For 140 days every two years, Members of the Texas House and Senate put their lives on hold and head to Austin to serve at the State Capitol for a regular legislative session. Representative Dade Phelan and his colleagues wrapped up the 84th Legislative Session nearly five months ago, but their accomplishments should not go unnoticed. As a freshman member of the Texas House of Representatives, Rep. Phelan was appointed to the powerful Appropriations Committee, which oversees the formation of the budget. House Bill 1, the conservative budget passed by Republicans in the Texas House, keeps growth beneath 2 percent each year and stays well beneath the constitutional spending cap, while leaving more than $11 billion in the state’s Rainy Day Fund.
Even as it limits spending, however, the budget provides additional funding for key functions of our growing state. HB 1 ends diversions of the State Highway Fund, meaning all of the money in that fund will pay for transportation instead of other programs, resulting in an increase of transportation funding by $1.3 billion over two years. The budget also allocated $840 million for border security, allowing the Department of Public Safety to hire 250 new troopers. It also compensates for an increase of roughly 80,000 students per year in the state’s overall public school enrollment, while also providing an additional $1.5 billion for public education.
Rep. Phelan and his Republican colleagues also made huge strides to improve higher education in Texas. The budget increases funding for higher education by 7.5 percent, which provides an additional $1.5 billion from the current two- year funding period. The 84th Legislature also authorized $3.1 billion in capital construction bonds for public institutions of higher education. This is important to House District 21 because all four of the Lamar University campuses will receive these bonds to fund construction on its campuses. The budget also put $2.7 million into the new Port Management Program at Lamar University, which will be the first Port Management Program in the United States. Rep. Phelan described this program as “an opportunity for Southeast ports and Lamar to be global players”, and is confident that the program will draw individuals from all over the world.
“I am extremely proud of the work we did for higher education this session. We were able to pass Tuition Revenue Bonds (TRB’s), which will provide new buildings at each campus and will allow for these institutions to continue to grow and provide opportunities for their students,” Rep. Phelan added’ “House Bill 1 also funded various new degree programs for all four institutions which will provide the essential technical and vocational education needed to meet the demands of our Southeast Texas economy.”
Another major victory for the 84th Legislature was the passage of legislation to reform the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association (TWIA). Senate Bill 900, joint authored by Rep. Phelan, changes the makeup of the association’s board of directors. The board originally consisted of four Coastal Bend representatives, four insurance agency representatives and a swing vote. This setup rarely benefited Coastal Bend residents. The bill changes the composition of the board to include three representatives from the coast, insurance and the rest of the state. Each of these directors will be appointed by the Governor instead of the State Commissioner of Insurance. SB 900 also assures that the association is prepared to cover the loss of a 1 in 100 year storm. It is anticipated that there will be positive changes to windstorm coverage, an increase in private insurers offering windstorm coverage, a decrease in rates and an improved funding structure for response to major hurricane damage.
“For the first time since TWIA was established 45 years ago, the coastal delegation was able to make significant changes that will have a positive impact on coastal residents. We will continue to work on additional reforms to ensure the counties burdened with high windstorm insurance are treated fairly,” Rep. Phelan stated.
Rep. Phelan resides in Beaumont with his wife, Kim, and their four sons. During the interim, Rep. Phelan is busy raising his boys and working as a commercial real estate developer and licensed broker in Southeast Texas. As a caucus, we are fortunate to have Representative Phelan as part of the team. We continue to be impressed with how hard he works and how well he represents the constituents of his district. District 21 is lucky to have him!