With the 85th Texas Legislature now complete and a special session on the horizon, Senator Lois Kolkhorst praised the state’s fiscally responsible budget, totaling $217 billion, which she helped to write as a member of the Senate Finance Committee.
“It’s an honor to serve nearly one million people in such a thriving and diverse district,” Kolkhorst said. “That’s why I’m proud of so many priorities that were achieved for Senate District 18.”
Kolkhorst said the latest state budget prioritized the hiring of 600 new CPS caseworkers to protect abused and neglected children, and addressed the needs of public schools by continuing full funding for public education and covering student enrollment growth with an additional $2.65 billion. An additional $350 million for the Teacher Retirement System was included to continue healthcare benefits for TRS participants. To keep Texans moving, the budget directed $5 billion for crucial transportation needs, and provided $40 million in new appropriations to fund infrastructure projects at Texas ports.
According to Kolkhorst, many legislative decisions were based on direct input from local constituents. For example, after a series of roundtable discussions with local school board members, Kolkhorst said it was evident that members sought more local control over their school districts.
“School boards are elected to make decisions that reflect the values and needs of their community,” Kolkhorst said. “That’s why I worked to write and pass SB 1566, to give school boards more flexibility in how they manage their districts. Written with the consultation of the Texas Association of School Boards, this bill also allows the use of a new online tool to give board members a dashboard of data, so they can increase their direct responsibility and efforts to improve student academic achievement.”
Working closely with Rep. Rick Miller, Kolkhorst was able to secure the passage HB 931 to allow communities to contract with utilities to construct hike and bike trails. HB 931, sponsored by Kolkhorst, will facilitate the construction of more hike and bike trails that connect communities and encourage a healthy lifestyle. Additionally, the bill will protect an existing hike and bike trail in the Sweetgrass neighborhood in Richmond from being demolished.
Kolkhorst said the fast growth in Fort Bend County has created some unique legislative challenges. For example, land available to be used to develop or enlarge cemeteries has become so scarce, some families must bury their loved ones many miles away from their homes and local churches.
“I was able to work with Representative Mike Schofield to sponsor and pass HB 2214, which allows churches and other non-profits to establish more cemeteries within the city limits of Fort Bend municipalities. People shouldn’t have to drive long distances to pay their respects to their loved ones, and we should remove unnecessary regulations if there is a proven need,” Kolkhorst said.
Constituents also asked for more transparency within Municipal Utility Districts, Management Districts, and other types of special districts that have long played a role in the development of Fort Bend County. As a result, Kolkhorst passed several bills that are designed to encourage transparency in special district operations. Kolkhorst authored and passed SB 554 to see that any local utility district that holds its meetings outside the district boundaries must notify each resident about how to transfer those meeting locations back within the district. The new law empowers MUD residents to take control of their district operations and keep meetings closer to home.
In passing SB 625, Kolkhorst helped establish a new “district database” online to help residents learn more about their local taxing districts. The database will provide useful information about every type of special district in the state. Kolkhorst said that the database will be part of the Texas Comptroller’s website and was based on suggestions from local constituents.
“Successful and effective local government relies on voter participation,” Kolkhorst said. “This database delivers an easy way to learn about your local tax rates, bonds, and contact information to easily attend meetings in person.”
Kolkhorst said she has been working with Fort Bend County officials to accommodate the expansion of the Panama Canal and the new type of highly lucrative shipping traffic that will follow.
“Working with County Commissioner Andy Meyers and Representative Rick Miller, I sponsored HB 2557, which allows Fort Bend to develop a rail facility in conjunction with existing navigation districts,” Kolkhorst said. “This plan could connect Fort Bend County to the port of Freeport, a port that is perfectly positioned to accommodate these larger ships. Connecting to Fort Bend’s existing rail facilities will help to direct more economic activity to the county, allowing it to participate more directly in the global marketplace.”
To further even more local economic development, Kolkhorst collaborated with Rep. John Zerwas and Sen. Joan Huffman to pass legislation to allow Sugar Land and Katy to use their existing funds to develop convention centers that are expected to drive local growth.
To fight illegal immigration, drug smuggling and human trafficking, Kolkhorst said she supported Texas maintaining $800 million in budget spending to secure the border. She said that she heard from many constituents concerned with illegal immigration, and was proud to co-author and pass SB 4 to address the so-called “Sanctuary Cities” in Texas that brazenly ignore United States immigration laws.
“Texas sent a strong message with SB 4. We can and will crack down on sanctuary cities, because no community in our state should be a sanctuary for illegal immigration,” Kolkhorst said.
With sex trafficking becoming a statewide problem, Kolkhorst said Fort Bend County has experienced first-hand the effects of this horrific problem. She worked with a Fort Bend County family who was directly impacted, to write and pass two bills aimed at fighting sex traffickers. With the passage of SB 1196, the Texas Attorney General attorney will be able to declare a website that facilitates sex trafficking as a common nuisance, which would then permit the Attorney General to shut down the site. Kolkhorst also passed legislation into law that will require sexually-oriented businesses such as exotic dance clubs to post a sign containing contact information for the National Human Trafficking Resource Center in each restroom on the premises.
“This will let any victims at these businesses know that there are resources out there that can help them,” Kolkhorst said.
Although many Fort Bend County issues were addressed during the regular session, there is even more work for lawmakers. With Governor Greg Abbott ordering a special session of the Texas Legislature, slated to begin July 18, Kolkhorst said there are many more important issues to tackle.
“I share the Governor’s commitment to solving the issues put forth in his call for the special session of the 85th Legislature. Whether it is solving school finance challenges, lowering skyrocketing property taxes, protecting the privacy, safety and dignity of Texans, or addressing the state’s alarming maternal mortality rate, I will stand ready to serve my constituents.”