Texans deserve Good Government. But state officeholders have lost our trust and for good reason. State officials ignore our needs to address their own, ignore the facts to spin politically flattering alternative facts, and fail to show up for the job while blaming those at the local level who do.
There’s a reason Texans trust local public servants more than state officeholders. The people of SD14 know me and I know them. They see me showing up every day, facing hard facts, making difficult decisions and taking responsibility for the consequences. We need more service and less office-holding at the State. This is what I plan to do as your Public Servant in the Senate.
Recover our Health and our Economy from COVID-19
The Governor has failed to lead. His orders have come too late, have commanded too little adaptation and have cost too many lives. He will continue blaming his failure on others until we remove him from office.
Meanwhile, locals have stepped in with decisions and dollars. But locals cannot sustain these efforts and investments indefinitely. This is an All-Hands-on-Deck moment requiring federal, state and local partnership.
Healthy Recovery – accessible, dependable and portable healthcare for every adult and child.
Texas has the highest uninsured rate in the nation – nearly 18% in 2018 compared to a national average of just 8.5%. With over 1 million Texans filing for unemployment benefits in the first weeks of the pandemic, the numbers of Texans who are uninsured has worsened.
Take Medicaid and get Texas and Texans the health resources necessary to rebound and prosper. This is no time to play political games with people’s health.
Make access to Medicaid, SNAP and CHIP as easy as Venmo or ApplePay. Actively reach out to eligible Texans, trust them and help them get on and stay on Medicaid, SNAP and CHIP as long as needed. Outreach and easy enrolment pay for themselves in healthy Texans ready to contribute to the prosperity of their families and their communities.
Expand telehealth options through universal broadband. Shockingly, one third of Texas counties do not have public local health departments or hospitals. Through federal, state and local partnership (particularly with public schools), expand broadband fiber, equipment and training so that every Texan, no matter where they live, has an electronic option for healthcare as well as education, training and teleworking.
Put the power of healthcare information in the hands of the patients. Our system of care is fragmented. Too many Texans go in and out of jobs and hence in and out of insurance. Necessary care is interrupted. Records don’t follow the patient resulting in costly duplications of care and administration. State’s across the nation and many European countries have robust and secure Health Information Exchanges through which patients can manage and compare their care no matter who their provider is. And through anonymized analysis, public health researchers can chart our overall progress and weaknesses and make policy recommendations for improvement. If Arizona and Oklahoma can succeed with Health Information Exchanges, so can Texas
Economic Recovery – Overhaul how and who pays taxes so that the burdens and benefits are shared fairly between working families and working businesses as we dig out of COVID together.
If there is a silver lining in a pandemic, it’s the vivid illustration that you cannot be pro-business without being pro-people. The people and the businesses of Texas will need healthcare, education and training, childcare, and investment in transportation and supply chains to rebuild opportunity. Where will we get the money?
The people and businesses that have weathered the pandemic best are those that adapted to the facts. The State should learn to do the same. First, acknowledge the fact that, even before COVID-19, revenues of the State were inadequate to provide the basic resources guaranteed by our Constitution.
Next, adapt to those facts by taxing appropriately to support business, workers, and customers in a sustained fashion. We should certainly utilize one-time dollars from the Rainy Day Fund and Federal Stimulus to shorten this crisis. But one-time dollars are no substitute for sustainable on-going revenues.
- Expand sales tax to cover Professional Services like accounting and legal representation. Without an income tax, this may be the closest we can get to targeting a sales tax increase to consumers most able to shoulder the burden.
- Update gasoline and diesel tax rates and combine them with toll revenues for investment in carbon reducing transit and broadband. Cars and trucks are more fuel efficient and gas and diesel prices are down. Now is the time to index fuel taxes to inflation and combine them with tolls and other user taxes that can capture and fund increases in alternative transportation of goods, people, services and information.
- Convert the local option homestead exemption to a flat rate rather than a percentage. At the current percentage cap of 20%, Richey Rich with his $1M home does not have to pay property taxes on $200,000 of his home’s value. While Poor Paul with his $100,000 home is relieved of taxes on only $20,000 in value. If the local option Homestead Exemption were capped at a flat $100,000 in value, Richey Rich and Poor Paul would get equivalent tax relief in dollars. But those dollars would mean much more to Poor Paul’s budget than Richey Rich’s.
