Border Surge, Tracking Dangerous Foreign Nationals, Honoring Israel’s 75th Birthday & TCU’s 150th

May 9, 2023

As of yesterday, there are only three weeks left in the 88th Texas Legislative session. This is the time in the session when various deadlines related to the process bring an increased sense of urgency to those trying to ensure important bills get passed.  We are still working to finalize the budget, and as we are required by the Constitution to pass a budget before adjourning we will do so. However, there is still important work to be done on major priorities concerning property tax relief, school choice, improving and securing the electric grid, and more. The final stretch will be very important in determining if we are here for special sessions this summer or not. In this report I’ve enclosed some highlights of both legislation and special events over the last couple of weeks.

Clarification on Property Tax Freeze for Seniors

First, though, last week in my email concerning property tax appraisals, I stated the following: “If you are over 65, your tax appraisal is frozen.” I received a question from a longtime friend who pointed out that my wording wasn’t completely accurate, and he is correct. When you qualify for an Over 65 or Disabled Person homestead exemption, your property taxes are actually frozen and can never go up; however, this applies only to the school districts, which constitute the overwhelming majority of your property tax bill. This is sometimes referred to as the “senior freeze” or “homestead tax ceiling”. However, for the other local government jurisdictions such as city and county, it is up to each local entity to decide whether or not to freeze your taxes. Check with your local appraisal district to see which of your local government entities have provided this freeze. In Weatherford where I live, for example, those over 65 have their homestead property taxes frozen for the school district, city, county and community college. But every community is different by local option.

Texas Prepares for Border Surge as Biden Ends Title 42 Policy

More broadly, I am watching the developments along the border with concern. You may have heard of “Title 42”, which were restrictions implemented under President Donald Trump in March 2020 as the COVID pandemic began. Implementation of Title 42 allowed border agents to prevent illegal entry from Mexico, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention supported this measure to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in crowded detention settings.

Now, President Biden plans to lift the Title 42 policy this week when the COVID public health emergency officially ends, and we are already seeing the impact. In recent weeks we have seen a significant increase in apprehensions between ports of entry, with Texas DPS and U.S. Border Patrol predicting up to 8,000 attempted entries a day – double the recent number. As a member of the Senate Border Security, I am in regular contact with DPS Director Steve McCraw and will be monitoring developments as this situation unfolds. Texas is responding and preparing to deal with the expected surge. Gov. Abbott said yesterday, “We’re deploying today a new Texas tactical border force made up of elite National Guard who are specifically trained for one thing. And that is to identify areas illegal immigrants are trying to cross the border and to fill that gap and to repel them.”

Tracking and Sanctioning Corrupt and Dangerous Foreign Nationals

In 2020, Congress passed the United States-Northern Triangle Enhanced Engagement Act, which requires the U.S. Department of State to provide an annual report, the Engel List, on corrupt and undemocratic actors in the so-called “Northern Triangle” countries. This federal report is used to hold corrupt actors accountable with sanctions such as asset freezing and denying visas. Now, Texas is taking similar action.

Early in the session I communicated with you about the sobering testimony of DPS Director Col. Steve McCraw before the Border Security Committee on which I serve. He outlined a significant vulnerability from the proliferation of bad actors along the Mexican border, including cartels trafficking in cash, people, weapons and drugs. 

With SB 1884, Texas will create its own version of the Engel List by tracking and monitoring corrupt and dangerous actors doing business in our state. The Texas Secretary of State’s Office will generate and post on its website a list of foreign nationals who have engaged in actions that undermine our security and sovereignty, or are engaged in significant corruption in their home country. Sanctions can then be imposed on these individuals or entities by denying an application for or revoking any business registration in this state, prohibiting contracts with state agencies, and prohibiting attendance in public institutions of higher education. Taking this action will provide us with another tool to fight corruption and dangerous individuals intent on undermining our state. 

