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Freshman rep scores big during first Leg

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

Photos by Judith Pannebaker
Precinct 2 Commissioner Bobby Harris, right, spoke to Texas District 53 Representative Andrew Murr about water issues after Gary Johnston's recent Economic Development Luncheon.

Photos by Judith Pannebaker
Luncheon host Gary Johnston and hostess Angelika Inzanti visited with Rep. Andrew Murr's Chief of Staff Regan M. Ellmer, left.

Among those attending Gary Johnston's annual Economic Development Luncheon were, from left, Justice of the Peace Lynn Holt, County Judge Richard Evans, State District 53 Rep. Andrew Murr, Johnston and hostess Angelika Inzanti.

Last week, Andrew Murr, freshman representative from Texas District 53, made a Cook's Tour of Bandera, one of the counties in his district.
Other counties he represents are Crockett, Edwards, Kerr, Kimble, Llano, Mason, Medina, Menard, Real, Schleicher and Sutton. Murr's district covers 15,000 square miles and 170,000 people. "It's diverse but essentially rural," he said. "Some urban representatives have districts of only 10 city blocks."
Addressing community leaders at entrepreneur Gary Johnston's annual Economic Development Luncheon on Friday, July 17, Murr offered an overview of the 84th session of the Texas Legislature. The next morning, sharing a bill with Congressman Lamar Smith, he spoke to members of the Ranchers & Landowners Association of Texas.
"As everyone knows, the Texas Legislature meets for 140 days every two years," Murr said. "Of course, Judge (Richard) Evans probably feels the reverse would be an improvement - the Legislature should meet for two days every 140 years!"
According to Murr, from January to June, 150 members of the Texas House and the 31 State Senators filed 11,396 pieces of legislation. Only 1,300 became law. "In the House, I voted 1,831 times on bills, motions, amendments and resolutions," he said.
The most important piece of legislation enacted was HB 1, which balanced the Lone Star State's $209 billion budget that Murr described as "a little larger than the county's." He continued, "For the next two years, the state will focus on education, transportation and border security."
Assisting in transparency, the budget bill would curb the state's tendency to allow dedicated funds to accumulate in accounts rather that allocate the monies to be used, Murr explained. "In the past, dedicated funds that remained in accounts were used to balance the budget. State law mandates a balanced budget. This new law would stop that and allow funds to be used for their original purposes."
He also predicted that inequities in school funding education would be addressed in a future Legislature or special session after the Texas Supreme Court hands down its ruling. "This term took a 'wait and see' approach. It might be better to start from scratch in 2017 and develop a new funding mechanism for schools," Murr said.
Earlier, a district judge in Austin ruled that the state's system for financing public schools had violated the Texas Constitution. The ruling is currently under review by the Texas Supreme Court, which will determine how Texas will pay for its schools and affect property taxes statewide.
One of the few rural members of the House Transportation Committee, he said that in November, SJR 5 will be on the ballot as an amendment to the Texas Constitution.
If approved the amendment would dedicate a portion of revenue derived from the state sales and use tax and the tax imposed on the sale, use or rental of a motor vehicle to the state highway fund. This, Murr said, would enable the Legislature to allocate $3 billion annually on the state highway system by 2020.
"Before, funds for state highways were diverted to the general revenue fund. We won't catch up right away, but eventually the condition of Texas roads will revert back to what they were in the '70s and '80s." Additionally, Murr assured his constituents, "The gasoline tax will not be increased."
Regarding plans for border security, the Legislature approved $900 million to be spent in the next two-year cycle to hire and train 250 new state troopers, who will be stationed on the border with Mexico. "This provides more boots on the ground in South Texas and at home," Murr said.
He also noted that the Legislature authorized law enforcement to establish southbound checkpoints to intercept cash and weapons flowing into Mexico.
Murr proudly pointed out that of the 16 bills he filed, eight of them became law. One came courtesy of Justice of the Peace Lynn Holt.
According to Holt, after a disruptive inmate at the county jail snorted blood on a jailer during a routine booking, that inmate informed correctional personnel he was HIV+. A blood test was needed to confirm the subject's veracity, but no law gave law enforcement the authority for that kind of testing.
"All participants in the criminal justice system across the state need to be protected," Holt told those assembled. "With Andrew Murr's help, we got a law passed requiring inmates to submit to a blood test if ordered. Little old Bandera County affected the whole State of Texas."