Hernandez updates Chamber on Legislative session

By Gilbert Hoffman
North Channel Star

JACINTO CITY – The monthly meeting of the North Channel Chamber was held in Jacinto City this month, at JC Town Center only a block away from the office of the speaker, State Representative Ana Hernandez.

Representative Hernandez brought the luncheon crowd up to date on the accomplishments, and failures, of the 88th Texas Legislature session, which ended in May, with two special sessions that followed later.

Ana represents Texas District 143 in the Legislature, having been elected in a special vote in 2005. She reviewed some of her life history, having been born in Reynosa, Mexico and raised in Pasadena, Texas. She is a graduate of the University of Houston, and the UT School of Law. She is a practicing attorney when not working as a Legislator.

In the Legislature she serves as vice-chair of the committee on State Affairs, on the Licensing & Admin Procedures committee, and the House Calendar Committee. She maintains good relations with the House Speaker, Dade Phalen, and is able to work with other legislators in a bipartisan way.

Ana reminded the audience that the Legislature only meets every 2 years for a 140 day period, and must pass a budget. Otherwise the 150 members of the House can file any bill, hold committee hearings, and vote. This session there were over 11,800 bills filed, but only 4550 considered and only hundreds actually passed and signed by the Governor into law.

In addition to the regular session, the Governor called two special sessions to get a Property Tax Relief bill passed. As adopted in the second session, the bill raises the Homestead Exemption from $40,000 per home to $100,000, plus $10,000 for over 65 or disabled. The Franchise Tax for small businesses was also reduced.

Other bills Ana discussed included a creation of a Texas Energy Fund of $5 billion dollars, to improve reliability for the electric grid, and to protect critical services such as nursing homes and hospitals. This bill, like several others, will require ratification by voters on the November ballot.

For teachers, the Legislature passed a Cost of Living Increase in pay, on a sliding scale of 2% to 6%, or a raise of $2400 to $7500 depending upon length of service. This bill will also require passage on the November ballot.

Another ballot issue was the expansion of the PUF fund, or Public University Fund that sends oil and gas tax revenues to Texas Universities. If approved, a $3 billion fund will be created and shared by UT, TAMU, and expanded to include UH, Texas Tech, UNT, and Texas State University.

Another important measure was the creation of a $1 billion fund for State Parks, for the expansion, and improvement of additional parks in Harris County and throughout the state. State Representative Armando Walle worked with Ana to pass this bill.

Another bill will expand Broadband or WiFi coverage in rural and non-served areas of the state.

The most important function of the Legislature, the passing of a two-year budget, was accomplished after much negotiation between House and Senate. The final budget was $321 Billion for two years, and included a teacher pay raise across the board of $5000, and paid childcare for teachers.

The budget also included $50 million as matching money for federal grants to study and advance the socalled “Ike Dike” or Gulf Coast Protection Project.

Ana pointed out several bills that failed to pass, including the most important which was additional school funding and vouchers. She believes that the Governor will call a 3rd Special Session in the fall, to focus on School Finance.

Another measure of interest, that did not get any action, was state wide Gambling or Gaming in Casinos. She said there was not support to pass this item.

Ana invited all in the audience to visit her offices in Jacinto City or Austin, She thanked GPISD teacher and city councilwoman Carmela Garcia for bringing a class of her students for a tour of the Capitol in Austin.