Soon, every Texan will have more opportunity to pursue their dreams, to learn new skills, and to thrive. The Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Opportunity Project supported and tracked important legislation that improved workforce development, removed governmental barriers, and reformed safety net programs—all of which will make Texas a more prosperous state.
The 87th Texas Legislature recently ended sine die with several key victories for Texans—even as the ultimate grade is “incomplete,” with a looming special session to finalize missed opportunities. Among other things, lawmakers made strides toward helping those on the verge of falling through the cracks of society or those already in them. We at the Foundation call these efforts the Opportunity Project, whereby Texans are helping our fellow Texans with a hand up instead of a hand-out.
First, legislators successfully implemented programs to assist Texans with strengthening their chances to gain training, experience, and education that provide them with valuable tools for their careers. These tools help keep them from falling through the cracks by empowering them with skills and knowledge that offer them more opportunities to flourish.
For Texas to live up to its reputation as a business-friendly state, as well as to protect its liberties and prosperity in the long term, employers need to be able to develop the talents of Texans within their communities quickly and effectively. Texas workers in the hard-hit service sector could benefit
from learning new skills to fill specialized roles in IT, manufacturing, construction, and health care. Thanks to Texas Sen. Paul Bettencourt’s and state Rep. John Raney’s HB 4361, more (and more diverse) skills training programs can be launched at community colleges and public universities. The bill allows for more participation by the private sector—the employers who know what they need in the workforce, and are willing to help make it happen.
Another bill, SB 1615 expands Goodwill Adult Charters and creates a new subchapter, thanks to Sen. Bettencourt and Rep. Gary VanDeaver. Specifically, this bill provides adult students with an opportunity to earn a high school diploma and an industry certification simultaneously.
Sen. Angela Paxton’s and Rep. Harold Dutton’s SB 346 enables charter schools to apply for Jobs and Education for Texans (JET) grant program funding. This bill would simply enable charter schools to have access to the same resources as other public schools, for the benefit of their students and for our state’s economic competitiveness.
Representatives Jim Murphy and Tom Oliverson along with Senators Bettencourt and Chuy Hinojosa championed HB 3767 which establishes the Tri-Agency Workforce Commission on a permanent basis. This bill includes data-sharing provisions to improve transparency and accountability.
Next, legislators accomplished the removal of certain government barriers.
Sen. Nathan Johnson and Rep. James White accomplished passing SB 181 that helps in the criminal justice reform space by re-instating a driver’s license to Texans exiting the criminal justice system conditioned on certain criteria. This is a good measure to help get these individuals back to work.
Rep. Scott Sanford and Sen. Royce West propelled HB 569, also known as the Bonton Farms bill, through the legislature to the Governor’s desk. The bill requires a credit per day of confinement toward outstanding fines or costs in a misdemeanor case after the commission of the misdemeanor. This legislation helps reduce in–court costs and fines so that individuals reentering society have better opportunities for self-sufficiency.
Rep. Brad Buckley’s HB 139 provides license reciprocity for military members, veterans, and their spouses so they will not be forced to go through a new licensing process for an occupation when they move to Texas from another state.
Finally, Texas legislators made multiple safety net reforms.
The supplemental nutrition assistance program’s (SNAP) certification process received much needed reform thanks to Sen. Charles Perry and Rep. Armondo Walle. Their efforts culminated in SB 224, which streamlines SNAP’s certification process by reducing the amount of paperwork required for applicants 60 year or older and the disabled.
Moreover, Rep. Tan Parker’s and Sen. Drew Springer’s HB 1516 was another successful safety net reform effort that requires routine third-party efficiency audits of the temporary assistance to needy families program (TANF). It requires that these audits determine whether scarce taxpayer dollars for TANF are being used for their intended purpose or for unrelated budget designations.
SB 1138 requires a study of the of eligibility requirements, results, and resources for the purpose of streamlining most safety net programs, thanks to Sen. Bryan Hughes and Rep. Candy Noble. It also requires that the study assess the cost of the programs and bureaucracy to taxpayers compared to the benefits recipients and taxpayers receive.
There is a need to improve Texas’s inclusive institutional framework for increased job creation and more involvement by civil society that supports the dignity of work, permanent self-sufficiency, and paths to prosperity. The Foundation will continue this effort through the Opportunity Project.
Vance Ginn, Ph.D.