Banning Public Funding for Gender Modification; Ensuring Fair Treatment of Detransitioning Procedures

Transgender healthcare facilities are exploding across the state, and with that of course comes a dramatic increase in gender modification treatments and procedures. Tragically, many of those who go through these procedures later regret the process and then consider detransition. The sad reality is that the use of hormone blockers, cross-sex hormone treatments, and gender modification surgeries are fraught with danger.   
The use of hormone blockers brings numerous risks and complications, including decreased bone density, disruption of normal bone development, and increased mental health problems. Those who choose to detransition often face numerous roadblocks, including learning that their health insurance (which often covered the initial gender modification procedures) does not cover these ongoing health issues. SB 1029, passed by the Senate on April 26, addresses these issues and bans taxpayer dollars from being spent on gender modification. The bill makes private health benefit plans strictly liable for the lifetime care of the patient for consequences of gender modification treatment or procedures covered by the plan; prohibits public funds from being used for gender modification procedure or treatment; and prohibits state funded insurance plans (TRS, ERS, Medicaid, CHIP) from covering transgender modification treatments or procedures.

Separately, last month I voted for SB 14, a bill which bans modification for minors in Texas. SB 14 would prohibit people under the age of 18 from receiving hormone therapy, puberty blockers, or surgery for the purposes of transitioning from one gender to another.

Honoring the 75th Birthday of the Nation of Israel

Governor Greg Abbott, Texas Secretary of State Jane Nelson, and colleagues from the Texas Senate as we recognize 75 years since the founding of the modern state of Israel.

On April 26th, it was my honor to lead the Senate as we recognized the 75th anniversary of the nation of Israel. There is a deep heritage that Texans share with Israel, whether that is spiritually, economically, or our love for freedom and independence. Israel is one of our leading trading partners and a close ally of both the United States and certainly to Texas. Economically, Israel is known as a “startup nation” for their entrepreneurship, which fits Texas so well.

We honored a number of guests on the Senate floor, including Kenny and Sherry Goldberg (Kenny is chair of the Texas Holocaust Genocide and Antisemitism Advisory Commission); Sandra Hagee Parker, board member of the Texas Holocaust Genocide and Antisemitism Advisory Commission; Fred Zeidman, Chairman Emeritus of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council; and Livia Link-Raviv, Counsel General of Israel to the Southwest.

 Honoring TCU’s 150th Anniversary

My Senate colleague Lois Kolkhorst (a TCU graduate) and I welcomed TCU President Daniel Pullin, Deputy Athletics Director Mike Sinquefield, Student Body President Brandon Fox and Burnett School of Medicine student Kavneet Kaur on the occasion of TCU’s 150th Anniversary.

As State Senator for District 10, I have the privilege of representing TCU, a university that has continued to grow in both academic offerings and national prominence. TCU, with approximately 12,000 students, 100,000 alumni, and a $2 billion endowment, now has a medical school that will graduate its first class in 2023. TCU was founded in 1873; Sen. Kolkhorst and I sponsored a Senate resolution in recognition of this milestone. 

“It is an honor to be recognized and celebrated by the state of Texas in this meaningful way,” President Pullin said. “For 150 years, TCU has been developing the next generation of ethical leaders and innovators for the advancement of our region and our state, sending talented Horned Frogs across the globe to impact the greater good. We proudly share our talented graduates with the state of Texas and boldly look forward to the next 150 years.”

TCU students and leaders, and even “SuperFrog”, made their presence known at the State Capitol last week. Congratulations on your 150th anniversary!

Students from Dallas Baptist University stopped by to see me recently. I earned both my undergraduate and MBA degrees from DBU and served there as an Adjunct Professor, teaching constitutional law, from 1992-1995. 

Dr. James Hurley, President and CEO at Tarleton State University, stopped by to see me recently. The main campus of Tarleton is in Stephenville, outside of SD 10, but Tarleton State University – Fort Worth has operated programs serving the needs of Tarrant, Johnson and Parker Counties for over 40 years. In 2019, Tarleton opened a multi-purpose academic facility on the Chisholm Trail Parkway in Southwest Fort Worth.

From time to time, I am asked to serve as presiding officer of the Texas Senate, overseeing the legislative process. 

Leading the Texas Senate in prayer to begin the session.