One of Rep. Burns' highest priorities in 2017 was House Joint Resolution 73. HJR 73 would have addressed the epidemic of unfunded mandates being handed down to municipalities and local governments from the state legislature. These unfunded mandates come in the form of directives to local governments that require some form of revenue expenditure.
While the state often passes laws and regulations that require money to implement, many times they do allocate sufficient funding from state funds to pay for these mandates. This places the burden on local government to provide sufficient funds to meet state directives. While sometimes unintentional, these unfunded mandates often require local governments to raise tax revenue to cover expenses.
HJR 73 would have addressed this issue by requiring the state to allocate sufficient funds for all mandates imposed on local governments. This would be a crucial tool in reducing taxes and easing the weight of ever increasing taxes that continue to impact citizens across our state. While HJR was ultimately successful in passing through the Texas House, the Texas Senate chose not to address this legislation.
Rep. Burns will continue to fight to ease the tax burden for the citizens of Bosque and Johnson Counties, and he will also pursue this legislation again in the future.
In 2015, Rep. Burns was one of the co-authors of House Bill 11 which funded an $840 million border security plan, dramatically increased the number of D.P.S. officers stationed along the border, created an information center to analyze data in real-time to provide state and local law enforcement agencies with the intelligence they need, and it created a volunteer corps of retired state troopers to reinforce our existing resources. The bill also increases the penalties for those caught smuggling people across the border and establishes checkpoints heading into Mexico to search for weapons and drugs.
In 2017, he co-sponsored Senate Bill 4 which bans sanctuary cities in Texas and stops a local governmental body or police department from implementing policies that stop enforcement of immigration law. There are also 250 new D.P.S. troopers being hired to expand operations along the border.
Rep. Burns was instrumental in passing nearly $4 billion in property tax and franchise tax cuts during the 84th legislature.
He co-authored one of the key bills in this legislative package, House Bill 32, which provides a 25% cut in the state's franchise tax, a burdensome business tax that has hurt small businesses and hampered job growth for years. The passage of this bill is the first step towards the ultimate repeal of the franchise tax entirely.
Additionally, with the passage of Senate Bill 1 and Senate Joint Resolution 1, Rep. Burns and his colleagues amended the tax code to raise the homestead exemption from $15,000 of the appraised value of a home to $25,000 to help offset out-of-control property tax bills which are crippling many families.
These bills are straightforward and fair, and they will put money back into the pockets of taxpayers.
As a former school board member, protecting our neighborhood schools and ensuring that our children have access to a quality education have always been at the top of Rep. Burns' agenda. During his two sessions in the legislature, he has increased funding for education, while also increasing transparency and public school accountability and improving early childhood development.
In 2015, the legislature provided $1.5 billion new dollars for public education, in addition to $130 million to school districts who adopt the high quality, accountable prekindergarten program. In 2017, the budget added $2.65 billion to account for growth in enrollment.
Rep. Burns also co-authored House Bill 21 in the 2017 special session which will create a Texas Commission on Public School Finance. This is an initial step in the effort to end the Robin Hood school finance system and change the way public schools are funded so that property owners no longer have to shoulder an unreasonable amount of that burden.
Rep. Burns also helped rescue TRS-Care, the health care system for retired teachers. The legislature added nearly $600 million in 2017 to increase the contribution rate and address the shortfall in TRS-Care. Had this not occurred, premiums for retired teachers and school employees would have gone up dramatically.
One of the great responsibilities that we have as a community is to create just laws that protect the most defenseless members of our society. The last two legislative sessions were the most pro-life in memory, and Rep. Burns was front and center during those debates.
In 2017, Rep. Burns co-sponsored Senate Bill 8, banning partial birth abortions in Texas once and for all, and imposing felony charges on anyone who performs one unless the life of the mother is at risk. The bill also bans "dismemberment" abortions, a truly barbaric attack on innocent life.
Additionally, the 2017-2019 budget allocates $18.3 million to the state’s Alternatives to Abortion program which offers a network of crisis pregnancy centers, adoption centers, and maternity homes across Texas to provide support for women in need.
