(Austin) -- A new legislative session is officially underway today in Austin, and District 44 State Representative John Kuempel says he's ready to roll up his sleeves and get to work not only for the constituents in his district but for all citizens of the great state of Texas.
Kuempel, who represents Guadalupe and Wilson counties, will join House and Senate representatives in the state's capitol for the start of the 86th Texas Legislative Session.
Despite that lawmakers have already filed hundreds of bills to debate in the upcoming session, Kuempel says it doesn't surprise him how this particular session is being described as having a tone of unity or simply just being more quiet than other legislative years.
"This is my fifth session and each prior session, there's always been two or three lighting rod issues. This time, it's unique because there's not and I think that has a lot to do with the leadership turnover in the House. We will have a new speaker this session that will replace Joe Straus that had been Speaker for the last 10 years or last five sessions. So, I think that is part of it. It's new leadership. Frankly, we lost, us being the Republicans, lost 12 seats in the House. So we number 83 now to 67 Democrats and that's down from 95 last session. So, everybody is just kind of waiting and seeing. I don't know if the General Election stirred some people up and quieted some people down but I think really -- (it's) just a turnover in leadership and everybody just trying to figure out how that is all going to fit and work together," said Kuempel.
John Kuempel and family -- Kuempel is heading to Austin for the start of the latest Texas legislative session.
Although the official vote won't be until later today, it is more than expected, according to Kuempel, that Representative Dennis Bonnen, R - Angleton, will assume the reins of Retired Speaker Straus. He says Bonnen was not only quick to pull in the support of more than 100 House members for the job but over the years has been able to position himself where he today he is credited for this tone of unity and working together.
"(Rep) Dennis Bonnen has been a good friend. I've served with him. He's served since '97. Edmund had served with him. So, we've known Dennis a good time. He's going to do a great job and I don't anticipate -- there won't be any kind of opposition on the floor," said Kuempel.
Some have even credited Bonnen's approach to that of the Kuempels -- an approach of working together -- a compliment he graciously accepts on behalf of his late father Edmund.
Kuempel says that commitment of working for the greater good of all is something that he and his late father took very seriously while in Austin.
"Certainly what I've learned from Edmund (Kuempel) and what I'm trying to do -- responsible leadership is not necessarily one side or the other. It's doing what is right and doing what is best for your district and the state," said Kuempel.
With the new leadership still, of course, comes all the work that remains in store for the next 140 days. Kuempel says most importantly is the state's budget. Kuempel says even the budget has managed to pull in some optimism over the last several months.
"The budget is the one thing that we are constitutionally obligated to do, the only thing. So, we can go up there and pass a balanced budget and the next week 'sine die' and that would be perfectly legal within the confines of the state constitution but we know that is not going to happen. Looking at some of the budget estimates that the comptroller has given us, they were pretty dreary, glooming a year ago this time but as sales tax revenues have increased, the oil and gas production has increased, that deficit has narrowed so we are going in with more money that we thought we had and still it's going to be flat or maybe even a little bit of a deficit compared to the obligated bills we have but I've served in deficits before and we always have a way of sharpening up the pencil and figuring it out and leaving with that balanced budget," said Kuempel.
Remaining on the state's priority list is the issue of school funding. Kuempel says it's a priority that needs and deserves to be revisited every session.
"The spiel for school funding is that -- that's really one of 'the issues' right now coupled with property tax relief. You can't do one without the other but the school funding formula with the incoming speaker, each name that his number one priority to rewrite the funding formula and I'll support anything that helps the 15 school districts that I represent. We saw a funding formula last session. The House passed it late and the Senate didn't pass it but anyway, the new funding formula that we had benefited everyone of my school districts so obviously, I was going to support that. Hopefully, we'll have a formula that mirrors something that was written last year and I think it will and just kind of with the make-up of my school districts, I think they will all benefit and I'll be more than happy to support it," said Kuempel.
Kuempel says the issues of school funding and property tax relief will, no doubt, go hand in hand this legislative session.
"The support from the state I want to say over the last 15 to 20 years has been reduced -- the state's portion has been reduced I think somewhere from 15 to 17 percent. So obviously, that money has got to come from somewhere. Then if you tackle property taxes and offer relief, you know school districts most of their money comes from local property taxes so there's a delicate balance with rewriting the formula and offering property tax relief and they are huge issues and they are tough issues to tackle and there's a reason that the funding formula has not been rewritten since I guess the early 80s. Then we have property taxes. Sometimes, it's really hard to undo a tax, once you've become dependent on that revenue," said Kuempel.
In the House, Kuempel says the focus will certainly will remain on the state essentials. He says no matter what decisions are reached, the state will be well equipped to continue on into the future.
"Every session, obviously, revolves around the budget. That's kind of like the center of the wagon wheel and then everything stems off of that. Every session, it's public ed, it's infrastructure whether it be transportation or maintenance on our highways, new highways, new roads, property taxes. Those issues are always there and they will always be addressed. Nothing has ever changed. You can come back and look at what the legislature was doing 50-80 years ago and it was the same thing. All these things are important issues that we have to address, make sure we get right, make sure we get funded in a healthy way -- that the state can continue to prosper which we are right now and certainly accommodating the new 800 to 1,000 people that continue to swarm or move into our state each day," said Kuempel.
As in any legislative year, Kuempel says watchful eyes and media inquiry often seem to follow those bills that "cover a wide range of issues of wider or narrower interest" -- bills that are often times harder to become law.
Unlike other lawmakers, Kuempel says he doesn't necessarily submit those types of bills plus he doesn't usually submit them this early in the game.
"The most feedback that I have had from constituents and it always seem to happen right after it does but it is the Daylight Saving Time and that bill was filed by Lyle Larson who is a representative in Bexar County. People get tired of it. It seems once March rolls around and we spring forward, it changes a little bit. But hat bill has been filed every session since I've been there and obviously, it's never passed. People file bills really ceremoniolsey. When it's all said and done -- when the bill filing deadline comes around, there will probably be in the ballpark, 6,000 bills filed and when you think about that, there's probably only going to be about 900 bills that pass and of those 900 bills, 95 to 98 percent of them are considered local or consent which means that (it is) something specific to House District 44 or is consensual that you know it is maybe a clean-up bill in a state agency. So none of them have controversy around them anyway," said Kuempel.
Other more" narrowed interest" bills include things such as outlawing fake caller ID and allowing schools to post the Ten Commandments.
The 140 day legislative session is scheduled to end on Monday, May 27, 2019.