State Representative Chris Turner

Good to Be Home

It’s been just over a week since the legislature adjourned “Sine Die,” meaning the 84th Legislative Session is in the history books. If you saw what went on during those 140 days in the Capitol, you’d probably agree that the end could not have come soon enough.

Recently, I was asked by a local paper to describe the “theme” of the session. My response: “Do just enough to get by, but avoid as many tough issues as possible.”

Certainly, there were some accomplishments. The Legislature finally funded long-overdue Tuition Revenue Bonds for public universities, including $70 million for UT-Arlington for a science and education innovation and research building. This facility is essential as the school continues to establish itself as a leading urban research university.

If approved by the voters in November, homeowners will see an increase in their homestead exemption – from $15,000 to $25,000 a year – which will slightly ease property tax increases (but don’t expect your bill to go down).

I was grateful to get significant parts of my legislative agenda passed in what was a very challenging political environment. After three years of work to ban elected officials “double dipping” a salary and a pension at the same time, I passed a bill to end that practice. In addition, a bill I authored to protect police officers from forms of online retaliation and retribution also made it to the governor’s desk.

I’m also proud of the work my Democratic colleagues and I did to block several mean-spirited and ill-advised measures. These included efforts to further discriminate against LGBT families, repeal the Texas Dream Act, limit a woman’s access to reproductive healthcare, and terrible anti-worker and anti-consumer bills.

However, the Legislature’s inaction on the major, pressing issues that affect millions of Texans is the big story of this session, in my view. The Legislature failed to address our troubled school finance system, take any meaningful measures to expand health care access to the 17 percent of people in our state who remain uninsured, and resisted all efforts to bring even modest reforms to the predatory payday lending industry. And once again, the House passed a measure to ban the dangerous practice of texting and driving, only to see it die in the Senate.

Each of the three legislative sessions I have served in have been different. The one constant for me is that is an incredible honor each and every day to represent the people of our district in the state Capitol. It’s great to be home in District 101, and I’m looking forward to continuing to work on the issues important to the families and businesses of our district.

Turner’s Ban on “Double Dipping” Headed to Governor

Politicians will no longer be allowed to collect salary, pension simultaneously

AUSTIN – Today, State Representative Chris Turner’s (HD 101- Grand Prairie) measure to bar elected officials from collecting a salary and state pension at the same time passed the final legislative hurdle and is headed to the governor’s desk.

“Today, the House and Senate sent a strong message to the people of Texas by banning the practice of ‘double dipping’ by elected officials,” said Turner. “This is an important step toward strengthening the public’s trust and faith in both elected officials and the laws under which we serve, and I am pleased that HB 408 is headed to the governor’s desk.”

“Three years ago, I made a promise to the people of the district I represent that I would close this loophole, and today I am one step closer to fulfilling that promise,” said Turner. “This is an important ethics reform, but more is needed. I look forward to continuing my work on this important issue during future legislative sessions.”

HB 408 will prevent state elected officials from being eligible to receive state annuity payments as a result of their service as an elected official by preventing their time as an elected official from triggering retirement eligibility until they have left office.

In addition to passing the ban on “double dipping”, a Turner provision requiring elected officials to report pension and other similar sources of income was added to another measure, HB 3736. This was a needed ethics reform tied to “double dipping” and will increase transparency by elected officials and candidates.

This issue came to light when it was reported that during his final term in office, Governor Rick Perry was collecting a state pension, in addition to his salary as governor. This was discovered after Perry filed a personal financial disclosure statement with the Federal Elections Commission as a requirement of his 2012 presidential candidacy. This type of information was not required to be submitted as a part of Texas’ personal financial statements, but now will be as a result of the passage of HB 3736.

The modifications are not retroactive, nor would they impact state retirees who become eligible for retirement benefits as a result of service in a non-elected capacity and then later run for and are elected to office.

Turner: Budget Misses the Mark

Final Version of HB 1 leaves too many Texans behind

AUSTIN — Today, State Representative Chris Turner delivered the following remarks outlining his opposition to the conference committee report to HB 1, the two-year state budget:

When this budget was voted on in the House, it was a budget I was proud to vote for, I think a lot of us were proud to vote for it. Now that this budget has come back from the conference committee and is before us for a final vote, the picture I see is much, much different than what we had here two months ago.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some positive aspects of this conference committee report on the budget. On Higher Education, I’m very grateful that this budget funds our first Tuition Revenue Bonds in nearly a decade, and that the budget provides a needed formula funding increase for our universities and colleges. I know that that would not have happened were it not for our House negotiators, led by Chairman Otto.

