District 29 in 2017


Dear friend:

The year 2017 is ending, and it’s time to reflect. I am lucky to represent El Paso and much of the Trans-Pecos in the Texas Senate. It is something I take very seriously, and my staff reflects that passion for public service.

SD 29 is a special place. It encompasses more than 800,000 people and stretches from El Paso to the Big Bend. My major offices – at the Capitol and in the District – produce legislation, engage with constituents to get feedback and coordinate on laws and initiatives, and serve the residents of District 29. The work is an honor and deep responsibility.

This year the District 29 office participated in the Texas Legislature’s Regular and Special sessions, youth- and volunteer-driven initiatives, and many hours of service to community groups. We gave young people a taste – many times their first – of the legislative process, constituent services, and office initiatives through our Capitol and District offices internship programs. And we helped constituents with state agency issues, put on town halls to inform the public, published newsletters and op-ed pieces, and provided space and staff support for dozens and dozens of volunteers who are working hard to make District 29 a better place.

Here are some of the highlights:

The 85th Legislature Convenes

The 85th Legislature convened Jan. 10, 2017, and I was sworn in for my fourth legislative session as Texas State Senator for Senate District 29. I am fortunate to serve El Paso and the Trans-Pecos, and represent the community in discussions of issues important to the future of the region and of the state, including public and higher education, health care, economic development, civil rights, and border affairs.

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As the primary author or sponsor, I passed 50 bills this session, as well as amended several additional measures onto other members’ bills. Included in this were bills that: Put a stop to the TEA “target,” which effectively acted as a cap on the number of students accessing special education programs; ensure that military members who are deployed or relocated have more time they need to advocate for their children’s special ed services; provide a pathway to a high school diploma for students who did not pass the TAKS test but otherwise meet standards set by curriculum; maintain El Paso County’s ability to collect hotel-motel taxes, which are used for economic and community development purposes; and make Mental Health First Aid Training available for university employees.

I also helped secure funding for Senate District 29 priority items, including our universities and dental school, the lawsuit with New Mexico over Rio Grande water rights, and $32 million for a system to streamline commercial traffic at the Zaragoza Bridge and Bridge of the Americas.

The Legislature failed to take up school finance in the substantive way our students need, and instead focused on divisive policies that undermined the rule of law and targeted minorities and vulnerable populations, such as the anti-immigrant SB 4 and the anti-LGBTQ Sb 6, the so-called “bathroom bill.”

To make things worse, the governor called a Special Session, which was forced by the Senate’s refusal to pass a bill that reauthorizes certain essential state agencies, including one that licenses doctors. The Senate did this in hopes of getting another shot at passing the “bathroom bill” in the Special Session. Sure enough, the governor added that to the Special Session call, along with a laundry list of other bad proposals, and the Senate ignored its own rules to speed bills through the process. There was a much more deliberative process in the House, and in the end, the “bathroom bill” did not pass.

Meanwhile, back in El Paso, Advisory Committees at work

My office in El Paso assists in the legislative process, handles constituent services, and engages in community initiatives.

Among the major sources of information for both legislation and initiatives from my District Office are the District Advisory Committees, which tap into the problem-solving expertise of the community. They are made up of policy experts, stakeholders and other volunteers committed to creating and promoting policy solutions and legislative proposals. The committees provide constituents a forum to discuss and provide input regarding policy, legislative, and regulatory issues pertinent to Senate District 29.

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Scores of El Pasoans have attended meetings in 2017 in the Education, Environment, Health Care, Heritage Tourism, LGBTQ, Veterans, and Youth Advisory Committees. Past activities have included establishing the Mano y Corazon series of public health seminars, which has since continued outside of my office, and numerous pieces of legislation and other community initiatives. In 2017, the Advisory Committees provided input on education, environment, health care, and heritage tourism related education, and worked on initiatives such as continuing education seminars, water symposium, voter guides, youth voter registration, and heritage tourism wayfinding.

Some specific highlights of Advisory Committee initiatives and legislative input include:

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The Student Voter Initiative, which began in my office in 2015 as a project of the Youth Advisory Committee. More than 10,000 students have participated in the discussion and more than 3,000 have been registered to vote, and in 2017 the League of Women Voters offered their leadership to manage the program. I can’t wait to see what they do in 2018!

The Water Symposium, organized by the Environmental Advisory Committee with support from El Paso Water, connected students and professionals. Almost 80 high school and college students, professionals and state leaders, including Texas Water Development Board Member Kathleen Jackson, met on July 14 at the Tech H2) Center to discuss water law, network and share high level information.

The Youth Advisory Committee launched the May 2017 uniform elections Voter Guide. YAC members brainstormed candidate questions based on the issues that are important to them to create a nonpartisan voter guide, and is now working on a guide for the upcoming midterm elections. Make sure to look out for it in 2018 …

The SD 29 LGBTQ Advisory Committee, the El Paso Queer Bar, and the LGBT Law Section of the State Bar of Texas hosted a CLE training where Ms. Claire Bow, a transgender attorney, presented to more than one hundred local attorneys, judges, and others.

