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Erin's agenda for Texas

Erin is fighting for a better future for our district and for all Texans.

Education

State Funding for Public Schools


When I was a public school student here in Texas, the state paid 60% of the cost of education. When I was elected, this was down to 38%. Last session, I helped increase state funding for education from 38% to 45%. We still have a lot of work to do, and I pledge to protect our investment in public schools and fight for more education funding from the state. This both ensures our kids get a great education and reduces the burden on local property taxes. Every Texas student deserves a great education, and the State of Texas must keep its promises to our children.




End Teaching to the Test


Educators and students must be given more flexibility in the classroom. Ending shame-and-blame testing will give them the space they need to do their jobs, particularly in the challenging times we’re in right now. I called for the governor to waive testing for the 2019–2020 school year, so that our schools and families could focus on health and learning, instead of an ineffective accountability system, and I’ve also called for waiving testing for the 2020–2021 school year. Texas standardized testing is above the federal minimum, and this exacerbates our "teaching to the test" problem. Testing should be used to evaluate students to improve their learning, not for shaming students, blaming teachers, and punishing schools. The inappropriate fixation on testing cuts into more productive teaching time. Teachers are trained professionals and we need to give them the space to adapt to their classrooms and trust them to do the job they were trained to do.




Protect Compensation and Benefits for Educators


As professionals, we must compensate teachers fairly and competitively and keep our retirement promises to them. Most retired educators are not eligible for social security, and the Teacher Retirement Service pension hasn't given a cost-of-living increase since 1999. Many retired teachers live in poverty or are forced to return to work. I helped pass legislation to give educators pay raises across the state of Texas and to give retired educators a one time bonus payment. Rising healthcare costs and an underfunded healthcare plan have exacerbated these challenges. 2018 costs have increased 50% or more, leading many retired educators to risk going without health coverage. Our retired teachers deserve better, and if Texas continues breaking its promises to them, we will have trouble recruiting great educators in the future.




Keep Public Dollars in Public Schools


I believe in strong public schools that have the resources and flexibility to serve each and every Texas student. However, there's a vocal contingent in the Texas government who are trying to break public schools, so that they can create a voucher system. This would allow our public tax dollars to subsidize private, for-profit schools instead of funding the public schools that are integral parts of our communities. Because the value of a voucher wouldn't cover the full tuition costs of the vast majority of private schools, vouchers would effectively be a tax break for wealthier Texans who can already afford to send their children to private school. In addition, private and charter schools are not required to serve all students. Bleeding money from our public school system would threaten education quality for the students left behind. Redirecting public dollars to a voucher system would increase inequity, enable voluntary racial segregation, and starve our public school system of much-needed funding.




Higher Education Tuition


Texas is not producing enough college graduates to meet employers' needs. College students in Texas, at both four-year and two-year institutions, struggle to complete degrees at the rate our state needs to provide the skilled labor force needed for competitive economic growth in the future. The rising cost of college and reductions in availability of financial aid are a key factor in this. More and more of the financial burden of education is being pushed onto individual students and their families, which forces students to rely on loans and working during school to cover costs. Dependence on debt and working long hours during school leads to lower completion rates and higher stress. The Legislature needs to make a commitment to ensure that all students, including those with the greatest financial need, have access to quality higher education.





Health Care

Expand Medicaid


Texas has the highest uninsured rate in the nation, and healthcare costs are skyrocketing across the board. The biggest single thing Texas can do to improve health coverage and reduce costs is expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Only 12 states have failed to expand Medicaid. Right now, Medicaid in Texas only serves very poor children, very poor pregnant people, and severely disabled people. This leaves a large portion of the population who are poor without health coverage. When uninsured or underinsured individuals receive health care that they are unable to pay for, those costs are passed on to patients who can pay and to taxpayers. This drives up everyone's costs. Before the COVID-19 Pandemic, expanding Medicaid would bring $6 billion of federal funding into Texas (that we're already paying for in our income taxes), and it would provide health coverage to another 1.5 million Texans. 10,000 of those Texans live right here in House District 45. Those numbers have only gone up during the pandemic as thousands of Texans have lost employer provided healthcare coverage. It's time to provide all Texans with a base standard of health care and to lower costs for everyone.




