As the 84th Texas Legislative Session begins, I feel energized, prepared and optimistic. Really! Yes, the every-other-year legislative session can be divisive and nerve-racking. But the Capitol belongs to all of us as Texans, and these 140 days are our chance to shape the state our children will inherit.
Our offices are buzzing here at CPPP, where policy analysts are busy dissecting budget data, writing briefs and meeting with legislative staff members. For many of my colleagues, this legislative session is hardly their first rodeo. Associate Director Anne Dunkelberg and Senior Fiscal Analyst Dick Lavine both recently celebrated 20 years on staff, and their analysis on health care and taxes is in high demand.
This session, we are laser-focused on clear, compelling legislative priorities that aim to make Texas the best state for hard-working people and their families. From ensuring health and wellness to expanding economic opportunity and investing in Texas, we will use research and data to advocate for policies that help all Texans compete and succeed.
Despite lawmakers’ political differences, I am hopeful that our leaders will focus on the facts and get some real work done this session. A few issues show promising signs of real consensus.
Business leaders and bipartisan county judges are among those pushing for a Texas approach to closing the health care coverage gap. Expanded health care could bring more than $6 billion each year into the state’s economy and create more than 200,000 new Texas jobs in three years. With more uninsured residents than any other state, Texas needs lawmakers to step up and expand health care this session.
Research shows that participation in quality pre-Kindergarten programs is associated with improved reading and math scores. But only 52 percent of Texas 4-year-olds attend public pre-K. Lawmakers have a prime opportunity to make cost-effective investments in early education, which will pay long-term dividends as we build a higher skilled, more competitive workforce.
I’m also optimistic about bipartisan support for reforming the way we care for Texans with mental illness. Texas prisons and jails have become our primary treatment centers for people with mental illness, which makes no sense. Helping individuals get the treatment they need and stay out of jail through “peer support” reentry programs would improve mental health and save taxpayers money.
I recently took a fun, vertigo-inducing tour of the upper levels of the Capitol dome. As I looked out from the cupola just below the Goddess of Liberty, I was struck by the gravity of the work soon to begin inside. As Texans, we have the power to build a future that works for everyone. Let’s put on our boots and get to work.