The Education Advisory Committee helped provide concepts and support for my amendment to SB 463, which provides a pathway to a high school diploma for students who did not pass the TAKS test but otherwise meet standards set by curriculum.

And the Heritage Tourism Advisory Committee engaged to help placement of highway signage around El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro National Historic Trail in El Paso’s Mission Valley, and in support of the neighborhood of Duranguito and its history (more about that below).

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Internships and community engagement

In addition to the advisory committees direct work through the office, both my staff and the District Advisory Committees were busy this year organizing and volunteering in different community initiatives. Whether it is serving on neighborhood boards, social service organizations, or putting together social gatherings for El Pasoans living in Austin, my office is a nexus for community engagement. I couldn’t be prouder of my staff nor more grateful to the many volunteers who serve both in the office on District Advisory Committees and out in the community.

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My offices, both in the Capitol and the District, offer internships. The SD 29 Legislative Internship is a great opportunity to learn more about state government, the legislative process, and community advocacy. Interns research policy issues, write memos, answer phones, help with constituent services, answer phones, communicate with other government agencies, answer phones, manage records, support staff liaisons for the District Advisory Committees, answer phones … and make coffee! In all seriousness, interns have gone on to become staff members in my and other offices, run for office, and serve their communities in myriad ways.

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I have the honor to represent Texas Senate District 29, which includes the counties of El Paso, Hudspeth, Culberson, Jeff Davis, and Presidio. I represent both urban and rural constituencies, and more than 350 miles of the Texas-Mexico border. This year, my office has hosted multiple community meetings and town halls not only in El Paso but also in the rural areas of our District to discuss key legislation and to provide an opportunity to answer questions from the community.

Constituent services

One of the most important roles of my office is to serve constituents directly, working with state agencies, other governmental jurisdictions, non-profits and other elected representative’s offices, to make sure the constituent is receiving the services they are entitled to. This involves such tasks as facilitating applications for state benefits, and providing connections to local and federal offices for non-state benefits. Major categories of assistance include child support, Medicaid, SNAP benefits, business permits, and CPS/APS casework. There are more than 100 state agencies, and among the biggest and most often worked with on behalf of constituents are are Health and Human Services Commission, Department of Public Safety, Texas Workforce Commission, Texas Veterans Commission, Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Texas Education Agency, Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, and the Texas Secretary of State.

In 2018, among the many cases worked on, my staff helped constituents: Receive ventilator supplies and medicines; secure a vital grant from the Texas Workforce Commission; recertify Medicaid eligibility in order to continue receiving aid to which they were entitled; fix a birth certificate; keep a commercial driver license after it mistakenly was suspended; and gain admission to a community re-entry program for veterans.

And some local issues …

Diverse members of the community, including my Heritage Tourism Advisory Committee, raised significant concerns with the city’s “arena” project, and in December 2016 helped organize a tour of the neighborhood and symposium on its history. The city responded by filing a pre-emptive lawsuit that has cost taxpayers about $2 million thus far. Concerns raised included the process in determining Duranguito as the arena location; its lack of regard for the residents; its lack of response to issues raised by opponents of the plan; its dismissal of the neighborhood’s historical status as the first platted blocks as El Paso grew from a town to a modern city; its extreme expenses in a lawsuit that it filed first and that could have been avoided; its bait and switchregarding the difference between what voters approved, a performing arts center a la the Abraham Chavez Theatre, and the intentions of the city and the private developers whom the city is treating as its only important stakeholders, outsourcing its planning and civic responsibilities, those intentions being to construct a sports arena with the primary function of hosting sporting events; and on down the line.

I also worked closely with local solar energy advocates to make sure that the El Paso Electric Company was not able to use its rate structure to stifle development of rooftop solar, diminishing consumer choice. Rooftop solar, sometimes called “distributed generation,” has financial benefits to the individual customer, environmental benefits to the community, and can provide energy for the electrical grid. EPE initially proposed segregating residential solar customers into a new rate class and increasing their bills, this time by almost 100 percent, according to testimony filed in the rate case by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). By contrast, other non-solar residential customers’ bills would raise roughly nine percent, meaning solar customers’ rate increase would have been ten times more than their non-solar neighbors. But through the hard work of local and state advocates, and support from myself, El Paso City Council, and others, EPE compromised on its rate structure. The final settlement does include a $30 minimum electric bill for rooftop solar customers, but does not have the punitive rate structure designed to make rooftop solar uneconomical.

Onward to 2018

As you can see, it was a busy and eventful 2017 for my office, whether in Austin or in El Paso. I am excited about continuing that work in 2018.

It is a privilege and honor to represent District 29 in the Texas Senate and at home. Remember, you can engage with the office through our District Advisory Committees. Schedules for that and other community events can be found at my Facebook Event Page.

As always, I encourage your letters, emails, and phone calls. You can contact my office by clicking here.

Happy New Year!


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