Your San Antonio Jewish Community Relations Council planned a fantastic lineup of events for this year’s Jewish Communities Days at the State: Virtual Legislative Mission to Austin. This event is a biennial advocacy day for Jewish communities throughout Texas. This year, the virtual event took place on March 23 and 24. These events create communication channels to educate our community and legislators about the policy priorities that are important to the Texas Jewish community.
The event kicked off with welcoming remarks by Governor Greg Abbott. The Governor mentioned his trip to Israel last year as a meaningful time in his life. Harvey Kronberg, editor of the Quorum Report followed with an interesting analysis of what to expect during this session. Due to COVID, he saw the dynamics had changed and felt that there would be few bills that pass through this challenging session. “There are more ways to kill a bill than to pass a bill,” Kronberg explained. Kronberg felt the electric grid meltdown would be the number one issue the legislators tackle. Due to delays in the results from the Census, the other priority issue, redistricting, will not be addressed during the session (which runs through May 21, 2021). The Governor plans to call a Special Session, likely in September, to address redistricting.
The second program was a panel entitled “How Texas is Addressing Anti-Semitism and Hate Crimes.” This panel was moderated by the Honorable Florence Shapiro and included: State Senator José Menéndez (D–San Antonio), State Representative Carl Sherman (D – DeSoto), State Representative Craig Goldman (R – Fort Worth), and State Senator Kel Seliger (R- Amarillo). Shapiro praised Senator Menéndez for his work championing the Holocaust Remembrance Week bill passed in 2019. Menéndez responded, “I was lucky I had the four ladies in the car [from San Antonio]…Ginny Wind, Varda Ratner, Sharon Greenwald, and Lisa Barry.” The legislators agreed that more education was needed to prevent hate crimes.
In Session 3, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick spoke about the legislative session from the Senate’s point of view. He concurred that the winter storm was a priority and explained that Senate Bills 2 and 3 included new ERCOT (Electric Reliability Council of Texas) Board Rules.
The Comptroller of Texas, Glen Hegar, was the next speaker. He relayed his job as collecting revenue and paying bills in the 10th largest economy in the world—Texas! He said the “Federal COVID packages have eased the [Texas] budgeting situation.” He warned to “that different strains of COVID could have a drag effect on the economy,” and felt that expanding Medicaid in Texas should be considered to help alleviate the fiscal impact to the state of having the highest number of uninsured people in the country.
In the last session, a panel entitled: Health Care Safety Net– from COVID-19 and Beyond, Speaker of the House Pro Tem Joe Moody (El Paso) and Senator Nathan Johnson (Dallas) discussed the importance of addressing health concerns in our state. Johnson’s priorities this session include the Live Well Texas Program, which would entail accepting incentive dollars from the federal government to provide medical insurance to a million Texans. Johnson says the funds would help save ERs, hospitals, doctors, and other health providers, who currently foot the bill for uncompensated care, especially in rural areas where there is already limited access to healthcare. Moody agreed there would also be an economic stimulus to the state of the multiplier effect of bringing in these federal dollars, and mentioned the high number of Texans who have lost their jobs, and therefore their health insurance, due to the pandemic. When asked “what keeps you up at night,” Moody said he asks himself “are you making the most of this responsibility.” Johnson’s response was “today’s solution begets tomorrow’s problem…we keep following the same cycles in Texas.”
After the events, members of the JCRC of San Antonio held small group meetings with their San Antonio legislators and staff, including Senator Menéndez, Senator Campbell, Representative Larson, and Representative Bernal to discuss the issues in more depth.
This program is a joint effort between the Jewish Federations of Austin, Dallas (and JCRC), El Paso, Houston, San Antonio (and JCRC), and Fort Worth & Tarrant County. Special thanks to JCRC Advocacy Committee Co-Chairs Mina Lopez and Deb Field, JCRC Chair Winslow Swart, and members of the JCRC and the JCRC Advocacy Committee for their time and contribution to the event.