- Update alcohol and tobacco product tax rates and include legalized personal use marijuana among taxable tobacco products. Aside from medicinal uses, these consumer goods are at least non-essential and, in most cases should be discouraged.
- Phase out ineffective tax breaks for industries that do not need encouragement, do not assist in a core mission of government, or slow our transition to climate resilience. Tax rebates to attract national and international headquarters are largely ineffective. Trust funds for leisure and entertainment ventures that are not evaluated on the basis of direct job creation are not core missions of government. And, tax supports for fossil fuels are slowing our transition to carbon neutral energy sources.
- Divest from militarized over-policing, federalized immigration and border surveillance, and incarcerations that perpetuate rather than treat mental health and substance use disorders.
Criminal Justice Reform
The racism and over-policing in our country are deep and predate George Floyd’s murder by centuries. Here are three things to fix our problems. First, move public investments off of policing and onto programs that provide opportunity in education, healthcare and jobs for everyone. Second, stop militarizing and federalizing what should be local community policing. And third, investigate and prosecute cops who commit crimes with independence, transparency and consequence.
Texas spends roughly $6B on law enforcement and corrections annually. This is an investment in problems rather than an investment in solutions. Violent crimes have steadily declined since the early 1990s. But drug related cases have steadily increased over the same time period. And the demographic most often arrested in drug cases are black and brown people even though there is scant evidence that white people suffer addiction at lesser rates. In fact, statistics from the Travis County Medical Examiner’s Office infer that white men have a higher rate of deadly drug or alcohol use than any other demographic.
We should reserve investment in policing to true public safety threats like murder, rape and armed robbery and move our investments in the treatment of mental illness, alcohol and drug addiction out of criminal justice and into healthcare. The return on this investment would not only be cost savings in policing, prosecution and incarceration. We would also be healthier people better able to learn, earn and care for our neighbors.
Second, over recent decades we have seen an unprecedented militarization and federalization of what should be local community police agencies. Federal grants of military type equipment are meted out to constables and even school police. If an incident occurs near IH-35 and MLK Blvd, more than 10 local and state law enforcement agencies have the authority and equipment to respond.
Local law enforcement should be about community engagement, police who are from here working with a community they know well and who know them well. Federalization alienates police from the community they serve.
The State’s SB4 and the Federal 287(g) program deputize state and local law enforcement to perform the functions of federal immigration agents. And the DEA has also frequently deputized state and local law enforcement to perform investigations into interstate drug commerce.
It was under a temporary assignment for the DEA that put Officer Charles Kleinert beyond our community’s ability to hold him accountable for fatally shooting Larry Jackson, an unarmed black man, in the neck. The Travis County District Attorney indicted Kleinert for manslaughter. But his temporary affiliation with the DEA gave him federal immunity. The Travis County Commissioners Court hired the best and brightest to challenge the Federal Immunity defense all the way to the US Supreme Court. The State of Texas did not join us. We lost.
As your State Senator I will continue to challenge the militarization of local law enforcement, the federalization of local officers and the Federal Immunity defense that protects cops who commit crimes against their own neighbors in violation of our constitutional rights.
Third, it should be the law of this state that policing as a profession is held to high standards that are measured and for which individual officers and departments are held accountable in quality processes managerially, civilly and criminally. We should reform state Civil Service rules that allow officers to be reinstated even after they have been fired for failing to live up to professional standards.
The state should require civilian offices of police oversight with insight into internal disciplinary processes and reliable, aggregated and searchable data about investigated behaviors. Meaningful recommendations should not be driven by isolated incidents. Recommendations must spring from reliable data. And the effectiveness of the recommendations must be tested against reliable data.
The state should require investigation and prosecution of cops who commit crimes by people with independence who are free of conflicting relationships within law enforcement and have the information necessary to make a difference. We can’t reasonably expect cops to fairly investigate other cops and we can’t reasonably expect prosecutors who work with cops every day to fairly prosecute them. Investigations and prosecution should be appropriately transparent so that the public can observe a quality civil or criminal process. And the consequences of these processes should be shared with civilian offices of police oversight for continual departmental improvement.