Reproductive Health Care and Education


Reproductive rights have been consistently under attack in Texas. We cannot know all the personal and medical circumstances behind a person’s decision to have an abortion; every person’s situation is different. Once someone has made the decision to have an abortion, they should have access to safe, timely, and affordable health care. I will continue to fight against the erosion of Texans’ access to health care and work to expand preventative care and comprehensive family planning services for all Texans. In addition, Texas needs better reproductive education. Texas ranks fifth in the nation for teen births and first for repeat teen births. This isn't surprising, because 25% of Texas school districts offer no reproductive education and another 60% only offer abstinence-only. Young people cannot make good choices for themselves without adequate information. Comprehensive reproductive education programs reduce rates of STDs and teen pregnancy and often delay the onset of sexual activity for teens. These programs also teach healthy relationship models and consent, reducing sexual assault and intimate partner violence. I will work towards expanding evidence-based reproductive education to every Texas school district.




Medical Cannabis


I support full legalization of cannabis in Texas, but in the interim, I helped pass legislation to expand Texas's current "compassionate use" program to more patients and to make it less cumbersome. I hope in the future we can trust medical professionals to prescribe it appropriately, just as we do with other prescriptions, and do away with unnecessary restrictions on what conditions it can be prescribed for. Medical cannabis has the potential to treat pain and PTSD patients who are currently being prescribed more dangerous and habit-forming medications such as opiates and anxiety medications.





Criminal Justice

Raise the Age


Right now, 17-year-olds in Texas are considered adults for criminal justice purposes. The age of criminal responsibility should be raised from 17 to 18. That would mean that 17-year-olds who commit crimes would be under the jurisdiction of the juvenile justice system, while still giving the ability to a judge to decide on a case-by-case basis if the crime warrants the 17-year-old being sent to the adult system. When 17-year-olds are arrested and tried in the adult criminal justice system, they are subject to confinement in an adult prison setting, exposing them to higher risks of physical and sexual abuse. They are also more likely to be placed in isolation for their protection, which poses a severe danger to their mental and physical health. 17-year-olds confined in an adult prison setting are also more likely to reoffend and increase their chances of a continued life of crime versus those that are held in youth prison settings. Youth deserve the opportunity to receive treatment to help them get on the path of becoming productive members of society after serving their time.




Cannabis Legalization


Cannabis should be made legal for medical and recreational use in Texas. Enforcement of cannabis prohibition laws disproportionately impacts communities of color and individuals with lower socioeconomic status. In addition, law enforcement officials’ time and resources would be better spent addressing serious crimes instead of arresting and prosecuting adults for using cannabis. Also, by forcing cannabis into an underground market, Texas is guaranteeing that sales will be entirely uncontrolled. Illegal cannabis dealers do not check a person’s age, and the product they sell is unregulated and possibly impure, exposing consumers to other more harmful drugs. In a regulated market, not only would Texas receive as much as $500 million a year in beneficial tax revenue, but a consumer would have to prove their age and the product would be regulated and safe for consumption. Legalization would also help mitigate the opioid crisis impacting our state.




End Private Prisons


There should be no profit motive in our criminal justice system. The for-profit prison model creates perverse incentives to lock up as many people as possible, all on the taxpayers’ dime. This has resulted in over-criminalization, inhumane treatment, overcrowding, routine abuse of detainees, and inadequate services and health care. The U.S. Department of Justice announced in 2016 that it would neither seek new contracts nor renew existing contracts with private prison companies. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice should follow the lead of the Justice Department and end their relationships with the for-profit prison industry.





