A lot is up in the air as state lawmakers prepare for the 87th Legislature, but for State Rep. Jay Dean, R-Longview, there are three things that are not up for debate: backsliding on funding for public education, defunding police and taking care of retired teachers.
“One of the big things that’s been talked about, that became a big issue during the presidential election and before that, with the terrible George Floyd situation, is there’s been a lot of talk about defunding police,” Dean said this past week. “I will assure you I will not entertain or be a part of any discussion to defund police.”
His legislative priorities do, however, include looking for ways to provide programs to enhance police — better pay, better training, better equipment and help with mental health issues associated with serving in law enforcement.
“This is a very difficult job,” Dean said, and it’s important to make sure police officers have all the tools they need to perform their duties.
He said his office has a number of priorities as the session approaches.
“I think my main priority is to make sure that we do not go in reverse when it comes to (funding for) public education,” Dean said, but there’s room for improvement there, too. People believe that the changes that were made in the last legislative session in 2019 didn’t do enough to lower property tax rates, he said.
“I think we still have work to do in terms of finding other dependable sources of revenues than continuing to property tax people out of their houses,” Dean said.
Sales tax revenues are collected on about 25 percent of everything that people purchase or use, he said.
“I think it would be wise for us to look at other reliable sources of revenues via the sales tax, that most people aren’t going to feel that effect, and put it directly toward reducing the property tax rate,” he said.
He also wants to take better care of retired teachers. They haven’t had a cost of living adjustment in 15 years, he said.
“Hopefully, we can try to do something along those lines,” he said.
Bill filing officially began Nov. 9, and Dean said he has submitted several for attorneys to review. The session official starts Jan. 12, and bills can be filed through March 12.
“The big thing we’ve got right now is the amount of bills filed so far — because of the COVID and everything else — they’re way down,” Dean said. People can’t get to the Capitol to work, and no one is exactly sure what the session is going to look like, he said.
Constitutionally, legislators are required to pass a budget, and redistricting will loom large this session.
It’s possible the minimum redistricting population count would be close to 200,000, Dean said, with a Constitutional mandate that each Texas House district follow contiguous county lines.
“There’s talk that there’s a real strong possibility East Texas might lose one seat,” Dean said.
“I don’t know exactly where that will be, but that’s why redistricting is such a big thing,” he continued. “There’s a whole lot of posturing and gerrymandering — nobody wants to give up their district.”