Landgraf talks legislative session

The 86th session of the Texas Legislature is officially over, and State Rep. Brooks Landgraf (R-Odessa) said it was a successful session in terms of bringing financial relief to West Texans, but there’s still work to be done.
Landgraf said the state congress accomplished what they had set out to do on three fronts—passing a budget to meet the needs of the state without raising taxes, adopting property tax reform measures by lowering the rollback rate, and passing their school finance reform bill, allowing more money to stay in West Texas school districts.
The rollback rate for property tax increases was lowered from 8% to 2.5% through the passage of Senate Bill 2. This means, should a city or county government want to raise their property taxes by more than 2.5% for the next fiscal year, it would trigger an election, requiring voters to approve the tax hike. This was a controversial issue for the City Council and the Ector County Commissioners’ Court, who disapproved of the bill.
Landgraf said he was sensitive to the fact that local governments don’t want the state government coming in and telling them what they can or can’t do, but said in a case like this, the power lies with the people.
“What we’re doing by lowering the rollback rate, you’re adding more transparency to the property tax process and you’re really empowering the voice of the voters, who are also the property tax payers, to be more involved in that process,” Landgraf said.
But Landgraf said he was more interested in providing property tax relief, rather than reform, which he said was done through the school finance reform bill. Because of this, he said ECISD won’t have to pay the $1.8 million into the statewide Robin Hood fund they were scheduled to pay over the next two years.
Landgraf said he was also able to increase non-formula legislative appropriations for UTPB by 22%, as well as a 15% increase for Odessa College and a 16% for the Texas Tech Health Sciences Center.
There was one particular bill Landgraf said he was disappointed he couldn’t get past finish line, the GROW Texas bill, which would have designated a portion of the state’s rainy day fund to help energy-producing regions in Texas. The bill went through a long process of change through committee, originally converted from a fund to a study, and then to a commission to look at how to use the funds, before State Rep. Tom Craddick (R-Midland) filed a point of order to kill the bill.
“First of all, I’m proud that we were able to get it as far as we did,” Landgraf said. “This is kind of a revolutionary idea in Texas. Colleagues all over the state were receptive to it but when you’re making a change that big sometimes it takes two or three sessions for members of the legislature to get comfortable with it, and I think we increased that comfort level significantly.”
Landgraf said he would be making the GROW Texas fund his top priority should he be re-elected. Despite the trials and tribulations the bill went through this time around, Landgraf said he hasn’t become jaded to the legislative process.
“I have 190,000 of my fellow West Texans who are relying on me and they didn’t elect me so I could be jaded,” Landgraf said. “If anything, it’s emboldened me to fight even harder next time to pass the GROW Texas fund.”
Although it wasn’t passed, Landgraf said he was able to put a band-aid on issues GROW Texas would be addressing, such as highway infrastructure. About $1.2 billion worth of projects were secured for the Odessa District of the Texas Department of Transportation, which Landgraf said was a record-breaking number.
“That’s significant because we obviously have a need for increased highway capacity and highway safety, but financial resources have always been our limiting factor,” Landgraf said. “Now that’s not the case. I think our limiting factor is finding enough labor to actually complete those construction projects.”
Odessans may also not have to wait in line as long at driver’s license offices anymore, as Landgraf said he got a budget amendment passed that would allocate more resources to DPS offices in the Permian Basin, which hopefully means more employees and shorter wait times.
Landgraf said he was also proud he was able to finally pass the Monica’s Law bill, which will create a public online database listing anyone in the state who currently has a protective order issued against them in a domestic violence case.
“Monica’s Law is going to save lives and help prevent domestic violence and I think that’s something that we can all support as a community and as a state,” Landgraf said.
This wasn’t the second time around for the bill, which didn’t manage to get passed last session, and Landgraf said he would look at using a similar model he used to get Monica’s Law passed to get the GROW Texas bill passed next session.
Other bills Landgraf co-authored that he said he was happy to see passed included a bill that makes spoof calling, where phone scammers mask themselves with a local area code, illegal, and another bill which requires insurance carriers to be more involved in the billing process for emergency medical situations to avoid any surprise bills in the mail.
Landgraf was also able to get a bridge strike bill passed, meaning drivers who strike bridges due to over-sized loads will now be liable for covering the damage caused, instead of taxpayers footing the bill.
Looking ahead, Landgraf said he would like to do more next session to take out the Robin Hood school finance system, and continue work to phase out the STAAR system, which he called unreliable.
“I think the beauty of teaching is a teacher can use his or her talents to meet that student where they are and that’s stifled by the STAAR-based system that we have right now,” Landgraf said.
Landgraf said he firmly believes there should be some accountability for public schools, as they are taxpayer-funded, but wants to shift it back to what the mission of a K-12 education is.
“If we evaluate the preparedness of students on high school graduation to either go to college, enter the skilled workforce, or join the military, then I think it’s safe to say the school did its job for that student and you just measure accountability that way or something similar to that,” Landgraf said.