AUSTIN (KXAN) – The 86th Session of the Texas Legislature starts in less than two weeks. Voters sent a lot of new lawmakers to the Capitol. Most start in January – but some of them are already on the job.
State Senator Carol Alvarado (D-Houston) took the oath of office on December 21. The former State Representative won a special election in District 6. Alvarado replaces Sylvia Garcia, who was elected to Congress in November.
“Certainly getting sworn in early, I think that is going to give us a little advance in getting ready to get to work to start filing bills and tackling the issues that are important to Senate District 6 and the state of Texas,” Alvarado said.
Sen. Pete Flores (R-Pleasanton) took office in October, after winning the District 19 special election. Flores won the seat vacated by Democrat Carlos Uresti, who resigned after a criminal conviction that led to a prison sentence.
Flores has already filed his first bill, a measure to allow Justices of the Peace to hear property tax valuation protests. He believes that will help property owners, who have to take those protests to district court. “It’s about the service. That’s why I am here,” Flores said.
Even though they’re from different sides of the aisle, both Alvarado and Flores say school funding and property tax reform are their top priorities. We’ve heard that from state leaders from the Governor on down to the newest members of the Texas House.
Newly-elected House member John Bucy, III (D-Cedar Park) says voters sent a clear message to focus on those issues. “Everyday at the doors during the campaign, people wanted to make sure that our schools were taken care of, but also that our property taxes were going down,” Bucy said.
But we’ve seen widespread support for action on schools and property taxes before. Previous reform efforts have failed in the legislature.
“It is so complicated and so difficult, particularly with the diversity of the 1,024 school districts in Texas,” explained former State Rep. Larry Gonzales. The Round Rock Republican resigned earlier this year after serving four terms in the House.
“We love the diversity of Texas and how great it is for our state,” Gonzales said. “But from a decision-making standpoint, it can complicate things because different people need different answers.”
But going into the session, there is optimism that this time lawmakers will get results. And voters are demanding those results.
“We’ve heard loud and clear from a cross section of people across the state that want us to tackle this issue, put more money in, and bring some property tax relief,” Sen. Alvarado said. “So we’ve got to do that.”