By Emily Banks Wooten
State Representative Trent Ashby addressed the Rotary Club of Livingston Thursday, providing a wrap-up of the 88th session of the Texas Legislature. The six-term representative from Lufkin told those in attendance that he considers it an honor to represent them in the Texas House.
He expressed his pleasure at having Polk and Tyler counties added to his district after redistricting, commenting that it just made sense to put an East Texas heavily-forested group of counties together.
To give everyone a sense of how many bills get filed during a legislative session, Ashby said a total of 8,040 bills were filed in the House and Senate. He said that 1,246 made it all the way through the process, which is an approximate 15% success rate. He said 76 bills were vetoed, the second most in Texas history. Only 1,038 bills were actually signed by the governor into law, he said, with most having gone into effect Sept. 1 and the remainder going into effect Jan. 1, 2024.
Ashby said the only bill the legislature is constitutionally required to pass is the budget and that this session was different, with a historic budget surplus of $33 billion, a 26% increase in general revenue than in 2021.
“It speaks to how well our economy is, especially following the pandemic. The State of Texas has the eighth largest economy in the entire world. That is a big focus, trying to forecast and plan how we want to spend our precious resources,” he said.
“I am a big proponent of public education. We must continue to invest in our most important resource in the state of Texas - our children. That’s our seed stock,” Ashby said.
“We are the fastest-growing state in the union. People are wanting to come here. The work is not done though. We’re going back in October for a special session,” he said, adding that $5 million was not spent because it was not authorized.
Noting that his grandmother and mother were teachers and that his two sisters are teachers, he said he gets an earful at Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners.
“It’s been 19 years since we’ve given our retired teachers a cost of living adjustment.This year, finally, we were able to do that,” he said, adding that there will be a proposition in the upcoming constitutional amendment election that, if approved, would make the cost of living adjustment for retired teachers permanent.
“In addition to a cost of living adjustment, we also provided a one-time stipend. I’m really proud of the work we were able to do for our retired teachers,” he said.
“We’re still dealing with the tragedy of Uvalde but we did a lot of work and passed HB 3, which ensures that at every school campus in the State of Texas there will be an armed security guard,” he said.
“We also provided community college funding. This was a transformational session for the 50 community colleges in Texas which make up the lifeblood of the workforce today. We needed to modernize our funding system, incentivizing our community colleges to help fill the void by rewarding them financially. All 50 were wildly supportive,” he said.
Commenting that another focus was on infrastructure, he said there were two big items, the first being water and the second being broadband.
“Prop 1 on the ballot, if approved, will create the Texas Water Fund, which will provide low interest loans and grants for rural areas in Texas to assist with replacing outdated infrastructure. We’re at a crisis point in making sure we can continue to provide safe drinking water for the people of the State of Texas and this is something I believe will be very beneficial,” he said.
Regarding broadband, Ashby said, “So many school districts were impacted during COVID when TEA says, ‘school’s out, we’re going to a digital format.’ That’s fine if you have broadband. Texas was one of only four states in 2020 that didn’t have a broadband plan for our state.”
During the 2021 session, a broadband office was created and a broadband study was conducted to determine who had access and who didn’t. During this session, they added funding.
“In the next seven to 10 years, you’re going to see a whole lot more connectivity,” he said.
“The number one issue that I heard about coming into this session is people were crying out for relief on property taxes. That was a priority for the House, the Senate and the governor. And when those stars align, good things happen,” he said, referring to the $18 billion in relief, $12 billion of which he said will be seen through the compression of school district maintenance and operations taxes.
He said they also approved raising the homestead exemption.
“Prop 4, if approved, will raise the homestead exemption from $40,000 to $100,000,” he said.
“The other item I hear the most about today is ‘what are we doing to secure the border?’ It is a crisis, it’s worse today than it’s ever been,” he said, adding that they are seeing a surge from Central America.
“We’ve got a lot more to do on this front. We appropriated $5.1 billion spread across 13 different agencies working to slow the migration. It’s going to be a combination of issues, not just barriers. This is bipartisan. It is not a partisan issue,” he said.
“A huge focus of mine is taking care of my constituents in a non-legislative manner,” Ashby said, reporting that he met with City of Livingston officials and representatives from the Texas Department of Transportation on Wednesday to talk about the local challenges with transportation.
“I like to work directly with constituents to see if we can find a compromise. That is a big part of what Senator Robert Nichols and myself do, so if you ever have an issue or a problem with a state agency, that is my job to help you with that,” he said.