Focusing on the good this session 

Last week the Texas Legislature adjourned sine die, marking the end of the 87th Texas Legislative Session. In my first session as your state senator, we worked tirelessly to respond to the needs of our community, and we delivered for West Texas. The drama at the end of the session has dominated the headlines, but there were bright spots and positive things we accomplished. Let’s talk about the good. 

Coming into session, my legislative priorities were focused on helping our community recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, expanding access to healthcare, bridging the digital divide, curbing gun violence after the El Paso, Midland and Odessa mass shootings, and protecting military service members from sexual assault, especially after the tragic death of Specialist Vanessa Guillén.

I’m proud to report that we were able to successfully pass these priorities and others. These priorities will have a direct impact on our district and are the issues I consider the bright spots of session. Here is a rundown on some of our major accomplishments this session:

The budget and West Texas

 We also secured over $585.6 million for local priorities, including $7.2 million for the McDonald Observatory, to improve public and higher education, expand access to healthcare, spur economic development and tourism, and help West Texas recover from the pandemic.

There are also grants available that counties in West Texas can apply for. $10.2 million for the Humane Processing of Remains of Undocumented Migrants, and $1 million to Border Zone Fire Departments.

We invested in programs that will benefit West Texas. There will be $1.25 billion available for college financial aid programs. The rural hospitals in the state will receive an additional $123.5 million. There is $19.7 million for the Home Delivered Meals program and $10.2 million for the Surplus Agricultural Products Grant program, both are programs in Texans Feeding Texans.

Securing our borders has always been a federal responsibility. Texas has supplemented that effort by providing significant resources to the Texas Department of Public Safety, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and various other law enforcement agencies. Over the next two years, the state will provide $139.2 million for law enforcement salary increases at DPS and other agencies, funding for 100 new DPS troopers along the border, and $57.6 million to combat human trafficking.

Preparing for future pandemics 

 When COVID-19 cases spiked in March 2020 in the United States, Texas had a shortage of personal protective equipment. That forced people in West Texas to get creative and use 3D printers to produce PPE for rural hospitals and clinics in need. I passed SB 437 to create the PPE Advisory Committee to oversee management of the state’s PPE and ensure an adequate stockpile.

 Small business recovery

 The pandemic shuttered businesses, put workers out of work and challenged many families to make ends meet. I sponsored and helped pass HB 3271 to create the Micro-Business Disaster Recovery Loan program and establish new access to capital programs for small businesses.

 Expanding access to healthcare

 I co-sponsored HB 4 to permanently expand the telemedicine options allowed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Expanding telemedicine will greatly increase access to care for those who live in rural areas. Instead of driving hundreds of miles, in some cases, people in our rural counties can see their doctor from the comfort of their own home. I also co-sponsored HB 133 to expand Medicaid eligibility to new mothers for four additional months postpartum.

 Bridging the digital divide

 Access to broadband is not a luxury, it is a necessity. Almost 65% of people without broadband live in our rural communities. During the pandemic in those communities without access, students fell further behind, the elderly avoided doctor visits and small businesses were unable to stay connected with their customers. I co-sponsored HB 5 to establish the State Broadband Plan and Broadband Development program to move Texas forward to bridging the digital divide.

 Reining-in the cost of prescription insulin

 Due to skyrocketing cost of prescription insulin, I joint-authored SB 827 to rein in the cost of insulin and cap copays at $25. Texans shouldn’t have to choose between paying for their medicine or putting food on the table.

Protecting our West Texas pecan farmers

 The Texas pecan industry is an important source of jobs and revenue both in West Texas and across the state. I sponsored and passed HB 3289 to strengthen existing regulations and create a deterrent for potential violators of the required quarantine time for pecans.

 Addressing Gun-Violence

Senate Bill 162 is a recommendation from the Texas Safety Action Report published in response to the El Paso, Midland and Odessa mass shootings and will crack down on criminals who try to illegally buy or possess guns.

With the approval of Senate Bill 162, we are putting words into action by delivering a solution that will curb gun violence. We owed this, and much more, to the 30 lives we lost and to their families. This bill is one small way to honor those lives by trying to prevent future tragedies.

 The Vanessa Guillen Act

 SB 623, also known as the Vanessa Guillen Act, will allow allegations of military sexual assault in the Texas Military Forces to be reported and investigated outside the chain of command. With the nation’s largest state military force, Texas will lead by example in protecting Texas service members and provide justice to victims.

Unfinished business

It is an honor and privilege to represent the people of West Texas in the Texas Senate. While we made progress on many issues this session, we still have plenty of work ahead of us. One of our bills fell victim to the last deadline of the session. That bill would have allowed certain municipalities to use revenue from their hotel occupancy tax for dark sky preservation. We will work on that next year and be sure that we get it to the governor’s desk.

On a state level, expanding access to Medicaid must be a priority. Texas is first in the nation in people without health insurance. Texas’ high rates of uninsured have also contributed to unsustainable uncompensated care costs for physicians, community clinics and hospitals. Texas also leads the nation in rural hospital closures. That is driven by Texas’ refusal to expand Medicaid. We can reverse that trend and save other rural hospitals from closing if we expand Medicaid. I look forward to continuing fighting to make West Texas a healthier, stronger, more resilient community to live, work and do business.

We had a productive and successful first session as your state senator. Now that I am back at home, be on the lookout for us in West Texas. We’ll be visiting with you and your neighbors to talk about how we can keep delivering results for our community.

Senator César J. Blanco proudly represents the people of Culberson, El Paso, Hudspeth, Jeff Davis and Presidio counties in the Texas Senate.