State representatives Charles Perry and Mike Lang hold town hall in Breckenridge
Texas Sen. Charles Perry and Rep. Mike Lang visited Breckenridge Wednesday, and held a town hall at the Texas State Technical College (TSTC) Technology Center. Several officials from the area were in attendance, as well as a few residents.
They discussed issues the state of Texas is facing. These issues included school safety, child protective service changes, property tax reform, the education system and healthcare. They also discussed the politics of the state and nation.
Lang and Perry opened the discussion listing what they said would be the state congress’ priorities in the upcoming session beginning in January. The list consisted of property tax reform, school safety, a state flood plan, public school finance and healthcare. Perry said one issue he believes the state is adequately unprepared for is water, and discussed the need to have a plan.
Lang opened up his remarks talking about the status of the Texas House. The house will have a new speaker going into the new session, as Joe Straus, the current speaker, is not running for reelection. Lang talked about the implication of this, saying the new speaker will have the power to fill several committees and appointments. In the house there is 150 seats, with 95 being Republican and 55 being Democrat. All 150 are up for reelection in November.
Breckenridge Mayor Bob Sims opened up the questions, asking about school security. Perry said he is hoping it will be a funding issue. He also said the approach by the state has been to back up and let the school districts decide what is best for their situation. Lang echoed the sentiment that it is a local decision.
“In my mind it won’t require a lot of legislation, it will require funding of some of those initiatives,” Perry said.
Perry added to his comments saying while some people will try to do terrible things, the school system in the state has gotten better at profiling who is more likely to be a threat. He elaborated by saying the ones who carry out incidences, such as school shootings, have tell signs. He also went on to say he has been a component behind some legislation passed to help identify kids that may be more likely to do this and spoke on the success of some of those programs, such as taking those kids they deem a risk out of the school and putting them in an alternative school.
This discussion branched off into talks about parents needing to step in and monitor their kids. He gave an example of children using social media, calling it a negative if parents are not willing to step in and be involved with their children and limit the use.
Perry spoke highly of the recent changes that have come to CPS and the foster system of Texas, saying more money had been put into case workers and foster care. He said the next discussion is to try and better train the caseworkers, which he said has been working. They also changed how foster care worked, by making it so the state gets out of managing it and passed the responsibility to certain people who can provide care for a particular child, such as a relative or someone who has a relationship with the child. He said one of the hiccups that has arisen is how to keep the private provider from being liable if something goes wrong.
CPS and foster care reform has been a hot-buttoned topic in Texas for a few years now. In 2015, a federal judge ruled Texas’ foster care system violated children’s rights. The states response was to reform the system through privatization to take the burden away from the state. Up to that point, case workers had been the biggest obstacle for the state, as there were not enough and the turnover rate for caseworkers had been anywhere from 25 to 30 percent.
“The government doesn’t have a heart,” Perry said. “It’s not a relationship business. If you’re dealing with people, you have to have a relationship with people. If you can find a community-based approach to where they can build those kids and know those kids, they’ll be more successful and get out of the foster system.”
The education system
Education and schooling was one of the most talked about topics of the day. Breckenridge ISD Superintendent Tim Seymore brought up an issue similar to one he talked about when U.S. Rep Jodey Arrington was in town. He said the school system in place currently is based on teaching children things that are no longer applicable in real life, and the technology is being used to further these teachings rather than help reform what we teach. He said this has manifested in a variety of ways, with the key takeaway being testing. Seymore elaborated saying he doesn’t believe testing is wrong, but more just wanted to advocate for a better system in general.
“We fight incessantly over the wording of [tests], but we’ve never thrown all that stuff out and said, ‘what do kids really need to learn now in this world?’” Seymore said. “And no one wants to do that.”
Lang spoke about the overall goal being to make kids productive members of society and added progress is being made in schooling, citing what kids used to learn in higher grades are now learning in elementary school, which was something Seymore pushed back on.
Perry said this very issue is something he has brought up, but said the problem is nobody actually knows what our kids should be learning to be prepared. He also said due to the changing nature of the world, there is no clear path for every child and we have to overall, do what is best for each child. He ended on a defense of testing, saying its possible we shouldn’t put so much emphasis on it, but it does help and has always been part of the system. He also applauded the STARR test, which was brought in in 2012, saying it has changed the way we test and prepare children. Specifically, he said it emphasized cognitive thinking rather than memorizing information.
Property tax reform
County Judge-to-be Mike Roach asked about property tax reform and what would qualify as a win for for tax payers.
Perry started off saying he guarantees they will not leave session until property tax reform is reached. He also said the No. 1 thing that is non-negotiable is the petition requirement. Perry said this would mean trying to give the power of tax choice back to the people. For example, if the rollback tax rate (the rate a taxing entity cannot go over unless through a vote) is at 8 percent and a taxing entity would try to go above that rate, residents can file a petition to try and bring it back to the rollback rate. But, Perry said in the past that has been too difficult and at times impossible for certain areas due to petition requirements.
The other discussion they will be having on this topic in session is what the rollback rate will be.
“It’s not a cap,” Perry said. “The narrative out there is we’re capping local governments revenue. We’re just saying above a certain level, the voters shouldn’t have to jump through hoops to have a discussion.”
He acknowledged the position these taxing entities are sometimes put in, such as when the entities will discuss tax rate and budgets, as well as hold hearings on these particular items and nobody shows up. But also said the problem with property taxes has gotten bad enough to where the state is being asked to step in. He further elaborated the dangers of raising taxes too high, as they force people out of the area.
Rising healthcare costs
The last question the pair received dealt with the rising costs of medicine and the disparity in price between the U.S. and other countries.
Perry said there will be some legislation on the state level to try and stifle the rising costs. He said on the national level, President Donald Trump is beginning to work things that Perry believes will begin to bring prices down.
Perry said the biggest problem, however, is the U.S.’ role in healthcare worldwide. Perry called the U.S. the center of research, marketing, manufacturing and testing of the world. So while the world is paying less than the U.S., Perry said this is partially because the U.S. tax payer is subsidizing the medicine so others can have it cheaper. He also said this is an area Trump is attempting to fix.
“We’ve got to put the tax payers and the American population first, or you’re going to kill the goose for everybody else,” Perry said. “We can’t have these extremes and the Trump administration is truly going after some of those issues.”
Perry and Lang closed the day on talking about politics. Perry said the nation is in a flux and we are on the steps of change occurring. He said the idea of pulling your bootstraps up and getting work done is no longer the normal mentality, and said people nowadays expect the government to fix all problems.
He called the U.S. Senate race between Ted Cruz and Beto O’Rourke the most important race for Texas, as it will determine a senator for the state for the next six years. He said regardless of who you support, you should get out and vote, as well as be involved.
Perry is a state senator in Texas and represents District 28. Lang is a member of the state’s House and represents District 60. Lang is up for reelection but after winning the Republican primary will run unopposed in the general election on Nov. 6.