Last week, perhaps as you were putting the finishing touches on your “Best/Worst” feature, I was sitting at my desk (not a flashy piece of furniture, but it does its job well) and contemplating the outcomes of the 81st legislative session. I reflected that while there were some obvious disappointments, I was able to get some remarkably good things done for my constituents in Corpus Christi. My constituents sent me to Austin to work, and I delivered on a legislative agenda that was important to them. Corpus Christi has struggled to grow for many years, and the national economic downturn heightened the urgency to focus on economic development issues important to my district. As a second-term member, I’m proud of my accomplishments and believe my record stacks up very well against the records of both my classmates and other members of the legislature. In fact, after being named to the furniture list, I compared my legislative record to many of my peers and found that I had passed, sponsored, and amended more bills than many other members. By any objective measure, I was not furniture. Frankly, the selection process for Texas Monthly’s furniture list seems both inscrutable and capricious. As I received no inquiries from you prior to publication of the article, I worry that you may have not considered my full record when making your decision. It was troubling to read your comments on the blog that indicated you only went back and looked at my legislative record after the list had been published. This session I passed important legislation with statewide impact as well as bills of local importance and participated in the dialogue on statewide issues of importance to my constituents. For your consideration: * I was active in securing funding for the new mechanical engineering program at Texas A&M University–Corpus Christi. As far as I am aware this was the only new academic degree program besides the UNT Law School that was funded by the legislature this session. This was no small feat and it didn’t happen by accident. It involved substantial legwork (I brought a large delegation of Higher Ed & Appropriations members to Corpus Christi, convincing many of them that an engineering program was both necessary and ideal for TAMUCC) and sustained pressure during session to make sure the program was funded. * I passed three economic development bills with statewide impact that will greatly benefit Corpus Christi and other similarly situated cities. HB 271 raises the number of enterprise zone projects allowed for cities of all sizes (not just Nueces County and larger, as you imply in your blog). This allows the additional enterprise zone slots created last session to be put to work creating jobs and attracting investment to Texas. HB 1505 allows cities to streamline the administration of alcohol sales at municipal arenas, saving taxpayer money. While they are important community venues, many of these arenas operate in the red, so it’s important to realize savings wherever possible. SB 1515, which I co-sponsored with Chairman McCall, allows all Texas localities access to the state’s special events funds so they can attract major events that boost local economies. Previously, the fund was limited to only the big cities. I filed a bill that was virtually identical to the companion bills filed by Chairman McCall and Senator Watson, but gladly signed on to theirs once I realized we all shared the same goals. Apparently, in order to stay off of furniture, I should have fought to have my bill be the one to hit the floor instead of cooperating with other members to get good legislation passed. * I sponsored a local bill that allows the Texas A&M System to enter into an agreement with the Port of Corpus Christi to redevelop a soon-to-be-closed Naval Air Station Ingleside. While the base closure hurts, a successful redevelopment effort could transform the area’s economy. * I passed legislation with statewide impact that takes several creative steps to direct money to the Fund for Veterans Assistance (FVA). The fund was created by a previous legislature but as of January, it had an appallingly low fund balance of just $100.97. * I authored HB 3522 and eventually sponsored its senate companion, SB 1182, which became an omnibus open records and open government bill toward the end of session. I amended one of my bills allowing parents access to information regarding the abuse or neglect of their children onto SB 1182 and accepted other important amendments dealing with the discussion of non-agenda items at city council meetings and public access to sensitive information regarding deadly biological agents. Additionally, I had another open records bill making private prisons subject to the Public Information Act knocked off the Local and Consent Calendar. This is the second session I have been active in open records issues and I plan to continue my work in this area. * I amended HB 1633 by Walle by changing the definition of graffiti, closing a loophole that had allowed taggers to get away with vandalizing property using non-aerosol paint. Rep. Walle graciously allowed me to joint author his bill, which made important changes to Texas’ graffiti laws. * I amended another of my bills onto SB 575 in order to increase revenues for certain municipal crime control districts. Because of a glitch in the law, crime control districts in Corpus and about 40 other cities were not seeing the revenue they expected. My amendment fixed this problem and will help Corpus and other cities maintain police services during this recession. * This is the second session in a row I’ve been an active part of the effort to authorize needle exchange programs in Texas. I worked closely with advocates and other members to achieve this and I’m proud to have been the first member to convince Chairman Brian McCall and Rep. Joe Crabb to joint author my bill, bringing crucial Republican support to the effort. Needle exchange legislation made it further in the House than it ever had before (General State Calendar), and likely would have passed had it come up for a vote before the deadline. * I successfully amended the TxDOT sunset bill to reflect the overwhelming will of the House on red light cameras. While the bill did not pass, Rep. Elkins and I were able to unambiguously demonstrate the House’s opposition to red light cameras and will push this issue again in the future. Despite what anonymous “people in the know” may have told you, I was as active as I possibly could be on the windstorm issue without being on the insurance committee or a conferee on the windstorm bill. As you know, it is difficult to be have outsized influence on a topic like insurance if you are not on a key committee (I am on Corrections, Defense & Veterans’ Affairs, and House Administration). This was especially true for windstorm, since the issue was essentially tied up in committee or in conference for the duration of the legislative session. There was never floor debate on the topic. Had there been a floor debate, I was prepared. When it still appeared that the TDI sunset bill was going to be the vehicle for windstorm, I pre-filed three amendments regarding the issue – one to create a windstorm consumer bill of rights, one to use a portion of the state hotel/motel tax revenue collected along the coast to shore up the windstorm pool, and another amendment that would have offered discounts to windstorm consumers who abide by strict beach setback rules. I discussed these amendments (two of which I had previously authored as bills) with Chairman Smithee, Speaker Pro Tem Eiland, and TWIA director Jim Oliver before filing them. While Chairman Hunter was indeed instrumental and did yeoman’s work on the insurance committee and on conference, I take issue with the assertion that he alone “carried the ball for the Corpus area.” I venture Rep. Hunter would agree that the Coastal Bend delegation worked very well as a team and initiated a full-court press to block legislation that would have had a disastrous economic impact on Corpus Christi. Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa and Rep. Abel Herrero were also fully engaged on the issue. My staff and I spent countless hours on windstorm, were involved in windstorm talks and strategy meetings throughout the session, and kept up daily communication with constituents on the issue. My constituents know I was active on this issue, and to say otherwise just isn’t true. This is not a comprehensive list of everything that I accomplished or attempted during the 81st Session, but I believe that just the efforts I mentioned above should be enough to make any thoughtful person wonder why I was chosen as furniture. I am sure you feel that your decades covering the legislature and long-term relationships with many members give you insight into what’s happening in the Texas House, but I urge you to get out of your comfort zone and see what is really going on. Respectfully, Solomon Ortiz, Jr. State Representative District 33 I am pleased to provide Mr. Ortiz with the opportunity to review his achievements during the session. — Paul Burka
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