Woodlands Republican Toth prepares for return to state Legislature
Steve Toth is returning to a familiar place this week: the Texas House of Representatives, where he last served from 2011-13.
After defeating Democratic challenger Lorena Perez-McGill in the Nov. 6 general election, Toth — who resides in The Woodlands with his wife and three children — will represent House District 15 for the next two years. The conservative Republican who had lost a bid for state Senate in 2013 as well as a primary challenge to U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady in 2016, said he aims to focus on a few primary issues he feels need immediate attention.
Toth recently discussed some of the issues and possible legislation he will be working on. The local businessman who is also an ordained minister involved in family counseling highlighted five areas of focus he will honed in on during this legislative session: preserving W.G. Jones State Forest from possible residential development; criminal justice reforms; property tax reform; and creating a manadatory county-based active shooter response plan for schools, hospitals and entertainment venues.
Long road back
Toth held the District 15 seat for two years before embarking on an unsuccessful effort to get elected to the Texas State Senate, losing to Brandon Creighton. After Mark Keough held the District 15 seat for four years, he left office to run for the Montgomery County judge, leaving the seat open once again.
“(Returing to office) Has been extremely rewarding, what’s different is I go in with some seniority and I go in more importantly with some great relationships,” Toth said of his return to the legislature. “I decided to run for the seat I used to hold.”
One of the highest priorities for Toth is his proposal to make coordinated response plans for active shooters or other mass violence incidents a mandatory part of county law enforcement and government duties — “There is a weakness here, and we have to address it,” he explained.
Citing the mass shootings of Columbine, Colorado, and Sandy Hook in Connecticut, Toth said he realized after the Sanat Fe High School shooting here in the Houston region that something needed to change.
“I served on the criminal jurisprudence and corrections committee. I had the opportunity to talk to hundreds of constables, and police chiefs and county sheriffs,” he said. “What was frustrating was, and you heard it from all of them, they didn’t have a coordinated response plan to a shooting. Can you believe that, in all this time (since Columbine). Even now, there is no coordinated plan.”
Toth said he immediately began reaching out to officials from the Conroe Independent School District, the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office and the Texas Department of Public Safety to help develop a coordinated response plan for counties. He expects to unveil the plan on Jan. 25.
“What we’re going to do is, this is going to become the first plan. We are going to require every county to come up with a response plan,” he added. “We have schools and hospitals, and we have corporate and entertainment venues. We need a coordinated response plan for all of them. It is going to require over the next two years…the plan has to include training and coordination, regular training to examine where weaknesses are.”
The plan would require the counties to submit the plan to the DPS for review and approval, he said.
Variety of issues
Toth said he will also look to help create legislation on several other issues facing Texans, ranging from property tax reform, preserving the Jones State Forest, criminal justice changes and also dealing with harassment in the legislature itself.
Criminal justice reform is also of interest to Toth, who said he feels more counseling and rehabilitative services and education needs to be available in the state’s prisons to avoid recidivism, especially amongst youth offenders. He said while he does not support decriminalization or legalization of recreational cannabis, he believes more research can be done on the medical benefits of some forms of cannabis such as cannabidiol. He also proposes raising the age of “youthful offenders” from 17 to 21 years old.
Regarding sexual harassment and #MeToo claims in the state capitol: “Anybody that has done anything inappropriate with staff needs to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law and embarrassed. I am all in favor of anything they bring forward to protect staffers…that’s what this is really about, young women staffers.”
Property tax reform is high on the agenda, Toth said. “We have already drafted legislation. The finger-pointing that is going on between the state of Texas and local ISDs really has to end. It is a two-fold problem. (Under the plan) Your property taxes will be cut in half, but the state of Texas will need to pick up (the difference. It would be a user tax and more evenly felt across the state.” The change would likely cause a 3 percent increase in the current sales tax rate in the state.
Toth said one local issue he wants to change is the two-year terms of The Woodlands Township Board of Directors, instead having directors serve four year terms.
W.G. Jones State Forest should not be developed, Toth stressed. “It is called the Jones State Forest Preservation Act. That is one of top three or four pieces of legislation we are prioritizing in my office. We want to make sure Jones State Forest is not developed. The main reason is there is a lack of thoroughfare planning in the county.” Toth said allowing developers to build in the forest would merely create more chaotic mobility and traffic problems in Montgomery. “To put apartments in there, or to develop it commercially, it would be bad — The Woodlands, for the people in Windsor Hills. It just should not be developed, period.”