There are other things to like in this budget — there are things we can all like. On the major issues that will shape our state in the years ahead, this budget misses the mark.

I was proud to support the House version of this budget, because it provided up to $3 billion more for our public schools. The budget that comes back to us today, comes back with only $1.5 billion more for our schools. As a result, more than one-third of our schools will remain funded at a lower level than they were in 2011.

On healthcare, the picture is not much better. Again, I was proud to support a House-version of the budget that increased Medicaid reimbursement rates for primary care physicians — it is critical that we did so. In 2000, 67 percent of physicians in Texas accepted new Medicaid clients, today it’s just 34 percent.

-MORE-
The decreasing number of physicians accepting Medicaid is often given as justification for not expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, a move that would insure one million Texans, create hundreds of thousands of jobs, and strengthen our health care system.

We can’t expand Medicaid, because Medicaid is broken, we’re told. Well, if it is broken, it is because we don’t reimburse our doctors at a sustainable rate. Even Alabama has a higher reimbursement rate than Texas. If Medicaid is broken, it’s because we broke it — and this budget does not fix it.

So what are our priorities, if it’s not investing in our schoolchildren and health care system?

It’s apparently a priority to throw $800 million at a nebulous border security plan, even though border apprehensions, a leading indicator of border security, are at the lowest level since the 1970s.

It’s apparently a priority to cut off life-saving breast and cervical cancer screenings for up to ten percent of our at-need population, simply because those folks have relied on Planned Parenthood for these vital services.

We’ve put $4 billion into tax cuts, some of which I support and some of which I did not support. But I do not see any justifiable reason to leave $6 billion in general revenue under the pay-as-you-go limit on the table and another $11 billion in the Rainy Day Fund at the end of the biennium, while we underfund our schools and compromise our health care system.

Our state budget should be the mechanism, the machinery, we use to build a bridge to the future that every Texan, young, old, urban, rural, man, and woman, is able to cross and realize a brighter future for themselves and their families when they get to the other side.

This budget, in my view, does not build that bridge, at least does not build one that is strong enough or wide enough. It leaves too many Texans behind, looking across that chasm.

For those reasons, I will be voting no on this budget.

Insanity

Today is the last day the Texas House can give preliminary approval to new legislation. After today, we’ll be approving or rejecting bills that have been negotiated between the House and Senate.

It will make for a long day, as we debate until the midnight deadline.

What issues, you ask, will we be considering? Good question.

Measures to increase resources for our public schools? No.

Maybe proposals to decrease the number of Texans – the most in the nation – who go without health insurance? Not a chance.

How about a bill to tap the breaks on the predatory payday lending industry? You probably knew the answer to that one already.

No, we won’t be doing any of that. With Republicans having a near-super majority, here’s what qualifies for top priorities on the most crucial day of the Legislative Session:

  • A mean-spirited measure that would prevent same-sex couples from being able to serve as foster parents or adopt children.
  • The campus carry bill, which would allow guns on college and university campuses. (If you want to know more about this particularly ill-advised idea, see my correspondence with UT System Chancellor William McRaven).
  • And in the latest Republican attack on women’s reproductive rights, we’ll debate legislation that prohibits health insurance policies from covering abortion procedures.

And keep in mind the House has already passed a ridiculous open-carry gun bill, as well as legislation that makes a mockery of the judicial bypass system for teens who have difficult and often dangerous family situations at home. It’s sheer insanity.

The 52 Democrats in the House are going to work as hard as we can to derail these partisan, narrow-minded proposals. We may be dramatically out-numbered, but we’ll do everything possible to give voice to the majority of Texans who understand that the Tea Party agenda does not represent the true priorities of our state.

Wish us luck. We’re going to need it.

The Ultimate Sacrifice

Today we reflect upon the meaning of Memorial Day and remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice to protect our freedom.

