Here we go again! The 83rd Legislative Session begins today, and with Governor Perry and his minions wielding a majority (although not a super-majority), we expect them to continue pushing their right-wing agenda.
The good news for Central Texas, is that we have an excellent delegation of strong Democrats in both the Texas House and the Texas Senate. As we did before the 2011 session, the TCDP has asked each of them to send us one example of their legislative priorities for the session. In alphabetical order, here are the responses from four of our House Representatives — Dawnna Dukes, Donna Howard, Elliott Naishtat and Eddie Rodriguez. Next week we will hear from Representative Mark Strama and Senators Kirk Watson and Judith Zaffirini.
We thank all of them for their hard work and dedication to the people of Texas. And we thank them for responding to us during the holidays!
Representative Dawnna Dukes (Dist. 46)
In her capacity as a member of the powerful Appropriations Committee and as the longest serving member of its Health and Human Services Subcommittee, Dukes is fighting Republican budget plans to limit or eliminate spending for vital services, such as women’s health care and the expansion of Medicaid to low income adults. When she refers to the proposed budget cuts as “life and death decisions,” she backs it up with statistics. Although Dukes also crusades for public education and equal rights, she is laser-focused this session on strengthening child protective services to ensure our most vulnerable children are a priority of the state of Texas.
Representative Donna Howard (Dist. 48)
In the 82nd Legislature, the Republican majority took dramatic steps to undermine women’s health. Moving into the 83rd Session, we are already seeing signs that women’s health will continue to be threatened by our state leadership. Governor Perry has voiced his support for a ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, and hinted that he is willing to scuttle plans for the soon-to-be-implemented Texas Women’s Health Program if courts rule that the program is unable to block Planned Parenthood from its funding streams. (Note: Another hearing is scheduled for Friday, Jan. 11.) As decision-makers gather at the Capitol, Howard, a strong advocate for women’s health in Texas, will fight to restore funds to family planning, oppose efforts to exclude qualified providers from the dispensation of these vital services and strive to keep lawmakers from inserting themselves between the doctor-patient relationship.
Representative Elliott Naishtat (Dist. 49)
Naishtat plans to file legislation that would require the state to participate in the federally authorized expansion of Medicaid. Texas has the highest rate (24 percent) of uninsured people in the nation. The Affordable Care Act allows states to expand their Medicaid programs to cover more low-income individuals. Governor Perry has informed the Federal government that Texas will not participate in expanding Medicaid. Naishtat’s bill would direct the Texas Health and Human Services Commission to expand Medicaid eligibility requirements in accordance with the ACA. This would ensure that 1.5 million currently uninsured Texans would be eligible to receive comprehensive health coverage. If Texas does not participate, the state would forgo nearly $91 billion in federal matching funds for the decade.
Representative Eddie Rodriguez (Dist. 51)
Rodriguez feels strongly that our country faces an epidemic that we have allowed to continue too long. We are hearing of tragic events involving firearms far too often in the United States. He says we must do more to prevent them from happening, and Texas must be a leader in affecting this change. He recently announced that he is drafting legislation that would require training before the purchase certain types of firearms, a ban on high capacity clips and the institution of a corporate tax credit to fund a gun buyback program. He points out that he is not asking that Texans sacrifice their Second Amendment rights, but that they consider some precautionary steps to make communities safer. This legislation is aimed at preventing another tragedy from claiming more innocent lives.