Fair Elections

Access to the Polls


Texas has a terrible history of discriminatory voting practices, from whites-only primaries to poll taxes to literacy tests. These tendencies were resurrected during the 2011 legislative session with the passage of a strict voter ID law. Voter fraud is an imagined problem, and I will continue to fight for the repeal of the voter ID law as well as for increasing access to the ballot box. I believe that we need online voter registration, same day voter registration, and access to mail-in ballots for all Texans. During the 2019 session, I carried legislation to expand voter ID laws to include student IDs and supported legislation for online voter registration. Unfortunately, all election reform legislation was held up by the Republican majority, but I will be filing this bill again during the 2021 session. COVID-19 has also driven home that we must pass legislation allowing absentee voting for all Texans. I am committed to allowing every single Texan to access vote by mail as well as providing a central system for voters to check the status of their ballots and allowing ballots to be dropped off at polling locations.




Fair Legislative Districts


Every ten years after the census is completed, the state legislature redraws the boundaries for each state house, state senate, and congressional district in the state. This will be happening during the next legislative session in 2021. The process is incredibly political, fundamentally unfair, and leads to districts that make no sense. For example, 52% of Texans showed up in 2016 to vote for the Republican ticket, and yet 69% of the individuals elected were Republicans. This 17 point gap between votes and representation is mostly due to gerrymandering. In addition, extreme gerrymandering divides communities between multiple districts, draws districts that span small sections of many different communities, and makes it hard for those communities to reach out to their elected representatives. The only way to permanently address this problem is to take the power to draw districts away from legislators and instead give it to a nonpartisan commission. Texas citizens deserve the right to vote on a constitutional amendment to create an Independent Redistricting Commission to draw our legislative and congressional districts. We do not have time to implement an Independent Redistricting Commission before redistricting, so I will prioritize keeping communities of interest whole throughout the redistricting process.




Campaign Finance Reform


Texas is one of eleven states that have no contribution limits for state elections. An individual can give unlimited amounts of money to a candidate, and we've seen outsized donations right here in House District 45. My predecessor received hundreds of thousands of dollars from just two donors. Lawmakers cannot receive that much money from individuals and remain independent. Unlimited donations give the wealthy unfair power over our laws and favor candidates with wealthy social circles. I support campaign finance reform to establish contribution limits in Texas elections, preferably matching the federal individual limit of $2,800.





Environment

Renewable Energy


Texas has a tremendous opportunity to lead the country in both fighting climate change and creating green jobs. (Jobs in solar alone increased 34% from 2015 to 2016.) To get there, the state’s renewable energy portfolio standards need to be more diversified with increased investment in solar and wind power. Texas passed a Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard in 1999 that encouraged investment, but after the state met that goal in 2005, the standard has not been updated. I am fighting to update the standard so that Texas renewables do not lose their momentum and to establish net metering guidelines for energy providers so that property owners can make wise decisions about investing in renewable energy.




Conserving Water


Water resources in Texas are likely to become more scarce as climate change exacerbates the pressures of development. I will fight to give our groundwater conservation districts the tools they need to protect our water, and I will work to replace the outdated "Rule of Capture" with either the "Rule of Reasonable Use" or state-owned groundwater. Water resources within House District 45 are also under threat. Last session I successfully passed legislation to allow the City of Buda to store fresh water in the Hays Trinity Aquifer in times of abundance so they can draw from it during peak usage times and drought. I will continue to support programs that encourage increased water conservation and reuse. Other water conservation initiatives that I’ll pursue include: phasing in heightened standards for gray water reclamation and rainwater collection in new construction; incentivizing the retrofitting of existing homes for greywater use and rainwater collection; removing barriers to purple pipe use for municipal wastewater treatment plants (which would also encourage municipalities and developments to not seek a discharge permit); and giving counties more tools to direct development in relation to water use planning and water conservation standards.




