By Sahar Chmais
There is no doubt that this year’s 87th Legislative Session looks nothing like years prior. Yet, that did not deter Senator Judith Zaffirini, representing Senate District 21, from pre-filing 42 bills centered around medical and educational needs.
“This session will be unlike any other because the pandemic looms over everything,” Zaffirini told the Hays Free Press/News-Dispatch. “Although much uncertainty remains, the Senate is expected to convene fewer hearings, consider less legislation, and ultimately pass fewer bills.”
Legislators will address a budget deficit during this session. There is an estimated $1 billion shortfall for the current biennium and slightly less available revenue for the coming two years, according to Comptroller Glenn Hegar.
Amid the cuts, Zaffirini continued to advocate for issues she has been fighting since she got into office. The priorities include:
- Expanding Medicaid
- Provide student loan-debt assistance for frontline workers
- Expand access to pre-kindergarten for 3-year-olds
- Make higher education and community colleges tuition-free for persons with annual household income of less than $100,000
Focusing on these issues might be more timely than ever. Zaffirini said that although there will be a reduced workload in the 140-day session, legislators will pass legislation reflecting lessons learned from the pandemic. COVID-19 has exacerbated inequities along geographic, socioeconomic and racial and ethnic lines – which has long existed in society, she said.
Among the most notable lessons learned is the need for universal broadband across the state, especially in rural and low-income communities, Zaffirini explained.
“With some children unable to learn from home and many adults forced to risk working in-person for lack of a stable internet connection,” Zaffirini said, “it’s clear that closing the ‘digital divide’ must be an immediate priority. I am confident my colleagues and I will develop a statewide broadband plan that will allow us to draw down federal funds and make critical investments in less-connected communities.”
Buda has been one of the cities in the state pushing for refined broadband laws, an issue which became abundantly clear when children and adults turned to working from home.
While Zaffirini and others work to get their legislation pushed through these fiscally tight times, there will be shortcomings. The financial position the state is in has been deemed better than expected by Hegar, but Zaffirini stays cautiously optimistic.
“I remain concerned about the difficult decisions that must be made this session. Count me among the legislators who believe we must explore every possible option – especially use of the rainy day fund – and avoid making any cuts to education, higher education or health and human services.”