The famed American industrialist Henry Ford once said, “If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.” That sentiment is alive and well in the Texas Capitol, where on Jan. 8, our state began the 86th Texas Legislative Session.
As your friend, I am honored and blessed to be your voice in the Texas Senate. Looking back on the last session, which concluded in 2017, my office worked with many of you to write and pass 56 bills into law that offered sensible solutions for our schools, families, and businesses. During the subsequent Special Session, my office also carried two of Governor Abbott's nine successful priorities, which strengthened our property rights and improved women's healthcare. We have achieved a great deal together but there is much more to do.
The Texas Legislature meets every odd-numbered year for 140 days. For a growing state of nearly 30 million, this means that many ideas are compressed into twenty fast-paced weeks. With over a thousand new people moving to Texas every day, we are the fastest growing state in the nation. This means we also face the challenges that come with that rapid population increase.
In the Texas Senate, we aim to tackle tough issues in 2019 such as an overhaul to our property tax system, an improvement to how we fund our public schools, as well as more funding for a significant pay raise to our hard-working teachers in the classroom.
With more than 70 public school districts in our Senate District, I have been meeting and listening to educators and school boards about what they need to succeed. My office is focused and dedicated to helping our students and teachers and the noble mission of our schools. We must properly fund our classrooms as well as our Teacher Retirement System (TRS). Our state budget must recognize that classroom teachers provide guidance, hope, and inspiration for our students, and they should be compensated for that responsibility. My husband and I, along with our two children, are successful products of public education, and I am committed to fighting for our teacher retiree pension system and ensure that TRS-Care is financially sound.
After last year's tragic mass shooting at Santa Fe High School that killed or injured almost two dozen victims, we must make our schools safer. That's why I have supported more funds for mental health, as well as the creation of a school marshal program, to allow schools to appoint undercover, armed marshals. This session, I will also seek new school security funding to help pay for safety modifications.
Along with protecting our schools, we must also focus on protecting our private property rights. To that point, last session I reigned in unfair city ordinances that compelled property owners to pay an “impact fee” to cities before a landowner could cut down a tree on their own property. This session, I will once again work with landowners, farmers, ranchers and wildlife advocates to protect private property from eminent domain abuse. We must always remember that our constitutional freedoms flow from the ability to own private property, and this means that landownership needs to be protected and respected.
My office will also pay special attention to our state parks and historic sites during the current session. We must ensure that more Texans, especially families and young people, take advantage of our state's beautiful parks and rich history. That's why I have recently filed Senate Joint Resolution 24, to secure funding for the 95 state parks and historic sites that are operated by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the 22 public historic sites operated by the Texas Historical Commission. Even in today's divisive political climate, all Texans can agree that our state parks and historic sites should get the funding they deserve. That's why I am proud to have one dozen bipartisan joint authors in my effort to see that more Texans get outdoors, enjoy our parks and visit our historic sites.
As the current session begins, I am honored to serve as Chair of the Health and Human Services Committee, which means that I will also focus on positive changes to healthcare such as how Texas can better support our rural hospitals. Under my direction, the committee will seek to reform our foster care system and the broken model of "residential treatment centers" for our most fragile children. Another committee goal will be to see that local mental health services are aligned with our county sheriffs so that Texans with behavioral health issues are not instead pushed into the criminal justice system and warehoused in our local jails.
It is a distinct honor to serve in the Texas Senate, but it would not be possible without your ideas and guidance. My office belongs to you, and I welcome your thoughts and comments. With over six thousand bills filed every session, I pledge to always listen to every side of each debate. My approach has always been to earn your trust and deliver practical solutions. If we keep working together, our state will continue to be a beacon of freedom and economic strength, and in the words of Henry Ford, our future success will take care of itself.
Senator Lois W. Kolkhorst (R-Brenham) serves District 18 in the Texas Senate.