State Rep. Cody Harris (R.-Palestine) gave a Town Hall talk during the Palestine Rotary luncheon on Wednesday.
“It was an incredible experience to be a part of the 86th Texas Legislature,” Harris said. . “A lot of the stars aligned, and we were able to accomplish some things that were really historic and unprecedented.”
Harris said that, as freshman state representative, he had to navigate the session with basically no instructions, especially on how to write or file a bill. “It was very intimidating going into it like that,” he said.
Challenges for Harris included furnishing his office 48-hours before the session began when he first received the keys to his bare office space. Luckily, Harris' friends and family helped and his office was complete in time for the Monday swearing in, and receiving over 500-well wishers.
During the first 60 days, by law, bills cannot be heard or filed. Resolutions are heard, there are meetings with constituents, and there are committee hearings. Freshmen representatives learn to navigate the system. “Going into it, I thought that 90 % was know the checklist, know the checklist of what you had to follow to move something through House,” said Harris. “Now that I’ve been through it, 90 % of being an effective legislator is developing relationships with every person in that body, their staff, the people that they are around.
“Whether you agree or disagree on policy issues, you have to develop a relationship to get things done in the House.
“That doesn't’ mean you sell out your principles, but you can be friendly and have good relationships, and still represent your district well.”
Harris cited House Bill 3, the school finance reform package that injected $4.5 billion to student-centered education reforms, over $5 billion in statewide property tax relief, and $2 billion in raises for teachers, librarians, counselors, and nurses.
Harris said that meant $3.4 million of additional funding for Palestine ISD, $1.04 million for Westwood ISD, $1.7 million for Elkhart ISD, and $956,000 for Cayuga in state money.
Harris noted that re-districting is coming up next year.
One of his biggest challenges was fighting for property tax reform and transparency through Senate Bill 2. “There was a lot of pressure to bend to the bigger city state reps, who have more power, who wanted us to really put further restrictions on smaller counties and cities,” said Harris. “But I dug my heels in, along with other guys from East Texas, and we ended up getting something we could live with.
Harris authored four bills during his first session.
“It was very exciting, very challenging,” said Harris of his first year. “We got a lot of good stuff done for our district.”
In closing he said, “Thank you guys from the bottom of my heart for giving me the opportunity to serve. It was the greatest honor and I hope that you choose to send me back.”