Turner Praises UT System for Approving Funds to Replace Aging UT Arlington Facility

Today, the University of Texas System Board of Regents voted to allocate $60 million from the Permanent University Fund (PUF) to construct a new building at the University of Texas at Arlington. The building, which has been a top priority for the university for several years, will house the School of Social Work and the College of Nursing’s Health Innovation Smart Hospital.

“This is fantastic news for UT Arlington, and I commend the Board of Regents for making this important investment,” said state Representative Chris Turner, who represents part of Arlington and serves as Chairman of the House Committee on Higher Education. “UT Arlington is a world-class institution and the School of Social Work and College of Nursing are universally respected for their excellence. Students and faculty in both programs deserve to learn and teach in modern, state-of-the-art facilities.”

The existing School of Social Work is housed in a building that was constructed nearly 100 years ago as the original Arlington High School campus. The outdated facility has numerous structural and environmental issues and is not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Turner authored legislation this year to provide funds for campus capital projects around the state, including this building for UT Arlington. Despite the measure passing the House with strong, bipartisan support, it did not pass the Senate. Turner subsequently requested that the UT System allocate PUF funding for the project.

“I congratulate President Vistasp Karbhari for his leadership on this project and thank Chairman Kevin Eltife, Chancellor James Milliken and the entire Board of Regents for this smart investment in UT Arlington,” Turner added.

Campaign Kickoff!

My 2020 campaign kickoff is just one week away and I hope you’ll join us on Wednesday, November 20 from 6:00 to 8:00 PM!

As in years past, we’ll have great BBQ from Meat & Greet and of course, beer (and root beer) from Legal Draft Beer Co. in Downtown Arlington. I sincerely appreciate all of the friends and supporters who have already joined our Host Committee to make this event a success.

To RSVP or join the Host Committee, click here. If you need additional information, email events@votechristurner.com.

Lisa and I hope to see you on November 20th!

CLICK HERE TO RSVP

Paying Tribute: Veterans Day 2019

Today, we pay tribute to America’s veterans, those who have protected the freedoms and liberties that we often take for granted.

Whether in war or in peacetime, at home or abroad, these brave men and women have taken risks, made sacrifices and accomplished feats that are difficult for most of us to fully comprehend.

As we give thanks for our veterans’ selfless acts, we must not forget their families. Through their support and sacrifices, they too have served our nation, our state and our community with valor.

Please join me in saying thank you for their service, today and every day.

Election Day — November 5th

November 5th is Election Day! There are several proposed amendments to the Texas Constitution on the ballot, as well as two very important local bond elections that impact District 101: Arlington ISD and Tarrant County College, both of which I strongly support. 

For polling locations anywhere in Texas, visit MyTexasVotes.com.Below is a summary of each item on the ballot, as well as my recommendation on each.

CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS
Proposition No. 1 (HJR 72) – Support 
SUMMARY: Authorizes a person to hold more than one office as an elected or appointed municipal judge in more than one municipality at the same time.

WHY SUPPORT: Allowing a person to hold elected office as a municipal judge in more than one municipality would make it easier to fill that office in smaller municipalities.

Proposition No. 2 (SJR 79) – Support 
SUMMARY: Allows the Texas Water Development Board to issue additional bonds of up to $200 million to provide financial assistance for the development of water supply and sewer service projects in economically distressed areas of the state.

WHY SUPPORT: The high costs associated with maintaining and expanding water infrastructure in Texas are best financed through the issuance of bonds as this will allow for greater and more reliable long-term funding.

Proposition No. 3 (HJR 34) – Support 
SUMMARY: Permits the Legislature to temporarily lower tax rates on property damaged during a disaster declared by the governor.

WHY SUPPORT: Providing a temporary tax exemption for property damaged by a disaster is a cheaper, simpler, and more easily administrable method of providing property tax relief to those suffering the aftereffects of a disaster than the current method of reappraisal.

Proposition No. 4 (HJR 38) – Oppose
SUMMARY: Bans the creation of a state income tax, which is already prohibited.

WHY OPPOSE: This amendment is completely unnecessary since the constitution already says that an income tax is prohibited unless it is approved by the voters. This amendment is about politics, not real policy. It also takes away the governor’s veto authority in the extraordinarily unlikely event the Legislature were to decide to pass a state income tax and there is real concern the amendment could interfere with the existing business franchise tax.

Proposition No. 5 (SJR 24) – Support
SUMMARY: Dedicates the revenue received from the existing state sales and use taxes that are imposed on sporting goods to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the Texas Historical Commission.

WHY SUPPORT: State parks in Texas received a record 9.7 million visits in fiscal year 2017. Chronic underfunding of the state park system, however, has left many parks unable to safely and adequately accommodate visitors. The constitutional amendment will help to ensure that our parks have the resources they need to adequately fund deferred maintenance projects, maintain appropriate staff levels, ensure visitor safety, and expand to meet the needs of a growing population. I was proud to joint-author this important legislation.

