140 Days of Keeping Austin Weirder

Written by  Jennifer Woodard

AGC of Texas Group Shot

As the expression goes, "Keep Austin Weird.” In January of every odd-numbered year, Austin, Texas gets a little weirder for 140 days. The 86th Texas Legislature convened on January 8, 2019 and all eyes are now right in our backyard until May 27 when the legislature adjourns sine die.

Just weeks into the session, it became clear that there is a renewed spirit of cooperation and a resolve to address some of the state’s most complicated issues. The Texas House elected a new speaker, Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton), a twenty-plus year Republican lawmaker with a no-nonsense reputation for getting things done.

The House has thirty members serving their very first terms in the legislature, along with some former members who have returned as freshmen after the November general election. The Senate has four brand new faces among its newly elected class.

The first week included a meeting and press conference in front of the Governor’s Mansion between Governor Abbott, Lt. Governor Patrick, and Speaker Bonnen. The “Big 3,” as they are referred to in Austin, set forth an ambitious but united pledge to address “3 Big” issues: School Finance Reform, Teacher Pay Increases, and Property Tax Reform. Despite the fanfare, it was no surprise that these issues would top the list of priorities this session--along with Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts. While transportation was not expected to be in the forefront, we have been busy watching state leaders and the legislature as they debate and develop financial solutions for these important issues.

On the heels of the opening of the session, official inauguration activities for Governor Abbott and Lt. Governor Patrick took place on January 15. The AGC of Texas was proud to sponsor the inaugural affairs. The Chapter enjoys a well-respected reputation as partners with both the Governor and Lt. Governor, as was noted recently by Lt. Governor Patrick. At a speech in Austin in front of an audience of Capitol insiders and political advocates, Governor Patrick called out the transportation industry as an example of how to effectively work together to solve major issues. He noted that transportation industry leaders like AGC of Texas have never “declared war” on the state when we have had differences on policy or legislation or when we did not feel like our priorities were being adequately addressed.

Instead, we worked together to find solutions that ultimately benefitted the citizens and were in the best interest of Texas. In that way, all parties have been successful.

In mid-February, a record number of members participated in the Chapter’s Legislative Fly-In. The day began at the Hyatt for an industry briefing and a special address from Commissioner J. Bruce Bugg. Members gathered onto shuttle buses to the Capitol for a well-coordinated schedule of meetings that included every single member of the House and Senate. The night ended with dinner and cocktails at the Bob Bullock State History Museum. Special thanks to Legislative Drafting and Review Chairman Tracey Schieffer as well as Tracey Borders for coordinating a successful event.

To date, the membership has participated in several calls to action regarding numerous bills that would negatively affect quarries and aggregate production. These calls are the most effective means of influencing the progress of bills both good and bad. Thank you to all who participated. It means the difference between success and failure.

The session still has a way to go at the time of this writing, and our Legislative Drafting and Review Committee, with the support of our legislative team, is burning the midnight oil to stay on top of hundreds of pieces of legislation affecting the industry.

The Chapter’s transition in leadership from Past-President Chad Clark to President Trey Pebley has been very smooth. Chad’s leadership and work over 2018 has helped put the Chapter in an extremely healthy and stable position. We recognized unprecedented growth in our PAC and public affairs activity which was a mission for his presidency beginning in January of last year.

President Pebley opened the January membership luncheon with his commitment to provide tremendous leadership this year. Membership and member involvement will be a focus for him in 2019. It was a special day as his father Howard Pebley and mother Rosann joined his wife Kathleen and his sons in the audience. Howard served as Chapter president in 1997, and his involvement continues today. Trey credited Howard’s example of including family in AGC activities as an inspiration for him. The Board of Directors elected Robert Adamson with Longview Bridge & Road to serve as President- Elect this year. Robert will join Trey in leading AGC of Texas through this legislative session and the rest of the year.

The Chapter staff has been strengthened with additions to our government affairs team. We have made major advancements in issues handled by our DBE Committee, Workforce Development Committee, and AGC/TxDOT Joint Committee. President Clark made his goals and objectives clear to the staff and gave all of us the support and leadership we needed to execute. On behalf of the entire membership, we thank Chad, Melanie, and their family for all that they did to make 2018 a terrific year for AGC of Texas.

The coming months will bring the results from the legislative session and we will work to keep the membership updated and informed along the way. We genuinely appreciate the high level of activity this membership shows during the legislative session. If you have not participated in any calls to action yet, I urge you to do so.

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