House Bill 2858 was a key piece of pro-life legislation that Rep. Burns filed to defend the unborn and protect innocent victims of human trafficking networks. He added this legislation as an amendment to House Bill 2552 which passed unanimously in May of 2017 and also focused on the growing issue of sex-trafficking. The amendment creates criminal penalties for compelling a minor to seek an abortion through force or the threat of force, as well as for killing the unborn child of a minor who is being trafficked against her will.
This summer, Texas also became the 25th state in the union to pass limits on health insurance coverage for abortions. House Bill 214 removes the mandatory coverage for elective abortions that was previously required in government and private health insurance plans.
House Bill 3074, which was passed in 2015, now limits the ability of a hospital or doctor to withdraw food and water from a patient. Before this law was passed, the Texas Advanced Directives Act allowed them to stop feeding a patient with only ten days notice, regardless of the wishes of the patient or his or her family. Tragically, this practice had become far too common in our hospitals, and it resulted in the inhumane dehydration and starvation of patients.
And House Bill 3994, which also became law in 2015, was a great step forward in eliminating abortions on minors in Texas. A "judicial bypass" is the process of a judge issuing an order for a doctor to perform an abortion on an underage girl without notifying her parents, much less obtaining consent from them. This law limits an attorney's ability to change the court venue in search of a favorable judge to obtain the bypass. It also stops the bypass from being automatically granted if the judge does not rule on the petition.
In June of 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court's 5-4 decision making same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states was a blow to the heart of our system of representative democracy. If you recall, in 2005, more than 3/4 of Texas voters approved a state constitutional amendment which defined a marriage as being between one man and one woman. Rather than interpreting the law, 5 justices invalidated part of the Texas Constitution in favor of their political agenda.
We must not allow this ruling to be a slippery slope that impacts the religious freedom of Texans. With that in mind, Rep. Burns co-sponsored the Pastor Protection Act (Senate Bill 2065) in 2015. This law protects pastors and religious institutions from being forced to perform marriage ceremonies that contradict with their beliefs. It also protects them from penalties or discrimination for refusing to officiate over or sanction same-sex weddings.
Water is one of our most precious resources, and it's imperative that as our population and economy grow, we establish the right of property owners to the water beneath their land. The "Rule of Capture", or the right to pump water from beneath your own property, has been in place for over 100 years. However, that right in much of the state has been threatened in recent years because of overregulation.
That is why Rep. Burns authored and passed House Bill 4112 which has now legally recognized that property owners also own the groundwater beneath their land. It codifies into law the opinion of the Texas Supreme Court from 2012 in the Edwards Aquifer Authority vs. Day case.
During the 84th legislative session, Rep. Burns co-authored House Bill 910, a landmark piece of legislation also known as the "Open Carry" bill. Now enacted into law, the bill expands the scope of a license to carry a concealed handgun to include the ability to carry openly so long as the gun is holstered. Since Texas was one of the few states that completely prohibited the open carry of a handgun, Rep. Burns believed it was time to remove the restriction to better comply with the 2nd Amendment and bring state law more in line with the values most of us share as Texans.
And during the 85th legislative session, Rep. Burns helped pass a bill eliminating all application fees for first-time or permit renewal applicants for a handgun license in Texas. Before this legislation, a handgun license was $140. It will now be $40 . This includes an open carry license. Renewals for these licenses were $70 and will now also be $40. A handgun license of $140 was one of the highest fees in the country, with only Illinois and Arkansas being higher. This new law slashes that fee by over 70%.
In the last few years, a number of Rep. Burns' constituents and others around the state are calling for an Article V Convention of States to consider possible changes to the U.S. Constitution in order to reign in federal overreach. Rep. Burns began working with supporters of this movement during his first term in office, and in 2017 he was a joint sponsor for Senate Joint Resolution 2 which expresses Texas’ commitment to this idea.
Only time will tell if it garners enough support in other states to actually call a convention, but one thing is for sure; the all-too-frequent departures from the Constitution by the federal government are destroying the rule of law. We must use every means available to end the federal government’s overreach and restore the authority of local communities across the nation to make decisions that are in the best interest of their citizens.