Senator Garcia outlines major accomplishments of the 83rd Regular Legislative Session
After completing her first Legislative Regular Session, Senator Sylvia R. Garcia remarked that she is, “very proud of what [she] and [her] team were able to achieve in such a short amount of time,”.
After being sworn in on March 11th, Senator Garcia approached her remaining 78 days as a State Senator with fervor; hitting the ground running in order to accomplish many of the promises she made while campaigning to the people of Senate District 6. She succeeded in many of her goals, as she was able to increase funding for education, support greater transparency and efficiency in Texas state government, and protect the interests of everyday working Texans through the following legislative actions:
• Setting a high standard for adequate funding of public education that required her to vote no on the initial Senate budget;
• Helping to create a more transparent and accurate nominations process for the Governor's appointments to Texas boards and commissions;
• Standing up for workers' rights in Texas by authoring legislation to protect their involvement in civic and parental engagement; and working actively to pass the Lilly Ledbetter Fairpay Act in Texas;
• Working with colleagues in the Texas Senate to ensure that payday lenders are better regulated and limited in their ability to abuse borrowers with limited incomes and credit.
Fresh from a campaign where voters spoke loud and clear about prioritizing education, Senator Garcia stood up for Texas school children by voting no on the initial version of the Senate budget because she knew it short-changed Texas public schools following last session’s devastating cuts. Her vote helped moved the debate on funding for education to a final budget that now includes $3.4 billion more for education and raises the level of equity for all students. She commented that while it does not fully restore the funding cuts from 2011, “this budget gets us on the right path towards adequate educational funding and provides greater funding equity among school districts than prior budgets,”.
As a member of the Senate Nominations Committee this session, Senator Garcia played a major role in developing new rules to ensure that the applications submitted by the Governor's nominees are accurate, transparent and contain full disclosure of financial information and conflicts of interest prior to committee consideration. The Senator feels that one of the greatest responsibilities and privileges of being a State Senator is oversight of the Governor's nominations to hundreds of boards and commissions that do the everyday work of Texas government. However, to her dismay, she found several inaccuracies and omissions in the applications submitted to the Nominations Committee, which she then brought to the attention of the Committee Chairman and members. Going forward it is her belief that these new rules will strengthen the nominations process and ensure that only the most qualified candidates will serve on Texas' many boards and commissions.
Early on in her session, Senator Garcia committed to working with Texas Senate colleagues to ensure that payday lenders are better regulated to limit their abuse of low-income consumers who have little or no credit history and must resort to predatory payday loans. She supported reforms knowing that the City of Houston, whose residents are especially susceptible to these types of loans, has no local ordinance to regulate payday lenders like many other major cities in Texas. Senator Garcia commented, “Unfortunately, our hard work in the Senate met defeat in the House of Representatives. I now look forward to working with Mayor Annise Parker to pass a local ordinance in Houston to regulate predatory payday lending and am committed to staying active on this issue,”.
Senator Garcia was also able to concentrate on important voting rights issues during the 83rd session. She sponsored proactive legislation, HB 2570, to improve Texas’ voter registration system in two fundamental ways. House Bill 2570 would have required counties to inform potential voters why their registration application was rejected so that it could be corrected and resubmitted. The bill would also have allowed volunteer deputy registrars to obtain training materials on the Internet rather than in person at the county office increasing volunteers’ ability to access this important information. While the legislation fell short at the end, Senator Garcia is committed to enacting this common sense legislation in a future legislative session.
During her time in Austin, Senator Garcia also addressed mental health illnesses, a top priority since her days as a municipal judge. She worked with Representative Garnet Coleman and other mental health advocates ensuring that more individuals with mental health illnesses get the local and long-term care that they need. Additionally, she co-authored legislation to improve education and training procedures for certain non-medical staff providing assistance to persons experiencing a mental health crisis.
Senator Garcia also fought to improve government efficiency by filing legislation to provide greater transparency and cost savings to the State of Texas. House Bill 1128 will provide an opportunity for state employees and the public to take a proactive role in saving the state millions of dollars by submitting cost saving ideas to certain state agencies. Another measure she was proud to co-author, Senate Bill 140, would have ensured greater stewardship of tax dollars. This bill would require the Comptroller to identify and review certain tax preferences to ensure accountability, determine costs and benefits of certain tax preferences to the state’s budget, and whether or not to maintain or eliminate tax preferences. Unfortunately, the measure to provide greater accountability of state dollars did not pass.
Senator Garcia closed her remarks by stating that she was “truly honored” to have been sent to Austin to represent the people of Senate District 6 and feels confident that she voted in the best interest of her district and the working people of Texas. She then noted that her work is not yet done: “As a member of the Senate Redistricting Committee in the upcoming Redistricting Special Session, I want to ensure that Texas has a fair set of maps that best represents the voting rights of minorities and that the redistricting process is open and transparent.” During the special session she commented, “I will continue to work to provide meaningful improvements in the day-to-day lives of all Texans.”