Editorial: Rural Texas Prepares for the Legislative Session
by Hughes Abell, president, Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association
As 2021 gets underway, so too will the 87th Texas Legislative Session, and this one promises to be unlike any other in recent history. The coronavirus threat will loom large, dramatically changing both the topics considered by lawmakers and the process by which they do so. Legislators will likely spend much of the 140-day session working on public health issues directly related to COVID-19, but the virus will also shape other issues, including the state’s budget. The Texas Constitution requires that the legislature pass a balanced budget, and with coronavirus-related shortfalls in tax revenue projected, it will not be an easy task. Lawmakers will not only have to spend a lot of time on the budget itself, but spending will be limited to the most essential services. Any bill that requires new spending will face an uphill battle, and advocates like the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association will need to be on constant guard for cuts to programs and services essential to cattle producers and rural Texans.
Shortcomings in rural broadband coverage and the availability of rural healthcare will also receive considerable attention. While hardly new to rural Texans, both issues have been highlighted by the coronavirus crisis, which may help advance their cause despite a tight budget. The renewed focus is welcome news for those who have struggled with finding healthcare and connectivity.
Even with the specter of coronavirus, lawmakers will likely consider a wide array of other, more traditional subjects.
Sunset, the process by which the legislature regularly reviews the relevance and effectiveness of state agencies, has already begun. In this session, three agencies of importance to cattle producers are being reviewed: the Texas Animal Health Commission, Texas Department of Agriculture and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
The number one legislative priority for the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association will still be eminent domain reform. Though unsuccessful in the past two legislative sessions, each attempt has brought change closer to reality. For Texas property owners facing condemnation, the reforms are badly needed to curb the abuse and exploitation so prevalent within the process. The men and women who work to feed our nation deserve a fair, transparent and accountable process if their land is to be taken for someone else’s profit.
Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers staff and leaders will also work diligently on a host of other issues vital to cattle producers and rural Texans.
There is little doubt that we will have to defend against misguided efforts to increase our taxes, limit our water rights, and over-regulate our land, water and the animals we care for. We’ll also be fighting for better liability protections for agriculture producers, increased broadband connectivity, improvements in animal disease prevention, more accurate labeling of fake meat products, and more marketing options for beef producers. With so much at stake, the association’s government and public affairs staff will be busier than ever, especially with new coronavirus-related procedures at the Texas Capitol, where advocacy days, like the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association Cattlemen at the Capitol Day, will be done away with to limit the spread of COVID-19. Access to the Capitol will also likely be more limited for constituents and advocates, adding to difficulties. With the limitations and challenges presented by the coronavirus, your involvement in the legislative process is more important than ever.
In this legislative session, we all must communicate with our elected officials when they’re at home and via phone and email. By doing so, you will help ensure that they understand our priorities and positions as they carry out their duties to the people of Texas.
Much has changed over the past year, but one thing that will never falter is the Texas & Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association’s dedication and commitment to our members. As the 86th Texas Legislative Session begins, you can rest assured that this association will continue to fight for your rights and values, just as we have for the last 143 years.