Education and healthcare are hot topics for Legislature
By Joe Southern
With guarded optimism, State Sen. Lois Kolkhorst and State Rep. John Zerwas gave members and guests of the Fulshear Area Chamber of Commerce a preview of what to expect from the 85th Texas Legislature when it convenes next month.
The two were keynote speakers at a breakfast meeting of the chamber Friday at Safari Texas Ranch. They both spoke about an agenda of policy issues they expect to take on but tempered that with a warning that the purse strings will be pulled tight.
“I’m extremely optimistic about what we can do on the policy side,” Kolkhorst said, adding, “money is very, very tight.”
“Where we can, we will pull back,” Zerwas said. “2015 was extraordinary. It was not the typical session that we have.”
In that session, the Legislature had a surplus and left $4 billion unspent. Since then, oil and gas woes have been a major drag on the state’s economy.
Kolkhorst, who represents Senate District 18, said Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick “is very specific about 20 issues he wants to tackle.” Among those are property tax and appraisal reform, women’s privacy, school reform, sanctuary cities, protecting police officers, school finance and more.
Zerwas, who represents House District 28, said the upcoming session will be focused on two specific areas.
“The budget is about two things … it’s about education and it’s about healthcare,” he said.
Both legislators said they have watched as healthcare costs escalated to become a bigger part of the biennial budget.
“Education is the best investment we can make and that is the thing we want to try and get right,” Zerwas said.
He said the legislature will address issues such as funding public safety and infrastructure, but said there will be a strong emphasis on education funding and reform.
“There will be a conversation around school choice and how we fund schools,” he said.
Zerwas said when it comes to public schools, the best thing the state can do is step out of the way.
“The public school system is the backbone of the state,” he said. “We need to let the school districts who know better and the teachers who know better … educate the children.”
He also called for the federal government to step up and cover its share of expenses that the state has been absorbing, primarily on Medicaid funding and border security.
“There is potentially a billion dollars of border security and a billion dollars of healthcare that we can see coming back to the State of Texas if the federal government steps up and does what it’s supposed to do,” he said.
Kolkhorst agreed with Zerwas on the issues of federal funding. She also said that she is open minded to ideas on how to better serve school children in the state.
“We need to take the shackles off and let public education be what it can be,” she said.