It’s been a year since the earliest suspected case of COVID-19 worldwide and roughly eight months since the first Texas case. Months have passed, but we are still in an emergency.
As the holiday season begins, please continue to take precautions. Wear a mask, get your flu shot, and avoid gatherings with folks outside your household. Let’s keep each other healthy.
A cursory glance at our statewide leadership might make you wonder if there’s still a crisis. Gov. Greg Abbott has held just two COVID-19 news conferences in the past 50 days, and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick appears more concerned with imaginary voter fraud. The only statewide leader talking about the pandemic is Attorney General Ken Paxton, who is facing a growing list of legal troubles and fighting El Paso County’s efforts to combat one of the most devastating COVID-19 spikes in the country.
Throughout all this, much of the state government, including the Capitol, remains closed and inaccessible to the public. It’s ironic.
How can we govern when our leadership pointedly refuses to see the problem? All the precautions our community has taken — from wearing masks to socially distancing to sacrificing birthday celebrations and high school graduations — should not be political.
Still, good news is on the horizon, as Pfizer and Moderna reach the late stages of vaccine development. Pfizer announced Texas as one of four states selected for its vaccine pilot program. With clinical trials showing promising efficacy rates, officials believe we could begin rolling out vaccines to high-risk populations, such as health care workers, by the end of this year.
One of the main priorities for the Texas Legislature must be funding for vaccine distribution. Developing a vaccine isn’t worth much if states can’t get doses in the hands of eligible providers. Texas can set an example by investing early in a strong distribution system. Without adequate federal funding for the rollout, we must consider all options on the state level, whether allocating federal CARES Act funds before they expire in December or tapping the state’s rainy day fund at the start of session.
As the need for assistance grows in nearly every sector, lawmakers also face a difficult budget cycle. COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on our state’s economy. Unemployment hit historic highs, many small businesses were forced to close, and the comptroller has estimated Texas will end this biennium $4.6 billion in the hole.
In addition to the myriad of new recovery costs associated with COVID-19, Texas must maintain the promises made to our public schools in 2019’s House Bill 3. We cannot make the mistakes of 2011, when, facing a severe economic crisis, the Texas Republican majority cut $5 billion from public education. Our kids’ futures cannot be on the chopping block when the budget gets tight. We also must trust school leadership to make decisions that prioritize the safety of students, teachers and staff without jeopardizing their funding.
Another priority of the 87th Legislature will be health care reform. Even before the pandemic, Texas had the highest uninsured rate in the country, exceeding the national average for adults and more than doubling it for children. Yet Paxton has asked the Supreme Court to strike down the Affordable Care Act, including protections for pre-existing conditions.
Enter the pandemic. Millions of Texans have lost their jobs and their health insurance. It is increasingly clear that most of us are one bad break away from losing everything. Coupled with a historically underfunded public health infrastructure, Texas was one of the worst prepared states for an emergency like this.
Many of my House colleagues have been ringing the alarms on health care reform for more than a decade. We’ve advocated for Medicaid expansion, for extended coverage for postpartum women and for policy fixes to address our shameful child uninsured rates. When we return to Austin, I urge my colleagues across the aisle to partner with us on these issues.
The Legislature will also be working with a new federal administration. Texas Democrats will be a key bridge to the Biden White House and to a Democratic Congress. It will be up to us to deliver pragmatic solutions and much-needed investments in the ongoing COVID-19 response.
I look forward to working alongside my colleagues as dean of the Bexar County legislative delegation and the 10th-most senior Democrat in the Texas House overall. We know what needs to be accomplished these next six months. Let’s get to work.
Trey Martinez Fischer, a Democrat, is serving his ninth term in the Texas House of Representatives, and is chairman of the House Committee on Business and Industry.
- Let’s Be Number One In Public Education – The Chattanoogan
- Georgia Dept. of Education announces 2021 legislative priorities – WALB
- Gov. Hutchinson launches ‘Ready for Life’ education and jobs program – wreg.com
- Live Updates: Latest News on Coronavirus and Higher Education – Inside Higher Ed
- Board of Education union calls on Gov. Lamont for a ‘clear’ COVID-19 policy for schools – FOX 61
- COVID testing pilot in early education underway in Massachusetts – MassLive.com
- US Department of Education Announces Additional College Scorecard Updates, Providing Greater Transparency on Borrower Repayment Progress and Postsecondary Costs – U.S. Department of Education
- America’s education system is in need of dramatic reform – CNN
- Ohio Education Association asks state school board member Kirsten Hill to clarify her role in U.S. Capitol pr – cleveland.com