular session was one of her most productive, she was disappointed that a bill that provided for mandatory drug testing of welfare recipients failed. She filed it again for the special session, originally called for redistricting, in case Perry opens the session up for such matters. In addition to adding transportation to the call Monday, he added abortion regulation and juvenile justice matters on Tuesday.

Special taxing districts

Crownover authored a bill, which Nelson sponsored in the Senate, that was championed by Denton County Commissioner Hugh Coleman. It creates a county review of special taxing districts.

There has been persistent resistance from some area cities and growing concern among both local officials and the general public about the proliferation of such districts. Those districts allow developers to reimburse themselves for public infrastructure through a tax on property owners in those districts.

Yet, despite growing local reluctance, Parker filed HB 3913, which Nelson sponsored in the Senate, to get the special legislation another Denton County developer needed to create a water control and improvement district for Canyon Falls, a community development planned between Argyle and Flower Mound.

And on the final day of the session, Fallon was able to get two bills that had languished in committee tacked on as amendments to a special taxing district bill, HB 3914, for Collin County. Those amendments created two more special taxing districts, the Venable Ranch Municipal Utility District No. 1 near Aubrey and the Highway 380 Municipal Management District near Little Elm.

PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @phwolfeDRC.

JOHN HARDEN can be reached at 940-566-6882 and via Twitter at @JDHarden.

BJ LEWIS can be reached at 940-566-6875 and via Twitter at @BjlewisDRC.

BY THE NUMBERS

Outcomes for Denton area legislators are compared to the average outcomes for legislators in the regular session of the 83rd Texas Legislature, which ended May 27, are shown below.

Primary/joint author

No. of bills*

Bills passed

Percent

Pat Fallon

46

9

20%

Tan Parker

36

6

17%

Myra Crownover

32

10

31%

Average Representative

26

5

19%

Craig Estes

53

22

42%

Jane Nelson

66

43

65%

Average Senator

62

23

37%

* Does not include resolutions

SOURCE: Texas Legislature Online


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