These three areas – moving investment in policing to investment in healthcare, demilitarizing and de-federalizing the police, and holding officers accountable – are not all that needs to be done. I also stand squarely in favor of the “8 Can’t Wait” list of protocols for the reduction of police brutality, increased use of Site and Release for non-violent offenses, Cashless Bail, and decriminalization of marijuana, to name a few. I have been doing this work for a long time. There is much more work still to be done. And I am ready to do it as your State Senator.
Address Climate Change and Protect our Drinking Water
We need State level leadership on Climate Change and especially protection of our drinking water. With overwhelming evidence that Climate Change is real and human-driven, we must act fast and with systemic reforms to preserve our land, air and water.
At the local level, Bastrop and Travis Counties have already experienced increased flooding, prolonged drought, wildfires and increased days of triple digit temperatures. And we are expected to double in population over the next 30 years bringing further loss of green space, straining our limited drinking water supply, increasing tailpipe emissions and increasing waste.
As with the Governor’s failure to act in the face of COVID-19, the State has seemed content to simply react to the extreme weather when it comes. My long experience in Emergency Operations at the local level has taught me that such failures to acknowledge and address known risks will cost lives and livelihoods. State government must help communities become climate resilient.
Locally, we have become more climate resilient by:
- Adopting the Travis County Climate Resiliency Plan
- Converting County buildings to water and energy saving technologies
- Assisting businesses in adopting climate resilient technologies through the Texas PACE program (Travis was the first county to adopt the program once passed)
- Increasing parkland and trails throughout Travis County
- Increasing busses and bikeways on our local roadway network
- Rebating property taxes for local solar energy production
Water protection and availability has been a crucial part of my local climate resiliency work:
- Supported the creation of the SW Travis County Groundwater Conservation District through legislation, local election and funding
- Increased scientific monitoring and analysis of water quality, availability and use in the Trinity Aquifer
- Negotiated public/private partnerships to bring drinking water to families in North, East and Southeast Travis County who had gone for years without running water in their homes
- Built partnership with surrounding counties to collaboratively manage our water supply
As a lawyer, a Commissioner, and as the Chief Executive of the County I have challenged polluters to avoid or clean up their messes:
- Prevented toxic sludge dumping in Southeast Travis County
- Halted the expansion of waste dumps in Eastern Travis County
- Pulled in a $3.1M settlement for polluters of Hamilton Pool
- Joined suit against the Kinder Morgan Pipeline to safeguard the Trinity Aquifer
And, as the Senator representing Bastrop and Travis Counties I intend to:
- Support and expand the PACE program
- Support public transportation to cut auto emissions and leave more of our land for living on rather than driving on
- Expand broadband so more people can telecommute to
- Training and jobs
- Protect appropriate tax incentives for
- Real farmers
- Alternative energy
- Replace the “occult” Rule of Capture with scientific data-driven distribution of water rights
- Demand scientific data-driven statewide water planning that balances the needs of the entire state while preserving the Bastrop and Travis county drinking water for generations to come.
- Hold industry accountable for threatening our land, our air and our water
- Move state agencies aggressively to climate resilient technologies in buildings and services
I do not support out of district charters receiving public dollars that would otherwise go to public school districts.” — Sarah Eckhardt
I am once again making my position clear after a charter school advocacy group’s unsolicited announcement of support. Before anyone uses that to make misleading, untruthful statements regarding my opposition to out of district charters, we thought we’d make her position clear.
Like many current and former Austin Independent School District trustees, I think there is room for in-district charters like Travis Heights Elementary School. Pro-public education advocates like the American Federation of Teachers also support those efforts, as noted in an AFT publication, “A Big Bet on Educator-Led Collaborations and Solutions:
“Since 2010, Education Austin, an AFT affiliate, has received $607,000 to work in partnership with Austin Interfaith, and in the longer term with the Austin Independent School District (AISD), to convert “failing” schools on the brink of closure to “in-district charters” through strengthening community-school ties and engagement.”