From state education funding to a Waco tourism district, State Rep. Charles “Doc” Anderson, R-Waco, said his priorities for the upcoming legislative session make up a mixed bag of solutions for overarching, statewide quagmires and targeted plans for more specific issues facing his constituents.
Surging property taxes and the state’s share of public education funding are sure to take up much of the oxygen in the Capitol for the 140-day session that starts Jan. 8. But Anderson’s goals also include obtaining insurance for children affected by craniofacial abnormalities and amending the Driver Responsibility Program, which doles out fines for traffic offenses.
Legislation requiring insurance companies to cover medical payments for children with cleft palates and similar features was introduced in the previous session. Anderson now hopes the bill can withstand anticipated backlash from those companies next year.
Families in the district have approached him about the issue, Anderson said. Children with craniofacial abnormalities often face aspiration pneumonia, speech irregularities and lowered self-esteem.
“If we can treat these youngsters a little more efficiently early on and not have to deal with in the hospital setting later, I think we’d be better off,” he said.
Anderson was elected Nov. 6 to his eighth consecutive two-year term representing House District 56, which includes much of North Waco, West Waco, Woodway, Hewitt, Robinson, Lorena, Moody, McGregor and Crawford.
He also hopes to support changes to the Texas Department of Public Safety’s Driver Responsibility Program to make it less burdensome on people facing fines and more beneficial financially for the state. The program adds fines on top of initial fines for people convicted of DWI or driving without a license or insurance and “causes more harm than good,” Anderson said. Revenue from the program’s fines is distributed to state trauma facilities and to the state’s general fund.
On property taxes, which have steadily increased locally and statewide, Anderson said he would rather not prognosticate on potential relief measures. Gov. Greg Abbott has called for a 2.5 percent limit on local entities’ annual growth in property tax revenue. Tax rates that would bring year-over-year revenue growth of more than 2.5 percent would require approval by two-thirds of voters in an entity’s jurisdiction.
Anderson has said he would like the state to fund at least 40 percent of public education costs, compared to the state’s current 37 percent share. He is awaiting the findings of a bipartisan committee formed to tackle the issue.
“It’s been a very convoluted issue for 40 years,” he said. “Nobody’s really been able to make any significant reform there, so this is the one time that we’re not under the mandate of a court somewhere, because that’s what’s happened in my history, anyway, is you end up responding to the court and that’s about it. You never really do get any serious reform. We’re hoping, in general, that would be the primary issue.”
A handful of issues affecting Waco residents await Anderson as he returns to Austin.
Municipal restrictions on short-term housing rentals are expected to face attacks from Republicans. Waco requires city council approval for property owners who wish offer short-term rentals, including through Airbnb, VRBO or HomeAway. Bolstering lawmakers’ argument is a Texas Supreme Court order stating that rentals should be considered residential uses, not commercial uses.
Anderson said he supports the rights of property owners to monetize their property, especially in Waco, where the hotel occupancy rate is the highest in the state. He also said he understands the need for “common sense type conditions.”
He said he plans to support the city of Waco’s pursuit of a public improvement district focused on tourism. Approval by the state Legislature is needed for the city to create a board of hoteliers who would manage a fund of an estimated $1 million in assessments on hotel stays.
The money would go toward marketing efforts and incentives for organizations considering Waco as a convention or event site.
Anderson said he is looking for tighter regulations on rent-to-own furniture companies to prevent customers overdue furniture loans from facing criminal charges. In October 2017, The Texas Tribune reported that “at least six rent-to-own companies pressed charges against more than 400 customers in the past three years.”
In April, Anderson asked the House Business and Industry Committee to study the issue before the upcoming session, the Texas Tribune reported.
Anderson also said broadband internet should be more accessible to rural residents.
Hewitt resident Wendi Jones was all grins Friday holding her newly adopted daughter, 17-month-old Camri.
Jones has fostered several children over the years, she said, surrounded by her four other children.
“We just always prayed that if God wanted us to adopt that we would adopt,” she said. “We’re excited if you can’t tell.”
A total of 22 families, including Jones’, adopted more than 30 children Friday as part of the 11th annual Adoption Day celebration hosted by the Baylor Law School’s Public Interest Legal Society and the Department of Family and Child Protective Services.
Dressed as an elf to match the “I’ll be Home for Christmas” theme for this year’s event, Baylor law professor Bridget Fuselier said she is honored to have played a part in about 300 adoptions in the past decade. She is the sponsor of Baylor’s Public Interest Legal Society.
Adoption Day is part of a nationwide effort to call attention to the more than 117,000 foster children across the country waiting for adoption, Fuselier said. There are 30,000 children in foster care in Texas, including almost 4,000 waiting for adoption.
Miracles unfolded in the Sheila and Walter Umphrey Law Center on Friday, Law School Dean Brad Toben said.
Local CPS Judge Nikki Mundkowsky heard from caseworkers, attorneys and family members testifying about the children up for adoption and the families’ desire to adopt, in a room decorated in Christmas lights, trees and presents surrounding the bench. Student volunteers dressed as snowmen and elves looked on.
