Area city and school leaders need to make sure their legislative wish lists are finalized — the 83rd regular session of the Texas Legislature is scheduled to get under way Jan. 8.
Taxpayers should pay attention, as well. There’s still time to bend the ear of a city council member or school board member if you have a particular concern or don’t feel that one of your priorities will be included on the directives they plan to send to the State Capitol.
Or, if you want to bypass your local city and school officials and deliver your message personally, get on the telephone to your state representative or senator and make sure they listen to your viewpoints.
Who knows? The upcoming legislative session could offer some interesting opportunities.
Thanks to redistricting and the odd election schedule, there have been high levels of turnover in both the Texas House and Senate. Brandon Aghamalian, a lobbyist with Focused Advocacy, which lobbies for the city of Denton at the state level, said recently that more than 75 members of both houses are starting as either freshman or sophomore legislators, and that many of the newcomers didn’t come up through the ranks by serving on local elected bodies.
But even if your state representatives didn’t change, new faces elsewhere offer great potential. Some of these newcomers could be recruited to support issues of local interest — new alliances could be forged.
It may be time to break out that old tried-and-true political tactic of trading back scratches.
Denton City Council members have been discussing priorities for the city’s legislative agenda. Council members are looking for efforts to reform payday lending practices, to retain local control over natural gas drilling and production and to re-establish local authority following an unfavorable state court decision on vested rights earlier this year.
Overall, Texas cities will need to be defensive during the upcoming session, Aghamalian told council members.
Focused Advocacy and the city staff have recommended that Denton’s top priority issues be to preserve local budgeting authority and revenue sources, local control of zoning and land use planning and local control of Denton Municipal Electric.
Focused Advocacy and the city staff also recommended a slate of general priorities in several categories, including revenue and taxation, land use and resources, utilities, transportation and public safety. Other government priorities would include advocating for legislation that is helpful to the University of North Texas, Texas Woman’s University and the Denton school district.
School officials have also been working to prepare for the upcoming session. About 80 representatives of school districts in Denton, Parker, Wise and Tarrant counties recently gathered in Denton to attend the Greater North Texas Community Engagement Symposium, where they discussed legislative priorities and planned to present a unified voice to state legislators on the issue of public education funding.
Strategy sessions in Denton and other cities and the joint effort by school districts provide a good start, but effective follow-up must now be our priority. We need to encourage state legislators to take a clean look at the issues that concern us, to make sure that local priorities aren’t overlooked when the deals are made in Austin.