Central Texas lawmakers discuss their policy priorities for the legislative session

 kwtx.com  01/13/2021 03:34:00   Matt Zdun

AUSTIN, Texas (KWTX) - Tuesday was the first day of the Texas legislative session, and it was an opening day unlike others in the past.

There was a heavy police presence throughout the day as the Texas Department of Public Safety and other law enforcement agencies stepped up security in the wake of what happened at the U.S. Capitol last week.

Additionally, the Texas Department of Public Safety required all capitol visitors to take a COVID-19 test.

The COVID is going to define the session, said State Rep. Hugh Shine, R-Temple.

State lawmakers will meet later this week to formalize COVID-19 protocols and determine how the public will be able to testify this session, whether in person, virtually or some combination of both.

Beyond COVID-19 legislation, Shine said there are three other legislative focus areas of note: school finance, redistricting and the budget.

Lawmakers will carve out the budget for the next two years.

They already face tight budgetary conditions, largely because of declining sales tax revenues during the pandemic.

Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar said the state faces a nearly $1 billion budget hole for the fiscal year ending in August.

Beyond that, Shine has filed a series of property tax bills this session.

The property tax payer is overwhelmed when they go to the appraisal district to protest if theyre going to protest, Shine said.

What Ive been doing is looking at the tax code and coming up with some tweaking, some changes, so that folks when they walk into that appraisal district for a protest, theyre not intimidated, he said.

Meanwhile, state Rep. Charles Doc Anderson, R-Waco, told KWTX his main focus this legislative session will be increasing Texans access to broadband.

Theres a tremendous number  more than 55% of the geographic area  that doesnt have broadband, Anderson said.

He said better broadband is needed even more as students learn remotely and more people experiment with telemedicine.

Anderson also said another focus area will be ensuring that Texans have access to mental health care before they have encounters with law enforcement officers.

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