We will never be able to repay the tremendous debt our nation owes to those who gave their lives, nor can we repay their loved ones who are left behind. However, in their memory and to show our gratitude, we must find ways that we can make a difference in the lives of others and in shaping the future for our state and our nation.

As the Texas Legislature works through this solemn holiday, I am mindful that as elected representatives, we are only able to openly debate issues because of the Americans who gave what President Lincoln called “the last full measure of devotion.” It is because of their courage and valor that our nation remains the greatest in the world.

Turner’s Ban on “Double Dipping” By Elected Officials Passes House 144-1

Politicians should not be allowed to collect salary, pension simultaneously

AUSTIN – Today, State Representative Chris Turner (HD 101- Grand Prairie) passed HB 408, which would bar elected officials from collecting a salary and state pension at the same time, if their retirement payments are a result of their service as an elected official. Turner first proposed this legislation in 2013.

“This legislation simply says that if politicians want to start collecting a state-funded pension as a result of their time in office, they need to really retire and no longer collect a salary. Our state leaders frequently tout Texas as a national example for fiscal responsibility. This measure is about fiscal responsibility — it’s just plain common sense that an elected official should not be getting paid twice for doing one job,” said Turner.

“Banning double dipping is an important step to strengthening the public’s trust and faith in both elected officials and the laws under which we serve,” said Turner. “I want to thank the members of the House for overwhelmingly approving this legislation with a vote of 144-1.”

The measure will prevent state elected officials from being eligible to receive state annuity payments as a result of their service as an elected official by preventing their time as an elected official from triggering retirement eligibility until they have left office.

This issue came to light when it was reported that during his final term in office, Governor Rick Perry was collecting a state pension, in addition to his salary as governor. This was discovered after Perry filed a personal financial disclosure statement with the Federal Elections Commission as a requirement of his 2012 presidential candidacy. Because this type of information is not required to be submitted as a part of Texas’ personal financial statements, it is unclear if other state officials also collect both a pension and salary.

The modifications proposed are not retroactive, nor would they impact state retirees who become eligible for retirement benefits as a result of service in a non-elected capacity and then later run for and are elected to office.

Win some …

…and lose some.

I’m in my third term in the House of Representatives and I’ve been privileged to pass a number of bills through the Legislature and into law…the Veterans Cash lottery scratch-off game which has raised millions for Texas veterans…new consumer protections for apartment tenants…a measure to crack down on child pornographers…those are just a few of the measures I’ve been fortunate to work on and convince my colleagues to support.

And then this week, something new (for me) happened. I presented a bill to the House that my staff and I have been working on for more than two years — a measure to require bars to carry liquor liability insurance. This has always seemed like a fairly straight-forward, common-sense idea to me. In fact, when I would tell people about the bill, the reply I would most often receive was, “that’s not already the law?”. So I thought this was something that would have a decent chance of passing.

Was I wrong about that — not only did it not pass, the vote wasn’t even close.

Now, I’ve got a lot of good proposals moving through the process and this has already been a productive session for District 101. But it really is too bad that this bill did not pass — because it would have helped a lot of innocent Texans who will be victims of drunk drivers.

It’s about families like the Khaders, who lived in Arlington in 2009 when a seven-time convicted drunk driver crashed into them, injuring their two-year old son Abdallah so severely that he lived the rest of his young life in a permanent vegetative state until he died from his injuries earlier this year.

It’s about families like the Wards, who came to testify for my bill recently — explaining how Garry could no longer work due to the injuries he sustained in a 2010 accident caused by a drunk driver. They’re trying to get by, raising a 5-year old daughter on Angela’s school teacher salary.

It’s about families like the Fords, who in 2012 lost their 20-year old daughter, a student at TCC, when a drunk driver barreled down US 287 going the wrong way. He had been over-served at Cowboys, a bar in District 101.

In each of these tragic cases, the bars in which the drunk driver had last been drinking shared two unfortunate characteristics — first, they grossly over-served an obviously intoxicated person, a violation of state law, and two, they had no liquor liability insurance. No amount of money will ever change the fact that these innocent families had their lives shattered. And for that matter, the modest insurance limits required in my bill — $500,000 for a single occurrence — would have only made a small dent in the Khaders’ health care expenses for little Abdallah, expenses which exceeded $20 million.