Proposition No. 6 (HJR 12) – Support
SUMMARY: Authorizes the Legislature to increase by $3 billion the maximum bond amount authorized for the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.

WHY SUPPORT: Increasing the amount of bond funding available for the institute is essential to ensuring the Institute maintains its status as a national leader in cancer research and prevention. I was also a joint author of this legislation.

Proposition No. 7 (HJR 151) – Support
SUMMARY: Doubles the annual possible General Land Office distribution to schools to $600 million and lets the State Board of Education sell bonds for that purpose, currently prevented by the constitution.

WHY SUPPORT: This would allow Texas to increase money to students and teachers when sufficient revenues are available.

Proposition No. 8 (HJR 4) – Support
SUMMARY: Creates the flood infrastructure fund to assist in the financing of drainage, flood mitigation, and flood control projects.

WHY SUPPORT: Significant funding for flood control and mitigation projects is necessary to ensure that the state is able to prepare for and recover from natural disasters like Hurricane Harvey.

Proposition No. 9 (HJR 95) – Neutral
SUMMARY: Creates a tax exemption for precious metals held in the Texas Bullion Depository located in Leander, TX.

Supporters Say: Provides an explicit exemption for precious metal held in a Texas depository, regardless of whether the precious metal is held for the production of income, would encourage owners of such metal to keep their holdings in the state, making Texas depositories more competitive.

Opponents Say: A business may be able to escape taxation of its income producing precious metal inventory by holding it in a depository, which could reduce taxable property values and create a cost to local taxing units and the state.

Proposition No. 10 (SJR 32) – Support
SUMMARY: Allows the transfer of a law enforcement animal to a qualified caretaker in certain circumstances.

WHY SUPPORT: Law enforcement agencies would like to be able to transfer retired law enforcement animals into their handlers’ care, free of charge. Law enforcement animals generally live with their handlers while in service. This amendment makes it easier for such an animal to retire to the home where it has lived its entire life, which is in the best interest of the animal.

LOCAL BONDS
Arlington ISD Bond 2019 – Support  
The Arlington ISD Board of Trustees has placed a $966 million bond package on the ballot. The proposed new bond program would not require an increase in the debt service tax rate and would be implemented throughout the next five years, ending in 2025. The proposed 2019 bond would build on the District’s 2014 Bond program and provide critical infrastructure to the following four areas:

  1. Facilities
  2. Fine Arts
  3. Transportation
  4. Safety, Security, and Technology

The projects proposed under this bond are intended to impact every school and are designed to affect all students to help ensure equity amongst schools within AISD. The list below provides a brief look at some of the projects included within the proposal:

  • Full-day Pre-K classrooms renovations
  • Junior high and high school fine arts/dual language academies
  • New playgrounds and shade structures for all elementary schools
  • Athletics facilities and fine arts upgrades, including new fine arts instruments and uniforms
  • New school buses
  • Safety and security upgrades

This link provides a full presentation by AISD’s chief financial officer outlining the proposed bond program.

Tarrant County College 2019 Bond
Improvement Proposition – Support 
Tarrant County College has placed a bond improvement proposition on the ballet for the first time in 25 years. This $825 million proposal would go to construct, renovate, and equip Tarrant County College campuses. The TCC Southeast Campus, located in the heart of District 101, would benefit from $125 million in funds for new construction and renovation – this is badly needed, as the campus is severely overcrowded due to our rapid growth.

Since the last bond proposal, the district-wide enrollment has nearly doubled. This bond comes at a zero-tax rate increase and would serve all 6 of TCC’s campuses.

The following list highlights some of the many projects included within the proposal:

  • 200+ offerings in different associate degrees & certifications
  • Career-ready training for healthcare technicians and nurses
  • Public safety training for law enforcement, emergency medical services (EMS), and firefighting careers
  • Adult job re-training classes
  • Technology and computer science career training
  • Skill-training classes in construction trades, culinary arts, hospitality, and manufacturing
  • Transferrable college classes to local 4-year colleges (like UTA, UNT, TCU, TWU, Tarleton & others)
  • Advance college credit opportunities for Tarrant County high school students

This link provides a full PowerPoint presentation outlining the bond proposal, including a full list of projects.

Will You Join Me at My Campaign Kickoff?

It’s official and I wanted you to be among the first to know: I am running for re-election to continue my service representing the people of Texas House District 101.  

I hope you will help Lisa and me get the next campaign off to a great start by joining us for our 2020 Campaign Kickoff on Wednesday, November 20 at Legal Draft Beer Company in Arlington. Watch your email for more details! 

