February 8, 2023 800 PM
Fully staffed offices, constituent-filled halls, eager lawmakers, and assigned Senate committees — The Texas Capitol is buzzing again and the 88th Texas Legislature is officially in session.
Recently, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick announced Senate committee appointments for this session, and Far West Texas won big with our assignments! I am truly honored to have been appointed to The Senate committees on Health & Human Services; Natural Resources & Economic Development; Water, Agriculture, & Rural Affairs; Veteran Affairs; and Border Security. Membership on these committees will give Far West Texas a strong voice on key issues impacting our region.
Too often, rural communities are left behind — but I am committed to ensuring that that is not the case for our rural communities in Far West Texas. Texas is stronger when rural Texas is stronger!
While traveling across the district, I had numerous conversations with constituents and local leaders in rural Far West Texas who don’t care about partisan issues, but kitchen table issues that impact them every day. In our region, the tourism industry is booming. Marfa, for example, has hosted over 50,000 visitors per year, more than 25 times its population of 1,800 residents. This wave of tourism is great for the economy, but it puts added pressure on our local taxpayers and infrastructure. Our rural communities don’t have the local tax base to support needed improvements to our infrastructure to keep up with growing demand. By expanding the use of hotel occupancy taxes, we can fund critical infrastructure projects such as roads, drainage and water infrastructure for safer communities, property tax relief, and economic development. I’m looking forward to having a seat at the table on the Senate committee of Water, Agriculture, & Rural Affairs to invest in water infrastructure for our rural communities –– who, to this day, still struggle with access to clean water –– as well as fight for better healthcare closer to home, broadband connectivity and technology to prepare our kids for the workforce of tomorrow. All while directly supporting our farmers, ranchers and agricultural industries.
Across the over 15,000 square miles that make up Senate District 29, quality healthcare is not easily accessible for residents, making our region historically medically underserved. I’ve repeatedly heard from constituents that “West Texas is a great place to retire, but a bad place to grow old,” because healthcare is often hundreds of miles away. By sitting on Health and Human Services for my second session, I will continue working towards meaningful solutions. A heavy focus will be placed on bolstering our healthcare workforce to address the medical profession shortage; expanding healthcare for new moms to reduce the maternal mortality rate; addressing food insecurity; and expanding Medicaid.
Senate District 29 includes both urban and rural communities, vast natural resources, and beautiful landscapes. From the Franklin Mountains, Hueco Tanks, Big Bend, Balmorhea and others, our district has the most state park land in all of Texas, serving as a major economic engine in our region. We need to protect our public lands and invest in maintenance and acquisition efforts to grow our state park system for future generations.
Our region also produces abundant energy resources, and as a result, plays a critical role in supporting our state’s energy security, keeping the lights on for all Texas families and driving down energy costs. On the Senate committee on Natural Resources & Economic Development (NRED), I will work to ensure Texas builds on its status as the ninth largest economy in the world, a global energy leader, and a national leader in creating new jobs, while being good stewards of our environment. Locally, I will continue to advocate for policies that bring investment and good-paying jobs to our communities.
Over 48,000 veterans call our region home, and I’m proud to be included in that number as a Navy veteran. For that reason, sitting on the Senate committee on Veterans Affairs is near and dear to me. We need to continue supporting those who have served and ensure veterans make a successful transition from service to civilian life by providing better access to healthcare, housing, higher education, employment, food security and economic security. Two sessions ago, I passed a law that added mental health first aid in the Texas Veterans Mental Health Program, and we will build on that progress to continue to address mental health and veteran suicides.
One of the more defining traits of Senate District 29 is the fact that we are a border community that spans over 350 miles along the Texas-Mexico border. In recent years, Texas has been ground zero for the immigration and border security debate amongst record migrant crossings and drug seizures. Although immigration and border security are the responsibility of the federal government, Texas has prioritized border security spending with little oversight and accountability. But despite record state spending, crossings are at a record high. If Texas is going to be in the business of border security, we need to make sure that we are being good stewards of rural Texans’ tax dollars.
As a member of the Senate committee on Border Security, I will continue to push for smart border security, NGO support and private property owner protections. By modernizing our ports of entry and implementing smart strategies supported by fiber optic technology, drones, motion sensors and cameras, border security could be accomplished at a fraction of the cost of a physical wall while bolstering real time monitoring. By the same token, we need to ensure border communities and NGOs on the front lines have the support and financial resources needed to provide humanitarian assistance and to compensate private property owners who are victims of property damage caused by human traffickers and smugglers.
These committee appointments are a huge win for Far West Texas, and I look forward to delivering results for our families and communities. Let’s get to work!