Rep. Burns talks Paxton, session


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May 12, 2023

Rep. Burns talks Paxton, session

State Rep. DeWayne Burns, right, visits with Rotarians Mollie Mims, left, and

State Rep. DeWayne Burns, right, visits with Rotarians Mollie Mims, left, and Lori Pedigo during Thursday's Cleburne Rotary Club meeting.

The question on the minds of many perhaps, the suspension of former Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton following his May 27 impeachment by the Texas House of Representatives arose late in state Rep. DeWayne Burns, R-Cleburne's, Thursday visit with the Cleburne Rotary Club.

Not an enviable task Burns said, adding that he by and large agrees with Paxton's political policies. Burns said he nonetheless joined other House members in voting to impeach Paxton.

The move to impeach grew out of a $3.3 million out-of-court settlement Paxton paid to former employees who sued him after he fired them. The former employees said they were fired after they accused Paxton of improprieties in office.

Paxton subsequently asked the Texas Legislature to pay the settlement amount, Burns said.

"When questioned, he refused to answer any questions about it," Burns said. "Before we were going to consider appropriating the money we had the General Investigating Committee look into it. They uncovered some pretty egregious violations of ethics and violations of law. Twenty counts over the course of several months."

The House in such cases acts similar to a grand jury in whether or not to recommend impeachment proceedings. Should the House so vote, the matter moves to the Senate for trial.

"The Senate will hold a trial this summer and they will determine whether or not there are impeachment worthy issues," Burns said. "I believe they will find that there were."

Burns stressed that Paxton, like anyone accused, remains innocent until proved guilty.

"[The House] was put in that position and asked to fund this lawsuit settlement without any information," Burns said. "Once we uncovered what we uncovered. The cry I hear always is that we need to return to Christian, family values, the things that made this country great.

"Part of that is that we expect high moral character from the folks we elect. I do too, and you should expect that from me. We have to hold people accountable. If it turns out it's not and everything is fine then Paxton will remain our attorney general."

Burns, first elected in 2014 and now in his fifth term, focused more on the recently completed 88th Legislative Session and the special sessions following with more expected to come.

"We had over 8,000 bills introduced of which about 1,200 made it to the governor's desk for signing," Burns said. "It's a bill killing machine down there. That's how the process was designed years ago because there's a lot of great ideas, but there's also a lot of bad ideas."

The state budget, as constitutionally required to be passed, includes a surplus of about $30 billion.

"Credit that to the Texas economy but also, unfortunately, credit a lot of that to inflation," Burns said. "When you pay more for goods you’re paying more in sales tax and that's how the state raises money."

A portion of that surplus, about $17.6 billion, will go toward property tax relief. How that will work remains to be determined thanks to competing plans between the House, Senate and Gov. Greg Abbott.

One plan calls for raising homestead exemptions up to $100,000 and dedicating about $8 billion toward compressing property tax rates.

The House plan calls for capping appraisal values at 5% and donating the rest of the money toward compression.

"The governor only wants to see tax compression," Burns said. "Just once buy down the rate. Spend 26 cents per $100 of valuation and put it all back to buy down the rate."

"So we’re literally still trying to figure out how that's going to come back to you," Burns said. "It's already there. We’ve already put it in the budget."

On a more positive note, retired teachers will soon receive a cost of living adjustment.

"They haven't seen one in decades," Burns said. "I also filed a bill that said those COLAs should happen every six years unless the Legislature votes it down. I don't think a legislator in their right mind would do that. Unfortunately, my bill didn't get a hearing."

Nor did teachers receive pay raises despite the fact that other state employees did.

All involved hoped to raise teacher pay, Burns said, adding that calls within the bill that would have authorized those raises also called for vouchers.

"I hope we can revisit that and I hope it's not tied to the voucher thing," Burns said.

Burns said he's not sure when asked if he supports vouchers but appeared to lean against their approval.

Burns voiced support for school choice but said vouchers could potentially lead to "one of the largest expansions of government spending and authority we’ve ever seen."

Such as system would, among other factors, be unfair to children already enrolled in private schools, Burns said, adding that he doesn't believe the state has the funding to adequately pay for such a system at any rate.

"It's not in our constitution that we provide private education," Burns said. "It's in our constitution that we provide free public education."

It can be frustrating at times and fly in the face of common sense, Burns said of the legislative process.

"A bill we introduced that would allow for children with severe cognitive disabilities to not have to take the Star Test didn't make it again," Burns said. "This is the fourth time we’ve filed that bill. It makes no sense."

Another bill would have given county commissioners courts authority to restrict registered sex offenders from living near schools and other areas where children are likely to congregate.

"Municipalities already have the ability to do that," Burns said. "But you can't do that in [unincorporated county areas.] Which makes no sense because if sex offenders are dangerous in a city, just because they pass some imaginary line between a city and county doesn't take that danger away. But, the bill didn't pass out of committee."

On a happier not, the newly established Texas Leadership Scholars Program will assist rural children and those in economically disadvantaged situations through mentorship and college scholarship opportunities.

Another bill passed increases the maximum age— the current age is 45 — at which a first-time applicant can apply for law enforcement jobs.

"At a time when law enforcement agencies across the state are facing a hiring crisis this was an issue. We worked with [Cleburne Police Chief Rob Severance] and got that bill passed."

Significant also is the Right to Farm Bill, which voters will weigh in on during November's Constitutional election.

"It protects your right to farm in Texas," Burns said. "If you’re in the extra territorial jurisdiction or city limits through no fault of your own where previously you might not have been and now surrounded by neighbors and regulations you can have to the right to farm."

The problem in part revolves around tax rates, Burns said.

"Ag value property doesn't have the same effect on tax rolls ad market values so a lot of cities try to move the ag folks out of the way to convert those properties to market value so they can collect more property tax," Burns said.

Such often brings egregious ordinances against farm property, Burns said.

"The bill doesn't say cities can't restrict it at all," Burns said. "But if they’re claiming public safety the city would have to prove it. If they want to say farmers can't have hay bales on their property in the name of public safety they would have to prove why that is."

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