Rep. Eddie Rodriguez on the 86th Texas Legislature
“I’ll be working against issues that will unfairly treat Latinos in the state”
Eddie Rodriguez (HD-51), representing southeastern Travis County, was first elected in 2002. Last session, he served on Environmental Regulation, Redistricting, and State Affairs; he chairs the House Farm-to-Table Caucus and has been a leader in the Mexican-American Legislative Caucus (MALC). – Mary Tuma
Austin Chronicle: What are your top priorities this legislative session and why are they important to your district?
Eddie Rodriguez: My priorities, broadly, have to do with affordability. [My] homestead preservation district bill passed in 2005 and cities have now adopted it. I filed a bill last session – vetoed by the governor, and I’m not sure why, maybe out of spite – that would have [protected] Austin because Austin’s population has grown out of the bracket [limits in the original bill]. So I’m re-filing that bill.
Public education is very important as well. I want to support the idea of community schools – campuses that offer services to both kids and parents, like GED classes and mental health care. One of my bills would make sure if that type of school is low-performing, TEA wouldn’t be able to close it for a period of three years.
I’m also filing food access bills, including a bill to ensure fair taxes for local farmers. My district contains several urban farms that don’t get agriculture valuations, but are paying property taxes like homeowners. State law [should] allow for ag valuations, which greatly reduce the tax rate. We need to support our local farmers.
Gun safety is increasingly becoming one of my main concerns. I’m supporting legislation that would help ensure that when a judge orders a gun to be taken away from a domestic abuser, that we have enough gun storage space, which is currently a problem right now.
AC: We saw a new low when it came to immigrant rights last session, especially considering Senate Bill 4, which forces local police to comply with ICE detainers and allows offices to inquire about the immigration status of those they pull over. Do you foresee more anti-immigrant sentiment this session?
ER:First of all, 12 new Democrats will help change what bills are going to be heard and will be potentially voted on. I also think how [SB4] ended up on the floor, and how the “Show Me Your Papers” amendment was included, could have been prevented or at least handled very differently. I think that’s the result of a Joe Straus speakership. That amendment was early on the list, out of 200 others, and there’s no reason for that to happen since it was so contentious. I think that was a failure of Straus to moderate that bill. I’m hopeful Dennis Bonnen won’t make those same mistakes and [will] steer us in the right direction.
As the MALC policy chair, I’ll be working against issues that will unfairly treat Latinos in the state. Already there’s been a bill filed to overturn in-state tuition for undocumented students in the state. We’ll be playing a lot of defense.
AC: You’ve been at the Capitol for nearly two decades. What do you think is going to make this session different than others?
ER:The biggest difference is our 12-member gain; we’re not going to get completely run over every time. I really think Straus was very much a hands-off speaker, and we need a speaker that is responsive and holding legislators accountable. Some of the worst policy has actually been passed in the Straus years; I know everyone thinks he’s a moderate because he opposed the bathroom bill, but some very terrible bills, including the horrible SB 4, were passed under his tenure. I do think it will be less contentious because Republicans have lost seats; that’s forcing them to pump the brakes on the more extreme stuff.
AC: Last session we saw unprecedented attacks against Austin and other municipalities. Do you think that will continue and what is your strategy to defend Austin?
ER:Well, Dennis [Bonnen] was actually an author of one of those bills, the revenue cap bill. Of course, he won’t be filing it now as speaker. It’s worth noting that not every Republican was in favor of these preemption bills, and all Democrats were against them. So while paid sick leave will be an easy target, there will be others where Republicans may not coalesce [and] it might be a much closer fight, and of course we’ll try to kill those bills. There are a good number of legislators who came from city positions – mayors, city council members – that won’t be eager to get behind some of those bills.
AC: How do you feel about having Bonnen as Speaker of the House?
ER:I’ve been at the Legislature for 16 years and served with Dennis. We’ve gone head to head on several issues, but we’ve also worked together on bills. He’s very knowledgeable of the process and has a lot of respect for the House. I think he’ll want to maintain decorum and protect us from the will of Dan Patrick the best he can. Some think he has an abrasive personality, but as speaker, you’re a totally different animal. He’s a straight shooter and it seems like he’s doing all the right things so far.