Three East Texas State representatives took to the East Texas State Fair to speak to the public and answer questions on the triumphs and challenges of the 2013 legislative session.
“You might have read in your history books that state fairs were things where people came …” Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler, said. “Candidates came to speak to the people because that was where the people were.”
The East Texas politicians, including Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, and Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, briefly spoke about their experiences in the Texas House of Representatives and then opened the floor to a discussion with constituents.
“I think some of the issues that are important to you are truly important to the Texas house.” Schaefer said.
The issues at the forefront were education, spending money wisely and abortion in Texas, Schaefer said.
The session also gave way to a pharmacy school at The University of Texas at Tyler and restoring pension promises to teachers, Simpson said.
He said the economy received a big stimulus from fracking oil and gas in the state. The industry helped restore funding to public education, but the East Texas delegation said the budget should have been leaner in other areas.
“I think we should have been more conservative in how we spent the money, and I think that is indicative in the fact that more Republicans voted against the budget in the house than they have in many, many years,” Schaefer said, adding some accounting “gimmicks” used to balance the budget were not faded out.
Simpson said some of those practices included using money raised for specific purposes to certify the budget. He said the state raised $30 million for local fire departments from insurance premiums on farms and homes, but only $13 was used on its designated purpose and the remainder helped certify the budget. He said over $4 billion of similarly designated monies were used in the same fashion.
“We fought a war over taxation without representation, and I think this is worse,” Simpson said. “This is taxation with misrepresentation.”
The representatives said the delegation is working diligently to correct the problem, but it would take some time.”
“We sat down and they told us, ‘we can’t turn the ship around in a single session,’” Schaefer said. “But we are going to make a significant turn.”
The group also talked about the passing of SB2 in special session, which made abortions illegal after 20 weeks and required abortion providers to be designated as ambulatory surgical centers.
“They are going to have safe and sanitary conditions and an emergency room to protect the mother,” Hughes said. “We realize there are two precious lives, the baby and the mother. … Most Texans were in favor of it, and we are glad to get it done.”
The Legislators also addressed concerns that the bill would close clinics that provide other services to women, including annual exams and birth control.
“(We allocated) $100 million in new money toward women’s health, but not abortion …” Hughes said. “If the clinic does abortions, we are not going to give them state money … We knew that was going to be a concern so that was one of the first things we did in the budget.”
The representatives said other states have passed bills prohibiting coerced abortion and termination based on the gender of the fetus, Schaefer said.
“If we are going to have a right to choose, they should have a true right to choose,” he said.
The legislators said, in each session, many bills are introduced and sent to subcommittees where they proverbially die and never make it to the floor for discussion. They said even bills with considerable support in the chamber are shot down, including limits on the growth of government and abortion.
Hughes said the rules of the chamber are voted on at the beginning of each session, and the East Texas delegation is working to create a pathway for bills to get out of subcommittees. He said each session they gain more support.
“We didn’t win all the arguments,” Simpson said. “We lost most of them, but we did change the argument and brought some fight to the Legislature.”