State Rep. DeWayne Burns, R-Cleburne, during his Tuesday presentation at the Johnson County Republican Women’s monthly luncheon, said he considers public service a calling and a ministry.
Burns, who says as much during many of his public appearances, thanked JCRW for their encouragement, support and kind words throughout his three terms in office and compared the work they did to ministry as well.
Burns opened by joking that he wished to discuss what the Texas Legislature did to and for Texans during their recent session. Burns closed by discussing November’s upcoming Constitutional Amendment election.
“We had tough work in front of us in the last session but I feel like we did a pretty good job in addressing the issues,” Burns said. “When I go around the district people tend to bring up three things that concern them and that really hasn’t changed much during my time in office. Those top issues are property taxes, border security and education.”
The number of bills introduced increases each session, Burns said, and this year’s session was no exception with about 7,500 bills introduced, about 1,400 of which were passed into law.
“We’re charged with constitutionally passing a budget,” Burns said. “Here’s how we spent your money. We appropriated about $119 billion in general revenue and about $250 billion in all funds, that’s federal, state and everything.”
Health and human services and education consume about three fourths of the budget leaving little room for discretionary spending, Burns said.
Nonetheless, legislators increased education funding by 16 percent over last session, which includes funding for teacher compensation and school safety improvements. As to the latter, Burns said he doesn’t subscribe to a “cookie cutter approach” on school safety and is happy that the bill allows school districts to work with local law enforcement agencies to better address their particular security needs.
The funding also helps with property tax rates.
“The state’s share of funding has declined over the past few years, so we increased our share to help lower property taxes,” Burns said.
JCRW member and former teacher Betsy Ruffin joked that she was listening when Burns broached teacher retirement funding.
Burns, who formerly served on the Cleburne ISD board, assured Ruffin that education is near and dear to his heart given that his mother and several other family members pursued careers as teachers.
Noting that retired teachers haven’t received a cost of living adjustment in more than 10 years, Burns said legislators funded a one time 13th check for retired teachers of up to $2,000 depending upon their individual retirement rates. Burns said the Legislature in this and past sessions expended money from the general revenue fund to help ensure the Teacher’s Retirement System’s continued viability. That contribution totalled $500 million this session and increased the contributions of active teachers, school districts and the state, with the state’s share increasing 2 percent.
On the health front, Burns said legislators approved raises for adult protective service workers and increased funding for substance abuse and intellectual and developmentally disabled programs.
“I make no apologies or bones about it,” Burns said to applause from attendees. “I am pro life and will always be pro life.”
Among related bills passed were ones increasing funding for crisis pregnancy centers offering alternatives to abortion and a bill banning abortion providers from receiving state funds, Burns said.
“That’s an easy vote,” Burns said. “Those are easy votes for me to make. I’ll take them all day long. I get called out on Facebook, but that’s OK.”
Burns said legislators addressed another crisis situation, that of human trafficking.
“There are 234,000 subjected to labor trafficking in Texas at any given time,” Burns said. “There are 79,000 youth or minors involved in sex trafficking at anytime. Those numbers are depressing and shocking and should be a wake up call for us. And Texas is on the front lines of those battles.
“There’s an estimated 25 million people enslaved by trafficking worldwide. When you consider that Texas is just under 30 million people, that makes you think.”
Legislators increased funding in multiple areas in hopes of better battling the problem, Burns said.
Another tragedy involves the backlog, in the millions, of untested rape kits.
“Why does this happen?” Burns said. “Because testing takes time, money and technology. A lot of our smaller agencies don’t have access to any of those. In the larger communities sometimes funding issues lead to their lack of ability to do those in a timely manner.”
One woman who testified at the capitol told legislators that her rape kit sat untested for 20 years, Burns said. When it was finally tested police were able to identify her assailant, who was a serial rapist.
Twenty years is too long, Burns said, adding that legislators appropriated $56.6 million to address the backlog and have partnered with the University of North Texas and Sam Houston State University to assist with the process.
Burns discussed steps taken by legislators in bolster border security and emergency preparedness issues.
Several bills Burns introduced made the cut. One addresses honorably retired law enforcement officers. It waives fees and training requirements for them to continue to be able to carry a gun.
Another bill adds a civil penalty option should a business owner prohibit a police officer who is carrying a gun from entering the premises.
On the downside, Burns said attempts to eliminate unfunded mandates and strengthen eminent domain property rights fell short but he vowed to keep fighting for both.
Of the 10 Constitutional Amendment propositions up for vote in November, Burns especially urged attendees to vote in favor of Proposition 4. The proposition calls for the prohibition of a state income tax.