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our view Area reps must focus on key local priorities

January 6, 2019

Texas is a big state, and when the new session of the Legislature kicks off Tuesday, state representatives and senators from every part of it will working hard to make sure their region gets its fair share of state funding. That includes members from Southeast Texas, but they may have to work extra hard in the new session. This region doesn’t have the clout of some others, so area lawmakers should work together on local priorities as much as possible.

Those goals include:

— Windstorm insurance reform. This is a familiar need for Southeast Texas and all coastal regions, and it has largely been ignored in recent sessions. That attitude must stop in this one. The central need for the Legislature and the Texas Department of Insurance is encouraging (or requiring) private insurance companies to offer more windstorm coverage. More of them have been doing that in recent years, and that progress is welcome. But too many area residents and businesses have to rely on the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association, the state agency that serves as the insurer of last resort. It’s better than nothing, but rates are too high and payouts are too slow. Most large, profitable insurance carriers offer a broad range of coverage, and windstorm needs to be a basic part of their package in Texas.

— Flood prevention and drainage improvements. Most state officials seem to realize the lessons of Tropical Storm Harvey — too many buildings in unsafe, low-elevation areas, and insufficient drainage systems for many highly populated areas. Instead of responding to each disaster, the better approach is to focus on minimizing damage from the next one. State government should devote as much money as possible to this need, and area cities and counties should step up with complementary projects. Harvey would have been a disaster under any circumstances, but better planning and building could help many Southeast Texans survive the next multi-inch rainstorm without major structural damage.

— Beach buildup. This goal is closely related to the previous one. The best natural defenses against a hurricane or tropical storm heading inland from the Gulf of Mexico are wide beaches or sand dunes — and preferably both. Yet both of those natural assets have waned along the region’s coastline in recent decades. At long last that is being reversed, in part due to settlement money Texas received from the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010 and resulting oil spill. Whenever state or federal funding is available for beach buildup, area lawmakers have to head for it like beachcombers competing for a prized shell. The McFaddin National Wildlife Refuge has benefited from a recent program, but it shouldn’t be the last one for the upper Gulf Coast. Communication with the Texas General Land Office is vital here.

— Level II trauma care status for Christus-St. Elizabeth Hospital in Beaumont. This facility is a Level III facility that virtually operates like a Level II site now. But it needs a few tweaks in staffing and resources to get the official designation, which would also permit more reimbursement to the hospital. A fully accredited Level II trauma center would ensure that area residents continue to have the best possible care for serious accidents and injuries right here, not Houston. Only two major population centers in Texas lack a Level II facility — our region and the Rio Grande Valley — and that must change in this session.

There will of course have many other important issues for local lawmakers, from state aid to the four Lamar campuses to highway funding. Yet the above four goals are especially important and therefore must receive special attention.

Southeast Texans need state Reps. Joe Deshotel, Dade Phelan and James White along with state Sens. Brandon Creighton and Robert Nichols to make significant progress on these concerns over the next five months.

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