Notes & Noticias: Looking Back at this Legislative Session

Friends,

Like all legislative sessions, this one was a mixed bag. As I shared with you last week, some of our biggest victories came in defeating harmful and discriminatory legislation. But passing our own bills was a struggle in itself. Here are some of the wins and losses from my seventh session as your state representative:

Community Schools

One of the biggest defeats of the 84th legislative session was my Texas┬áCommunity Schools bill, a bill that would have brought a nationally recognized model for parental and community involvement to many of our schools. This bill died on the floor of the Texas House of Representatives due to a gross misinterpretation of the bill’s intent by the right-wing faction of the Republican party. It had tremendous bipartisan support and authorship, and I will be working on this important bill again next session.

Emergency Preparedness

After the Halloween flood in Dove Springs and surrounding areas, I filed HB 4085 — a bill that would have required the governor to declare a natural disaster and require DPS to have a coordinated list of necessities, groups assisting with relief and damages incurred. On Memorial Day, the Austin area experienced another devastating flood, a reminder that this bill deserves more than just a hearing.

Removing Dual Credit Limitations
It has been my goal to make higher education more accessible for students who may not have plans to attend a traditional four-year university or cannot afford to do so. I was successful in passing HB 505, which eliminated the limit of dual credit courses for high school students seeking college credit. The two-credit limit was arbitrary, and lifting that cap will go a long way to help students graduate with college credit, saving them thousands of dollars in future tuition bills while encouraging college readiness.

Fast-Growth School Districts

While the basic allotment per student in Texas was raised to $5,140 per school year, districts are still facing facility and infrastructure needs. Districts that are deemed “fast growth” like Del Valle High School would have benefited from HB 506, which┬áwould have allowed school districts to levy taxes(with local voter approval) beyond the outdated formulas for repaying facilities bonds.

Deaf Interpreter Certification

I spent my third session working on legislation on behalf of our deaf and hard of hearing community. Sign language is the means of communication for this vulnerable population, and HB 1069 would have required certification for interpreters. While we do currently have a certification process in Texas, it is voluntary — not a requirement. Interpreters marketing themselves as such, without demonstrating ability via certification, has had dangerous consequences. I will continue to work diligently for this legislation in the future.

Grocery Stores in Underserved Communities

It is unacceptable that hunger is still a reality in Texas that affects more families than one would like to think. That’s why I filed legislation to combat the social inequity in food access. HB 1485 was a bill that sought to bring new┬ágrocery stores to underserved communities, as well as support renovation and expansion of existing stores to ensure access to fresh fruits, vegetables, meat, dairy, poultry and seafood products. Unfortunately, this bill failed to pass by only 3 votes in the House.

Farmers Market Accessibility

Another food bill, HB 1616, sought to establish a pilot program to promote the purchase of healthy foods and offer additional benefits to SNAP/WIC recipients as an incentive to purchase healthy food at farmers markets through public-private partnerships, grants or donations. Although it did not make it past committee during this go-around, it did receive considerable bipartisan support that gives me hope for next session.

Homestead Exemptions

Residents in my district and across our state are finding it harder and harder to keep up with skyrocketing property taxes. Affordable housing is becoming increasingly out of reach, and I have been hearing for far too long stories of constituents who have had to leave my district┬ábecause they can no longer afford to stay in their homes. Although┬áthe homestead exemption bill┬áI filed as a companion to Senator Kirk Watson’s SB 279 did not make it to the floor for debate, we came a long way in negotiating language that will make it easier for cities like Austin to offer property tax relief that works within the confines of our budget.

Consumer Choice & the Tesla Bill

Under current state law, new vehicles can only be sold through a franchised dealership because we are limited by antiquated laws that were established to protect franchisees from corporations. Along the way, these same laws began to hurt consumers, who now pay steep premiums to purchase their cars through auto dealers. A Department of Justice study in 2009 found that direct distribution of new vehicles could save consumers about $2,200 per vehicle. My Tesla bill, which was left pending in committee, would have allowed for the ownership or operation of a motor vehicle dealership by certain manufacturers or distributors such as Tesla. Texans should be able to buy cars when they want and from whoever they want.

The Pi├▒ata bill

Many of you have heard the story of Jumpolin — the pi├▒ata store in the heart of House District 51, a family-owned business that was demolished with no notice to the tenants. Although they had nearly two years left on their lease and were in good standing, the Lejarazu family lost their store and everything in it when the new tenants decided the land was too valuable to let them stay.┬á┬áMy pi├▒ata bill, which died on the floor of the House of Representatives, would have bolstered safeguards that protect wrongfully evicted tenants by tying penalties in lawsuits to the fair market value of the property at time of eviction. The bill was meant to deter wrongful evictions like the one the Lejarazu family experienced; bad actors should think twice when dealing with tenants whose livelihoods are in their hands.

Regards,

Eddie Rodriguez