Dave Moore, Staff Writer
On the heels of the first major reform to Texas’ school funding in three decades, four Texas state legislators – Representatives Morgan Meyer, Victoria Neave, and Scott Sanford, and State Senator Nathan Johnson – gathered recently to review Texas’ 86th Legislative Session. Neave also spoke of the unfinished business of establishing a mental health facility for the Dallas Region.
The panel discussion – organized and held by the Dallas Regional Chamber’s Public Policy & Advocacy Team – drew a crowd of more than 60 business and community leaders on July 29.
The legislators all agreed that the 86th Session, which ended May 27, was as constructive as the prior session was contentious. All of them cited the passage of HB3 – the $11.6 billion school finance measure – as an example of how the legislative process should work.
“I think what we saw was a loud voice from the public that they wanted the legislature to concentrate on more productive things,” said Sen. Johnson, whose district includes North Dallas and portions of Addison, Carrollton, and Garland. “Not only did we have some changeover of the participation of the membership, we saw people who had an excuse to do the right thing. I think we saw a real hard move to the center.”
Meyer – whose House District 108 includes Downtown Dallas and the Park Cities area – attributed that spirit as springing from a collaborative approach by the top leadership of Texas state government: Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen.
Sanford said, “There was more a feeling of, ‘Who cares if it originated in the House or the Senate? Who cares who the author is?’ [The question was], ‘Is this good for the state of Texas?’”
Meyer said a crucial element of HB3 eliminated provisions of the previous law, which extracted revenue from school districts that saw rapid growth in their land valuations, and redistributed that money to poorer districts (referred to as “recapture” and “Robinhood”).
“I think the reduction of recapture is a big deal,” Meyer said. “In particular, for DISD (Dallas Independent School District), which has nine out of 10 students on free or reduced lunch… they’re saving $426 million (annually), which would otherwise have left DISD, if the former school finance plan were in place.”
In discussing other matters handled in the 86th Session, Rep. Neave said she regretted that provisions that would have funded the planning of a much-needed mental health facility for the Dallas Region were removed from the budget.
“We are the only metropolitan area in the state that does not have a psychiatric hospital,” said Neave, whose House District 107 includes portions of Mesquite and East Dallas. She said she worked with the Dallas Regional Chamber, Parkland, and UT Southwestern in a bid to include a $16 million allocation.
“During the wee hours, the money was stripped from the budget,” she said.
“We, as a [legislative] delegation, as a chamber, as a region, have a lot of work to do” in the 87th Session, she said. “We have to make sure this issue is on the forefront of voters [minds], of all those individuals who have a say on the shortage of psychiatric beds we have in the region. We’re going to work to make sure that’s a priority next session.”
The next session of the Texas State Legislature is set for Jan. 12, 2021.