I didn’t think passing the bill would be easy, but since this type of insurance is widely available and several states already have this requirement in place, I felt pretty confident it would pass. In fact, the bill was voted unanimously of committee, not just once, but twice — this year and two years ago.

But of course these days, nothing at the Capitol is ever a slam dunk. We’ve seen that over and over again (and you’ve read about it in my previous emails).

As with many things in life, no matter how good an idea, no matter whether or not it’s simply the right thing to do, sometimes you come up short. That’s what happened on Monday.

This isn’t the end of the fight. And we will find a way to make these terrible tragedies result in some meaningful changes that will help serve future generations of Texans.

This just wasn’t the right year or the right time, but I’m determined to keep up this fight until we win.

Are tax cuts the first priority?

Yesterday, House Republicans announced a plan to pass more than $4.8 billion in tax breaks. Using a combination of a sales tax reduction and a business tax cut, this plan would go even deeper than what the Senate proposed a few weeks ago (in case you missed my earlier email on this topic, click here).

According to the early math, the House plan would mean about $172 more each year for the average family of four. This would come from reducing the state sales tax — which would go from 6.25% to 5.95%. This is something that’s never been done before, and something I could be willing to support, because it would benefit all Texans.

With that said, I still strongly believe that before we reduce revenue through cuts, we must ensure our state’s priorities are addressed. As it stands now, there’s more than adequate money to do both. As I mentioned in last week’s rundown of the budget, at the end of the 2017, we will have $11 billion in the Rainy Day Fund, plus we still have up to another $8 billion right now in general revenue that is unbudgeted.

Immediately following yesterday’s announcement by the Republicans, I joined two of my colleagues, State Representatives Trey Martinez Fischer and Sylvester Turner, at a press conference and I shared these thoughts:

There’s been a lot of talk among Republican leaders about which tax cuts Texans will ‘feel’ the most and which will be best to stimulate our economy — business tax cuts, property tax cuts or sales tax cuts.

We look forward to that debate, but here’s what we do know Texans will ‘feel’ — parents will feel the positive impact of full-day Pre-K, if we do the right thing and fund it. The one out of four Texans who are uninsured will feel the impact of affordable health insurance, if the Legislature does the right thing. And college students would certainly feel the impact if we fully fund college financial aid.

All of those things would make a real impact in the lives of millions of Texans and do more to grow our economy over the long-term.

Interestingly, this announcement about the Republican tax cut plan came a day after a measure was presented in the House Ways & Means Committee, which would give a tax break to wealthy Texans who want to buy a yacht (and no, I am not kidding). During the same hearing, we heard a push for a tax exemption for remodeling personal aircraft and proposals that would create a sales tax holiday for hunters purchasing guns and ammunition.

Those three proposals alone would mean over $17 million in lost revenue for the state ($10.3 for the yachts, $3.5 million for the planes, and $3.6 million for the guns). These are just a few examples of many such proposals, and the lost revenue would be in addition to the $4.87 billion in tax cuts mentioned above.

Before we start giving out tax breaks to wealthy yacht owners and people with private planes, or before we try to “out tax cut” the Senate, I still believe we must first address our state’s real priorities and needs — education, transportation and health care.

The Budget

After a floor debate clocking in at over 17 hours, yesterday morning the Texas House overwhelmingly passed our version of the state’s two-year budget.

As with every state budget, it wasn’t perfect, but it was definitely a step in the right direction in addressing critical needs, including adding more funding for public education.

In fact, the House version of the budget increases funding for public schools by $2.2 billion, with another $800 million to be added if an important school finance measure is passed. It’s important to note that with this new addition, the amount the House approved for public education is nearly $3 billion more than that proposed by the Senate.

In addition to these added funds, my colleague, Representative Yvonne Davis, successfully inserted language which will help ensure that if Pre-K legislation passes, it will have the needed funding, estimated at nearly $830 million per year — an important investment in the future of our state.

The budget also allocates $1.4 billion more for Child Protective Services to address the agency’s high turnover rates and the need for more caseworkers. It injects $340 million more to be used for mental health services, and increases Medicaid reimbursement rates for physicians, with the goal of increasing the number of available providers.

