State Representative Ken King was in Levelland on Wednesday. He held a town hall meeting to tell what was accomplished in the 85th Legislative Session and Special Session.
He said that the legislature really did not pass many new laws in the 85th Legislative session, which he says is good. He said the legislature has two jobs as defined by the constitution of the state, pass a balanced budget and fund public education. He said the 85th legislative session accomplished both without raising taxes, fines or fees of any kind. Another item to benefit education was giving local districts control of 25% of the money the State Board of Education sets aside for technology and text books.
Some of the items accomplished in the regular session included funding growth in the public education system, noting that the state has seen an increase of 160 thousand students state wide to the public education system. King noted that one of the major items passed this year was 25 million dollars for a grant program through the government e-rate program for bringing broadband to rural areas. This money will be put with 100 million dollars in federal money.
He also noted additions to the border security, noting that the Federal Government still refuses to protect the borders so the state has added 250 state troopers especially for border security. King emphasized it is the job of the federal government to secure the border, however, they refuse to accept responsibility so the state has to.
He noted that the state department receiving the biggest share of money this year was the Department of Family Health Services mainly for an increase in pay to foster families for support of foster children and additional money for more case workers for Child Protective Services.
Some bills that passed this session included Senate Bill 7 which is will require any school administrator with knowledge of an inappropriate relationship between a teacher and a student must report it to authorities and cannot just allow a teacher to resign and take a job with another district which has happened according to King.
King also said the Governor called a special legislative session and put 19 items down to be worked on. Only two of those items came out as priority items including restoring ASATR (Additional State Aid for Tax Reduction) funding to schools which was set to expire September 1, 2017. He noted that the funding which makes up for drops in local funding of schools was partially restored allowing approximately 19 districts in the state to remain open. All 19 were expected to close due to a lack in funding. The legislature also funded 212 million dollars more for the TRS Care which is insurance for retired teachers which was struggling due to a major decline in funding over the past several legislative sessions.
During the question and answer session, many people present asked for the representatives help with getting improved and new infrastructure to rural areas for phone and broadband internet service. One local business owner noted he is moving some employees from Levelland to a Lubbock office, on a permanent basis, because of the lack of reliable high speed internet service in Levelland. An administrator with South Plains College noted that NTS Communications has had local phone service down in Levelland including the SPC campus several different times in the past three weeks. Several others present noted they have also had problems with NTS service in the past few weeks, most feel their is no regulatory authority over the company. King said the Public Utility Commission is the agency with regulatory approval over telecommunication companies and he urged everyone to report issues to the PUC and he said he also would be fighting to get the PUC to allow the use of the Universal Service Fund which is collected on everyone’s phone bill to be put towards improvement of infrastructure for broadband in rural areas. He noted that he had been working toward this goal for several years, however, representatives in the urban areas feel the fee should be dropped or should continue to be given to phone co-ops.