Representatives discuss concerns for rural Texas ahead of 88th legislative session
The Texas Tribune held their Future of Rural Texas event at Texas Tech on Thursday
LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - West Texas lawmakers met at Texas Tech for the Texas Tribune Future of Rural Texas event to talk about their priorities for the upcoming legislative session. Topics included education, healthcare, drought and Private University Funds (PUF).
The panel included Lubbock representative Dustin Burrows (R), Midland representative Brooks Landgraf (R), and Eagle Pass representative Eddie Morales (D).
There was broad agreement that a Republican majority in Austin is good for rural Texas, since Democrats mostly represent urban areas. Morales did mention that Democrats need to think more about what rural communities need.
“That, more than anything, should be a message to the Democrats as far as we cannot continue to try to win races statewide and running like Democrats,” Morales said. “We need to be very aware of the rural necessities in our constituents out in rural Texas.”
One of the most discussed topics was school vouchers, which would send state subsidies to send children to private schools at a parent’s request. Representative Morales supports these vouchers. Representative Burrows says the legislature needs to discuss STAAR testing and school safety first. Landgraf believes there needs to be an option for children with special needs.
On the topic of higher education, all three agree it is time for the legislature to adjust the PUF and include Texas Tech.
“There does need to be some recognition that the money that goes into that fund comes from a part of the state that does not have that money reinvested into that part of the state - particularly higher education,” Landgraf said.
Landgraf said a four-year university in his district, UT Permian Basin, is a branch of the University of Texas but only receives a small amount of the PUF fund. Morales and Landgraf both said they would be open to giving some of the PUF fund to Texas Tech and other universities.
Landgraf says to change where the PUF fund goes, it would take a constitutional amendment, which would require approval from voters.
When it comes to rural healthcare, Burrows says COVID-19 taught us a lot about alternative ways for patients to to receive care.
“The local pharmacies that are out here in rural Texas, and they’ve been allowed because of COVID waivers to test and treat,” Burrows said. “So, you got to understand most of my rural communities do not have a doctor or nurse practitioner, but they have a pharmacy.”
Burrows says rural Americans not having to go into a larger community to get tested can help improve their quality of life. He also mentioned telemedicine as a good tool that Texas Tech has been using for years - which can be an example for the rest of the state.
The 88th legislative session begins Jan. 10.
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