I am very proud of the work we – District 101 constituents, my staff and me – have done, both in Austin and here at home in Arlington and Grand Prairie. We have fought for, and continue to fight for, the issues that matter most to our community – increasing funding for our neighborhood schools, improving access to affordable healthcare, adding common-sense regulations for payday lenders, making college more accessible, protecting our youngest and most vulnerable Texans, and fighting to expand civic participation.  

As chair of the House Committee on Higher Education, I am in a unique position to continue my role as strong voice for our local colleges and universities, including Tarrant County College and the University of Texas at Arlington. I have developed a strong partnership with these institutions and I look forward to continuing to work with them and other colleges and universities across Texas  

 Since January 2017, I have led the House Democratic Caucus and have played a key role in developing policies to address our state’s most pressing issues – including helping to shape and pass the 2019 school finance reform lawDuring my time as Democratic Caucus Chair, House Democrats have not only been successful in passing good policy, but we’ve stopped many bad bills from becoming law, including a measure that would have further eroded voting rights and a Republican bill to raise the state sales tax, a move that would have disproportionately hurt low- and middle-income Texans.  

During my time in the Texas House, we’ve accomplished a lot, but there’s much more to do 

Last year, you were instrumental in my efforts to raise funds to help elect other Democrats and in the end, we put more than $300,000 into those efforts.  Not only did we gain significant ground in Tarrant County, our efforts helped pick up 12 seats in the Texas HouseNow, Democrats are just 9 seats away from taking the majority 

For 2020, I am doubling down, with a plan to raise and spend even more to make sure we re-elect all House Democrats and pick up those 9 (or more!) seats.  And this effort could not come at a more crucial time. When the Legislature convenes in 2021, it will be time to take up redistricting, which will determine the political trajectory of Texas – and perhaps the nation – for the next decade.  

I am looking forward to all of these challenges ahead and I hope you are, as well.  It is an incredible honor to represent House District 101 and I look forward to continuing to serve our constituents.  

16 new laws & a veto

It’s been a couple of weeks since my last email update and during that time, several of my bills were signed into law, an important local project was funded and one measure fell victim to the governor’s veto.

I’ll start off with the bills we had signed into law. For the sake of brevity, I’ll touch on some of the “bigger” bills and not each of our 16 measures that made it across the finish line and are now law.

  • College Transferability (SB 25): Students lose time and money taking courses that won’t transfer from one institution to another. As Chairman of the Higher Education Committee, I made it a priority to work with Senator Royce West to improve this situation. SB 25, which I authored and sponsored in the House, will do several things to address the transferability of college courses, including requiring colleges and universities to develop lists of courses required for every degree they offer and make that list publicly available.
  • Transcript Notation (HB 449): Aimed at protecting students, this new law will make colleges aware if an incoming student is ineligible to re-enroll at their previous school due to a serious disciplinary violation, including sexual assault.
  • Reducing textbook costs (HB 3650/HB 3652): The cost of textbooks is on the rise, making these laws critical for students and their families. Both of these laws will lead to increased access to Open Educational Resource (OER) material, lowering textbook costs for those taking college classes.
  • Better health care (HB 3041): This law will help improve health care for both patient and medical providers by putting an end to lapses in medical treatments for Texans with chronic conditions by letting doctors request early renewal of pre-authorized treatments and medications.
  • School data transparency (HB 3007/HB 3011): Both of these new laws will improve transparency by increasing a school district’s ability to access the data used to determine their A-F rating. This was an important issue brought to us by Arlington ISD and one that will positively impact school districts across Texas.

In addition to these stand-alone measures, with the help of our House budget writers, I was able to direct $750,000 through the state budget to the East Arlington Recreation Center and Library in the form of a “Library Innovation Zone Grant” that will provide access to free Wi-Fi to residents in the neighborhoods surrounding the library.

Located in the heart of 76010, the Tarrant County zip code with the largest number of residents living below the poverty line, many in this part of our community do not have reliable access to the internet to use for school or to find work. I hope that this funding will provide these neighbors with additional tools needed to succeed.

As with many things, including legislative sessions, you have to take the bad with the good.  

On Saturday, I got the call that no legislator wants – news that the governor was going to veto one of my bills. In this case, it was my common-sense car seat measure backed by the medical community, law enforcement, and first responders. It was a bill that would literally save lives.

Unfortunately, despite evidence to the contrary, the governor didn’t see it that way.

Instead, he viewed the proposed law – which would have required parents and other caregivers keep their children in a rear-facing car seat until age 2 – as an overly prescriptive overreach. It didn’t matter that 15 states have already passed the law, including our neighbors Oklahoma and Louisiana. It didn’t matter that it passed both the Texas House and Senate with strong bipartisan support. Nor did it matter that several state agencies, including the Texas Department of Public SafetyTexas Department of Transportation and the Texas Department of State Health Services all recommend keeping children in rear-facing car seats until at least age two. He still vetoed it.