Protecting Open Space and Dark Skies


The rapid growth and development in Central Texas is threatening open space here in the Hill Country. We have millions of dollars in backlogged maintenance work in our state parks, and we need additional public parklands to conserve wildlife habitats, provide recreation opportunities, and protect local character. Last session, I helped pass legislation to commit our sporting good sales tax dollars to our parks system so that they can address the maintenance backlog. Hays and Blanco Counties are world-class astrotourism destinations, and our communities have invested in protecting our night skies. During the 2019 session, I passed House Bill 4158, the Hill Country Night Sky Tourism bill, which gives small cities in Hays and Blanco Counties another important tool to invest in local tourism efforts. This legislation recognizes the importance of dark skies to visitors and residents of the Hill Country and allows communities to use hotel occupancy tax funds to incentivize updating outdoor lighting. HB 4158 is now law, and dark skies cities like Blanco and Dripping Springs get to continue shining.





Protecting All Texans

Immigrant Rights


Our national immigration policy has been broken for decades. We economically incentivize people to immigrate to the United States, then we punish them for being here, and force them to live in the shadows. I support Congress pursuing comprehensive immigration reform to make it easier for people to travel here to legally work and to create a path to citizenship for folks who’ve been productive members of our communities. Meanwhile, the State of Texas should have no part in propping up a broken system. Senate Bill 4, passed in 2017, enables racial profiling and takes away local discretion. Local communities should have the flexibility to determine what is best for their community regarding cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and no Texas law enforcement office should have the right to demand proof of someone's immigration status during a routine traffic stop. I will fight to repeal Senate Bill 4. I also support giving undocumented Texans access to a better livelihood, which includes providing access to driver's licenses. Many undocumented immigrants end up in jail and at risk for deportation because of driving without a license. Last session, I fought for Texas to issue driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants, so that they can safely take their children to school and attend work without fear of being pulled over for a minor infraction and put at risk of deportation. This makes it easier for everyone to access motor vehicle insurance, which makes everyone on our roads safer.




LGBTQIA+ Rights


Under Texas law, it is still legal to fire someone or deny them housing on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. I will work to close that gap in our civil rights laws and provide comprehensive anti-discrimination protection for LGBTQIA+ Texans. This anti-discrimination protection would also cover discrimination from government agencies, counties, and municipalities. During the 2019 session, the legislature passed SB 1978 “Right to Discriminate” bill. This was yet another attack on the LGBTQIA+ community and puts Texas on the wrong side of history. The Texas House LGBTQ Caucus stood firm against this legislation but unfortunately was ultimately defeated. I’m committed to make this the last time that Texas passes legislation targeting the LGBTQIA+ community. As a founding member of the Texas House LGBTQ Caucus and a bisexual woman, I want the Texas LGBTQIA+ community to know that we’ll continue to fight for each and every Texan. There are times to work across the aisle and time to stand and fight; hate legislation falls under the latter.




Sexual Assault Prevention and Enforcement


Sexual assault remains prevalent across the State of Texas. The University of Texas released a study in 2017 that found that 15% of undergraduate women at UT reported they had been raped, and 28% were victims of unwanted sexual touching. Last session I worked with Representative Donna Howard to fund an audit of our sexual assault prosecution processes. Too many sexual assault cases do not receive the investigation or vigorous prosecution that the survivors deserve. Next session, I will use the results from this audit to target resources to struggling jurisdiction, so that they can help ensure justice for sexual assault survivors. Consent education needs to be incorporated into reproductive education programs in our schools, and Texas needs to adopt a model of Affirmative Consent or "yes means yes". This will help shift the culture in Texas away from one that provides predators with plausible deniability to one that encourages all participants in sexual behavior to actively be mindful of their partner's comfort and well-being.




Sexual Harassment Accountability


In Texas, workers at companies with fewer than 15 employees have no recourse if they're the victims of sexual harassment. Furthermore, the reporting window for sexual harassment in Texas is only six months. Workers are harassed at companies of all sizes, and figuring out how to report without risking your safety or employment often takes longer than six months. Every Texan deserves a workplace free of sexual harassment, and I will fight to apply the same sexual harassment protections to all workplaces and expand the reporting window to two years. During the 2019 legislative session, I worked with Senator Zaffirini on legislation to allow all Texas employees to make sexual harassment claims. Unfortunately, this bill was a casualty of the bill passage deadline. I look forward to passing this legislation next session.





