Saddle up for the Legislative Session

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As the divisive elections fade and the holiday season approaches, it’s time to put aside our differences and focus on what all Texans believe in. We all want Texas to be the best state for hard-working people and their families. We all want a future for our children and grandchildren that gives every Texan the chance to compete and succeed.

Just as my family comes together around the holiday table despite our political differences, I’m hopeful that policymakers will saddle up and get some work done this legislative session. There are a few policy areas where real consensus and bold policymaking are possible.

Legislators from both parties can work together to improve health and wellness in our state. There’s momentum around ending the practice of surprise medical billing, which sticks Texans with hefty fees when they receive care at in-network emergency rooms from out-of-network doctors.

There also is bipartisan support for reforming the way we care for Texans with mental illness. Up to 40 percent of county jail bookings in 2013 were for individuals who previously had received public mental health services. When released from jail without sufficient support systems, individuals with mental illness often end up incarcerated again. There is momentum behind a “peer support” reentry program that would match an inmate with mental illness with a trained peer who knows what they are facing. The program would improve mental health and save taxpayers money.

We also can make progress in expanding the number of Texans with health insurance. A bipartisan group of county judges and business leaders recently called for a Texas-specific approach to providing health insurance to more Texans. The opportunity to create more than 200,000 new jobs in three years, bring more than $6 billion each year into the state’s economy and save local property taxes has more lawmakers looking at accepting the federal health dollars that are sitting there waiting for us.

We all believe in an education pipeline that builds a pathway toward good jobs. Ensuring that all Texas children enter kindergarten ready to learn is an educational goal with no downside. But only 52 percent of Texas 4-year-olds attend public pre-kindergarten. Studies show that investing in pre-kindergarten produces a huge return, preparing kids to thrive academically. A common-sense proposal would take students who are eligible for pre-K and offer them full-day, high-quality pre-K.

We need to ensure the pipeline continues through higher education and advanced job training. Only 16 percent of Texas boys and 23 percent of girls currently complete a higher education degree or credential. That limits those young adults’ earning potential and limits the skills of the Texas workforce.

Once they have jobs, hard-working Texans deserve a living wage that keeps their households out of poverty. We can all agree that people who work hard deserve meaningful compensation, and there are several proposals this legislative session that would help boost wages.

Being a Texan comes with a great responsibility to ensure our state gives everyone a fair chance to thrive. After the holiday season, let’s get ready to put our boots on and help our policymakers make progress in the 2015 legislative session.

This was published earlier in the Austin American-Statesman on December 2nd, 2014.

At the Center for Public Policy Priorities, we believe in a Texas that offers everyone the chance to compete and succeed in life. We envision a Texas where everyone is healthy, well-educated, and financially secure. We want the best Texas - a proud state that sets the bar nationally by expanding opportunity for all. CPPP is an independent public policy organization that uses data and analysis to advocate for solutions that enable Texans of all backgrounds to reach their full potential. We dare Texas to be the best state for hard-working people and their families.

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