By Gilbert Hoffman
The Green Forest Civic Club hosted a Town Hall meeting last Tuesday night, at which State Representative Armando Walle updated the audience on the accomplishments of the 86th Legislative session that just ended in June.
The meeting held at the offices of the East Aldine District was attended by Civic Club members and a large group of the public and interested citizens, including the Melrose, Castlewood and Colonial Hills Civic Clubs.
Walle recounted how he first served in the Legislature in 2009, and that this was his 6th term. That seniority has allowed him to be appointed to some important committee assignments, including Higher Education, Appropriations, and Redistricting. He also was on the conference committee that determined final edits to the state’s two-year budget, which this session amounted to $250 Billion dollars. He noted that this is the 10th largest budget in the world, ahead of most counties and states.
Highlights of the session and the budget include passing of HB3, a School Finance Bill that included $12 Billion for comprehensive school programs. These now include Full-Day Pre-K funding for eligible four-year-olds, an increase of $6.5 Billion for public schools, including a $2 Billion amount for educator pay increases, a 20% increase in per-student base funding.
Retired teachers also got a pay raise amounting to about $2000. The landmark HB3 (House Bill 3) was authored by Representative Dan Huberty, and co-authored by Walle and others.
Walle said that other highlights of the session included property tax relief that will take effect in 2020, and increase the next year.
To deal with the problem of flooding and flood relief, the Legislature set $2.1 Billion for Hurricane Harvey victim’s recovery, and another $1.8 Billion in flood mitigation to reduce future floods. He noted ongoing flood control projects for Halls Bayou and Greens Bayou.
Walle was able to get funds to improve parks in his district, including $1 Million for rebuilding Melrose Park, and $1 Million each for Squatty Lyons and Keith-Wiess parks.
Walle authored HB2345 which creates the Institute for a Disaster Resilient Texas, which creates an agency to coordinate and research disaster planning and response among educational institutions and state agencies.
For mental health and substance abuse, the Legislature set $7.7 Billion in total funding.
Also passed was HB2261 which gives graduating physicians relief from student loans if they agree to practice for four years in a distressed medical area, such as rural, urban center, community health clinic, or correctional facility.
Walle authored two bills that improved food distribution before and during a natural disaster.
Other issues that Walle discussed were roads, saying he is working constantly to get Aldine-Westfield widened and improved, but that it is a city owned road subject to their funding ability.
Walle asked for voter support for Proposition 4 in the November general election, which will provide grants for water and sewer connections in areas of Aldine that now have old septic systems and well water.
In the public Q & A session that followed, one parent complained that Aldine teachers were not as good as when she attended. She also asked why AISD was building so many new buildings when they had a budget deficit of $60 Million last year.
AISD assistant Superintendent Selina Chapa, who was in the audience, answered that building are built with bond money, which is separate from the regular school operating budget. She also offered to meet and work with the woman on her opinions of teachers, but the parent left without engaging anymore.
Green Forest Civic Club president Marina Sugg reminded the audience of a Grandparents Family Conference at M.O. Campbell on September 7, from 10am to 3pm. and National Night Out, which will be held at BakerRipley on Tuesday night, October 1.
Sheriff’s Deputy Eric Stormer presented some of the activities of the ProActive patrol unit, and announced that it would increase from 11 deputies to 14 due to a budget increase from the East Aldine District.