Fuselier said she is thrilled with how the festivities have grown year after year. She started the event in 2008 after handling an adoption pro bono each year in her law practice. Each year the event is organized around a child-friendly theme, and the law building is decorated, students wear costumes, and the families receive themed cakes and gift baskets.
The event offers a happier alternative setting to the county courtrooms where children were formally removed from their parents, Fuselier said.
“I thought everything bad that’s happened has been there, and so on the happiest day, why not bring them to a different location where it can just be joy and happiness?” she said. “The more happiness we can have the better.”
Many of the children adopted Friday had been in foster care for several years. For many who work with the children through the system, Adoption Day is the day they are able to replenish their mental and spiritual reserves to continue their important work, said Andrea Barnett, adoption supervisor for the McLennan County Department of Family and Child Protective Services office.
Criselda and Domonic Guerrero expanded their immediate family by two Friday.
Sophie, 2, and Jeremiah, 3, were already a part of the extended family, a niece and nephew, Criselda Guerrero said.
“Their mother just isn’t in a good place,” Criselda Guerrero said, pushing away tears. “We thought we were done. Our baby is 12 and we have one in college and now we’re starting all over.”
In the Kronzer Courtroom at Baylor, Mundkowsky encouraged the newly adopted children to stand beside her and bang her gavel on the desk to signify the completion of their adoption.
Mundkowsky said being a small part of a system that can give a child a loving, safe and supportive family that every child deserves is a great honor and the highlight of her job.
“It is truly incredible to see and feel the culmination of the department’s work, in conjunction with the work of attorneys, others and families on Adoption Day,” she said.
China Spring resident Amie Ladd returned to Baylor Law School on Friday to adopt the sister of a child she adopted in 2015.
Ladd said CPS contacted her about adopting the recently born girl to keep the siblings together. Just five days after Mia was born, she was in the Ladd home. Now 13 months old, Mia’s adoption was made official Friday.
“It was important that they stay together as siblings so we opened our home back up and took sister in,” she said. “I think the department really wants to keep children together. Sibling bond is very important. To have them together forever is a great feeling. To know that they never have to be separated, even if they don’t have the same smile as me or the same hair color as me, they will have each other.”
To support future Adoptions Day programs, email Fuselier at email@example.com.
Baylor University is fighting back against a former football player who in a recent lawsuit accused the university of botching a Title IX investigation of a gang rape allegation and depriving him of a scholarship and a shot at the NFL.
In a response this week in 414th State District Court, the university accuses the former player, Jeremy Faulk, of ducking responsibility for his decisions and fudging the facts of the case. The university says it was within its rights to cut him from the team and had grounds apart from the Title IX investigation to revoke his scholarship.
Faulk, who transferred onto the Baylor football team in January 2016, was accused in April of that year of joining with his roommate to sexually assault a female student.
Faulk’s accuser, who declined to press charges, told police she screamed “No,” and “I don’t want this.” Faulk has acknowledged having sex with the woman but said it was consensual.
When the Title IX office began investigating the incident, he was dismissed from the team and had his scholarship revoked. Faulk appealed the scholarship revocation and had it reinstated in July 2016, but he quit Baylor and the Title IX investigation was suspended.
In his lawsuit Faulk claims that he was scapegoated by university officials, who were racially prejudiced and wanted to portray an image “that the sexual assault problem at Baylor was not campuswide but confined to the football team.”
Baylor’s lawsuit said the disciplinary actions were the decision not of regents or top administrators but of athletics officials who “decided that Faulk was too big a risk to remain in the football program,” at a time when the university had just shaken up its top leadership over a sexual assault scandal.
“The problem with Faulk’s conspiracy theory is that it ignores the reality of what was happening in the spring 2016 semester at Baylor — and his own conduct,” Julie Springer, an Austin lawyer representing Baylor, wrote in the motion.
The university, through a spokesman, declined to comment on Faulk’s case, which entered the public eye in June 2016 through an ESPN report. Faulk has said he was not given a reason for his dismissal and denies the accusation of sexual assault.
The university has stressed that Faulk could return to Baylor as a student under full scholarship because a review panel reinstated it in July 2016. But it notes in the lawsuit that in the appeal process, Baylor officials focused not on the Title IX investigation then underway but on a sexual harassment complaint at Faulk’s former school that he failed to disclose to Baylor officials.
Baylor officials said that during Faulk’s time at Florida Atlantic University in 2013, Faulk and a friend allegedly barged in on a teammate and a girlfriend who were both naked and lying in bed. When Faulk and his friend allegedly threatened to pull off the sheets, police were called, though no charges were filed.
Baylor has said the Title IX investigation into Faulk would be reopened if he chose to return to the university. Baylor said it was “within its right” to remove him from the team because of the allegations “at a time when the nation was laser-focused on Baylor and questions surrounding sexual assault.”
“Participation in Baylor Athletics is a privilege and not a right,” Springer wrote. “Removing that privilege in the face of serious allegations is not illegal.”
Faulk signed with the New York Jets in August of 2017 and was cut from the roster the following month. The Cleveland Browns signed him in January of this year and cut him in September. Faulk and his lawyer, Richard Tate, claimed in the lawsuit that the sexual assault allegations have harmed Faulk’s career.
Tate declined to comment for this article.