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Denton County legislators rehash summer sessions in Austin

Four state House representatives and one state senator, all representing Denton County, told a room full of business owners and other elected officials that the balance between state and local control is delicate.

The discussion came after former Denton Mayor Mark Burroughs posed a question during a Legislative Luncheon and Briefing moderated by Denton County Judge Mary Horn on Friday afternoon. State Reps. Lynn Stucky, Ron Simmons, Pat Fallon, Tan Parker and state Sen. Craig Estes — all Republicans — served on a panel at the event, hosted by the Denton Chamber of Commerce and held at the University of North Texas Gateway Center.

"There were 20 items on the special session agenda and about half of those directly or indirectly impacted local control issues and the decision-making of local governments, that being cities, counties and school districts," Burroughs asked. "How do you feel about the general relationship of decision-making by local elected officials versus its relationship to the state?"

Every state official except Stucky answered the question on stage. While some offered different examples of state legislation overriding local ordinances, such as the fracking issue in Denton or the ride-hailing issue in Austin, all agreed that the state is there to keep local governments in check.

"The best government is the government closest to the people," Simmons said. "Sometimes we have to make sure local governments aren't getting outside the realm of what they're called upon to do either."

Although he didn't answer during the panel, Stucky did share his thoughts on the issue of local control when asked afterward by the Denton Record-Chronicle.

"There's no black-or-white," he said. "It's a lot of gray and every issue is different. We can't just sit up here and say, 'Well, it all ought to be local control,' or, 'It all should be state.' 

"Do we need to take over as a state and make a uniform texting-and-driving law? I think so. In education, I think we need to put more emphasis on the local administrators and teachers and take a whole lot off of the state, and more so, the federal government. We need to let them be accountable to themselves."

Burroughs was the only attendee who got to pose a question at the luncheon as Horn reminded everyone of time constraints. Before the singular question-and-answer session, each legislator got five minutes to speak about their experiences in Austin.

Each one touted their successful bills. Senate Bill 12 set up a grant program for bulletproof vests, while House Bill 25, authored by Simmons, eliminated straight-party voting. They also noted the additional funding injected into public education and Child Protective Services.

Though they didn't discuss specific bills, the men acknowledged the divisive rhetoric during the session and said there was more work to be done.

"It was a very difficult session," Fallon said. "We worked very hard and we didn't, in my opinion, get a lot accomplished. There was some friction between leadership in the House and the Senate. You can't deny it, and it's unfortunate because Texans suffer as a result of that."

Lawmakers also brought up potential issues that will come up in the next legislative session, including Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts. Parker said much of the focus will center on rebuilding homes, businesses, infrastructure and economic stability in southeast Texas.

"There's a commitment, obviously of Gov. [Greg] Abbott and certainly the Legislature, to make certain that we do that," Parker said. "I want everyone to know that when it comes to this relief effort, it's not a sprint. It is absolutely a marathon we need to run, and it will be a years-long process to rebuild Texas."

CAITLYN JONES can be reached at 940-566-6862.

FEATURED PHOTO: Several state lawmakers and elected officials gathered Friday for the Denton Chamber of Commerce's Legislative Lunch and Briefing at the University of North Texas Gateway Center. Members of the state Legislature spoke about the previous legislative year and what was accomplished and what could be done better.
Jake King/DRC