Common Sense Government

Local Control for Local Growth


In Texas, counties have no power to plan for growth and guide development in their unincorporated territory. I will push to give counties more power to plan for the immense growth happening in Texas, particularly in District 45. The legislature needs to stop forcing one-size-fits-all requirements on cities and counties like the restriction on tree ordinances passed during the 2017 legislative session. Different communities have different priorities and many communities across the state have created innovative programs and policies to address issues and problems the state legislature has chosen to ignore or exacerbate. Cities and counties need to have the power to be able to dictate how their communities look and operate when it comes to regulations like dark skies, hours of operation for businesses, minimum wage requirements, noise ordinances, and water conservation policies. Last session I used the House Rules to stop a bad bill that would have eliminated local water quality protections right here in House District 45. I’ll continue to stand up for our cities and counties to have the tools they need to manage our rapid growth.




Reducing Gun Violence


The only way we'll get any sort of gun safety reform in Texas is to work closely with grassroots activists. I am committed to working with Moms Demand Action, a group that is using the model of Mothers Against Drunk Driving to build bottom-up support for common sense gun safety protections. In fact, I have received endorsements from Brady PAC, EveryTown for Safety Action Fund, and Moms Demand Action has given me the Gun Sense Candidate distinction. In a time when more and more Americans are concerned about gun violence, Texas has an opportunity to push for safe storage guidelines and liability for gun owners who don't follow them, closing the background check loopholes, and restricting access to weapons of war. To address mass shootings, the most important things Texas can address in the short term are restricting access to large magazine clips and mirroring the regulation of semiautomatic rifles to current regulation of semiautomatic handguns. Currently semiautomatic rifles are regulated just like hunting rifles. Long term, Texas needs to adopt better screening systems for gun violence, particularly related to domestic violence incidents, which almost always precede mass shootings.




Fair Taxes


Texas’ revenue system needs updating. Our state taxes are regressive: households with the lowest incomes pay the highest percentage of their income in taxes and households with the highest incomes pay the lowest percentage of their income in taxes. In other words, those who can least afford it pay the most. The poorest 20% of Texans pay an average of over 12% of their income in state and local taxes while the top 1% pay an average of under 3%. Meanwhile, the Legislature has cut the corporate franchise tax. Texas state revenue comes from various taxing resources such as sales taxes, franchise taxes, natural gas and oil production taxes, and motor vehicle sales taxes. Property taxes, however, only go to school districts, cities, counties, and special purpose districts like water districts. Property tax bills have risen tremendously in recent years, and House District 45 has not been spared in this increase. Much of this is caused by the scaleback of state support for public schools, which has forced school districts to raise their tax rates to make up for that diminishing state support. Increasing the money that the state provides to local school districts will go a long way to lower Texans’ tax bills. As your legislator, I worked to diversify Texas's revenue sources, to make our tax structure more progressive, and to reduce the burden on local property taxes. Last session we passed $5.5 billion in property tax relief, which unfortunately only slowed the growth of most homeowners’ taxes in House District 45. I’m ready to go back to Austin to continue the fight for Texas taxpayers.




Transportation


Many residents of House District 45 do not work in the same city that they live in, with the majority traveling up IH-35 every day to work in Austin. That commute continues to get longer and longer, eating up valuable time spent with family and loved ones, among other frustrating effects. Texas needs to focus strategically on multimodal and regional transportation options (including mass transit) to help Central Texans with their commutes, which will result in less wear and tear on roads that the state is struggling to maintain currently. Further, I oppose any public tax dollars going towards the building of toll-only roads. No Texan should have to pay twice to drive on a road.





Erin Zwiener

Texas House District 45

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Pol. Adv. paid for by Erin Zwiener For Texas House