The good news – his action didn’t go unnoticed. In fact, quite the opposite.

In the hours and days to follow, the veto received a great deal of media coverage and if the hundreds of social media comments that followed are any indication, Texans agree with pediatricians and other public health experts and oppose the governor’s action.

On Monday, the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal penned an editorial panning the governor’s decision. In it, they wrote, “Texas highways are already overly dangerous, and while no one is a fan of government intrusion, it’s unfortunate this bill, which would have clarified the existing statute and strengthened protection for infants and toddlers, did not become law.”

I couldn’t agree more. That’s why I am committed to working to pass this measure again in two years.

Good to be home

It is good to be home. 140 days does not seem like a long time – but when it comes in the form of a Texas legislative session, it’s a really long time!

The 86th session of the Legislature ended Monday and overall, it was successful. The Legislature passed a needed school finance measure that will put more dollars in our classrooms and increase compensation for public school teachers, counselors and librarians. I was proud to co-author this important education bill. House Democrats were able to successfully combat a regressive sales tax increase, attempts to erode voting rights and attempts to overturn paid sick leave rules.

Inevitably, there were also some disappointments. The Legislature again refused to address Texas’ high rate of uninsured. Property tax cuts should have gone all to homeowners; instead a big chunk of them went to businesses and it is unclear how they will be paid for in the future. Cities and counties will have a harder time providing basic services due to needless meddling by the Legislature. Several bipartisan criminal justice reform measures were killed in the Senate.

For my team and me, it was a very busy session. Between serving as the Chair of the House Democratic Caucus and Chair of the Committee on Higher Education, we were constantly on the move. Despite the workload, it was definitely our most productive legislative session yet: we passed 17 pieces of legislation, including several measures to help students at Texas colleges and universities.

Below are some of the highlights. I am excited about the impact these new laws will have for all Texans – and I am very grateful to the people of House District 101 for giving me the opportunity to serve.

Honoring Our Fallen Heroes

On Saturday, in a joint session of the Texas Legislature, we honored the lives of five brave fallen Texans, including two from Arlington: Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Lee Smith and Army Specialist Allen Stigler, a resident of House District 101 and a graduate of Timberview High School.

Please take a moment today to remember these men, and the thousands of women and men, who have made the ultimate sacrifice to protect our freedom.

Let us also reflect on how we may honor their memory not just today, but every day, by making a difference in the lives of others and by positively shaping the future of our state and country. It is our duty, as we owe them and their families for a debt that can never be repaid.

Sierra

Yesterday, the Senate passed HB 449, my bill that would require a college transcript notation if a student is determined ineligible to re-enroll because of a serious code of conduct violation including sexual assault, terroristic threats, burglary or drug charges. 

This bill has taken over three years to get to this point and I know we could not have done it without Senator Kirk Watson, who sponsored the bill, or the student conduct experts who were with us every step of the way. Many played critical roles in the content and the passage of this measure, but no one played a bigger role than Sierra Smith. 

Last week, for the third time in two years and for the second time in as many months, Sierra shared her very personal story about her experience with sexual assault.

I urge you to watch her testimony and to share her words. Click on the video below:

Sierra Smith testimony on HB 449

The bill is now headed to the governor’s desk.

It is my hope that he signs it into law in order to protect other young women like Sierra, who graduated from Baylor University last Saturday, from being victimized on their college campuses.

Property Taxes

Yesterday, the House debated and ultimately passed Senate Bill (SB) 2, which deals with property taxes. I want to provide property tax relief — however, this bill does not do that.

WHAT THE BILL DOES
This measure limits the ability of cities and counties to fund vital services, including public safety – police, firefighters and EMTs. With already strained budgets, local governments will be forced to make harmful budget cuts.

WHAT THE BILL DOES NOT DO
Lower taxes. In fact, when explaining what the bill does, its sponsor repeated several times over that this bill does not lower anyone’s property taxes.”

The main cause of property tax increases is not addressed in this bill.

As you may know, the majority of property tax revenue is dedicated to funding our schools. Each year, that reliance on local property tax revenue increases, while the state share decreases. In 2012, the state paid about 46% of the cost of public schools. In 2019, the state share is just 38%.

StateversusLocalFunding

THE BEST SOLUTION
It’s not tying the hands of local governments through an arbitrary revenue cap or jeopardizing our communities’ safety because of new strains on city and county budgets. The best way to put money in the pockets of homeowners is pretty straightforward — double the homestead exemption from $25,000 to $50,000. By doing this, on average, Texas homeowners will save $325 annually.

This solution provides real relief to Texas homeowners struggling with the cost of property taxes, unlike SB 2 as proposed.

If the Legislature really intends to put money back in our pockets, the state should contribute more money for our schools, so property taxpayers don’t have to foot the majority of the bill.

It’s as simple as that.

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