Even with these additions, there was still money left on the table, including $11 billion in the Rainy Day Fund and up to another $8 billion in general revenue left to be spent. These are funds that could have been allocated to address some critical needs, including reducing waitlists for vital long-term health services, home care, and facility to community transition services. Currently, those lists include over 10,000 Texans, many of whom have been waiting for years for services. This is something that must be addressed.

During the long debate, I was active in fighting for the issues that matter to House District 101, including asking several questions about our community colleges and pushing for increased funding to address the rising enrollment at institutions like Tarrant County College. Since last session’s implementation of a new finance system for community colleges, only a dozen institutions have received additional funding based on improvement in student outcomes, despite the fact that 48 of 50 community colleges showed improved performance.

I also filed several amendments aimed to increase access to preventative healthcare for women, focused largely on reducing funding for so-called Crisis Pregnancy Centers, which are unlicensed and unregulated, and moving those funds to programs with proven track records of providing actual medical care to women in need.

Although I didn’t end up presenting them on the floor, filing these measures proved to be a helpful tactic, which ultimately resulted in several Republican House members pulling down their anti-women’s health amendments.

On the issue of healthcare, I fought an effort to move $1.5 million away from the state’s HIV/STD Prevention Program to add more funding to abstinence-only education. This move makes no sense, as Texas already receives more federal funding for abstinence-only education than other state in the country, and the evidence shows it is not working. Our state has the third highest rate of HIV infections in the nation and has the 11th highest rate of reported STDs, yet, in the end, the Republican majority chose to take away vital funding from the program created to address HIV and STD prevention.

And, I worked to defeat an effort to cut off transportation for funding for commuter and light rail projects.

Over the next several weeks, House and Senate negotiators will try to work out differences and agree to a budget.

Chris

Predatory Lenders

In some parts of House District 101, there’s a payday or auto-title lender on every street corner. In fact, over a ten-year period, the number of these types of businesses has doubled in and around our area. Although the number has grown considerably, the level of oversight and regulation by the state remains limited and inadequate.

As a result, many communities throughout Texas have passed local ordinances to fight back against predatory lenders and to protect their citizens from high interest rates and fees or from losing their vehicle, which is often their only means of transportation. As a result, cities like Dallas, which has been a leader on cracking down on predatory lenders, have seen a decrease in the number of these businesses in their communities.

lenderpI have filed several bills this session to rein in various aspects of the predatory lending industry, including one that I presented in committee yesterday afternoon, which would prevent predatory lenders from making unsolicited telemarketing calls to offer loans.

In support of my bill, several Texans testified about their experience with these predatory loans. One man, Daniel Ramos from Jarrell, Texas, shared his very personal story. One afternoon, Mr. Ramos received word that his wife, who is a Type 1 diabetic, had been rushed to the hospital. After paying nearly $1,000 in hospital bills, the Ramos family was having a hard time paying other bills. One night, hours before a bill needed to be paid, Daniel took out a $450 payday loan. A month and a half later he was able to pay off the loan — and when he did, he owed nearly $200 in interest and fees. That didn’t stop his phone from ringing with offers of new loans. Months later, even though he doesn’t owe them a dime and has asked to be taken off their call list, the calls kept coming.

If you have a story or an experience with predatory loans, let us know.

Chris

red-divider

P.S. If you want to get more involved in finding solutions on this issue, give us a call at 817-459-2800 and join the Texas 101 Payday Lending Task Force.

red-divider

On Monday, I presented my first bill of the 84th Legislative Session. HB 408 will end the practice of “double dipping” by elected officials who are using their time as an elected official to be eligible to receive a state pension while still in office. Texas is the only state that allows this and many other states bar it. I’ll keep you posted on what happens next with this bill and the others that I have moving through the system.

If you’d like to see what else I have filed, click here.

Search


Latest News

  • Finding solutions

    On Saturday, September 22nd, we held our biennial Texas 101 Day at Tarrant County College Southeast Campus wher

    Read More
  • Brews & BBQ

    Click here to RSVP: https://act.myngp.com

    Read More
  • Texas 101 Day: Two more days!...

    Read More
  • Have you reserved your spot?...

    On September 22nd, we will be hosting our 3rd Texas 101 Day in Arlington at Tarrant Co

    Read More

Recent Posts

Upcoming Events