Texas Legislature

The 5 Best and 5 Worst North Texas Legislators of the 2017 Session

The 5 Best and 5 Worst North Texas Legislators of the 2017 Session
In addition to being Memorial Day, Monday is also the 140th — and last — day of official business for Texas' 85th Legislature. As the session wound down, the Observer evaluated the performances of representatives throughout North Texas. Here's our list of the best and worst DFW had to offer this spring.

The Best

click to enlarge Texas Sen. Royce West addresses the crowd. - MIKEL GALICIA
Texas Sen. Royce West addresses the crowd.
Mikel Galicia
Royce West — West, a Dallas-based state senator, earns his spot on the honor roll thanks in large part to his work on the deal between the city of Dallas, its police officers, and the Dallas Police and Fire Pension System. For the time being, there is hope that the floundering fund may soon be on its way back to solvency, and West played an instrumental role in securing the concessions that made the deal palatable to all sides.

In addition to his work on the pension, West also shepherded legislation that will provide as many as 50,000 Texas police officers with vests capable of stopping rounds shot by a high-powered rifle. West made the vest legislation a priority following the July 7, 2016, ambush killing of five police officers in Dallas.

click to enlarge State Rep. Eric Johnson wrote and passed a bill creating stiffer civil penalties for police agencies that fail to report shootings by officers. - BRIAN MASCHINO
State Rep. Eric Johnson wrote and passed a bill creating stiffer civil penalties for police agencies that fail to report shootings by officers.
Brian Maschino
Eric Johnson — In his short time in the Texas House, West Dallas' Eric Johnson has proved a warrior for his positions, pushing an agenda sharply focused on criminal justice reform and reducing poverty. This session, Johnson wrote and passed a bill creating stiffer civil penalties for police agencies that fail to report shootings by officers. He also got a bill banning school suspension for students in kindergarten and first and second grades to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's desk.

Rafael Anchia — Oak Cliff's Rafael Anchia continued to build a name for himself as one of Texas' stalwart champions for civil rights throughout the 2017 session. As the head of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, Anchia led the fight against SB 4, Texas' controversial new anti-sanctuary cities legislation and pushed back on Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick's pet project, Texas' so-called bathroom bill. Anchia, a Democrat, has positioned himself well to become a growing force in the House.

Jason Villalba — State Rep. Jason Villalba did a lot of little things right this session. The Dallas Republican helped with the pension deal and continued to buck against Texans for Vaccine Choice, the loony anti-vax group that's targeted him ever since he tried to tighten Texas' rules for giving out vaccine exemptions in 2015. Most strikingly, Villalba supported a bill that would've banned Texas employers from discriminating against employees based on sexual or gender identity, helping the bill get out of committee — further than any similar legislation has ever gone in the Texas Legislature.
Victoria Neave for State Representative via Facebook

Victoria Neave — Freshman state Rep. Victoria Neave proved herself a strong advocate for women and immigrant communities during her first session in Austin. Her biggest legislative accomplishment is authoring and passing a bill that will help the state clear its backlog of untested rape kits. Neave's bill will allow Texans renewing their driver's licenses to donate $1 or more to testing the more than 3,500 kits that remain in police evidence lockers and elsewhere around the state.

Neave also successfully amended SB 4 to allow municipalities to ban their police forces from assisting federal immigration efforts at churches and other places of worship. The House rejected another amendment by Neave that would've similarly protected domestic violence shelters.

The Worst

Konni Burton — Colleyville-based Konni Burton earned her spot on the naughty list by filing one singularly awful bill. Burton's SB 242, which died a merciful death in committee, would've required Texas public school employees to out LGBTQ kids to their parents. Burton's bill, proposed in response to a Fort Worth ISD policy intended to protect transgender kids, would've required school personnel to disclose any general knowledge they may have had about a student to that student's parents.

Roberto Alonzo — Texas House Rep. Roberto Alonzo took a break from his usually nondescript role in the Texas Legislature to step into one of Dallas' thorniest neighborhood fights. Alonzo, brother of Dallas City Council member Monica Alonzo, gave the Texas Freedom Caucus political cover to kill Eric Johnson's gentrification-aid bill in West Dallas. After the bill died, Alonzo failed to adequately answer questions about his opposition to the measure, which ostensibly would've helped residents in his sister's City Council district. Jim Schutze thinks it all ties in with Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings' negotiations with the Khraish family in West Dallas.

Tony Tinderholt — Tony Tinderholt, Arlington's reliably wacky state representative, wasted the whole legislature's time by submitting a bill that would've banned all abortions in the state of Texas. Except it wouldn't have, because doing so would've been clearly unconstitutional, leading to an immediate slap down from the federal court system. Whether it's "catching illegal immigrants," as he said he was on Facebook in 2014, Tinderholt is full of hot air but empty of legislative achievement.

Matt Rinaldi — During a busy 2017, state Rep. Matt Rinaldi of Irving beefed up SB 4 by adding an amendment that threatens local officials who don't fully comply with the law with removal from office. He also spearheaded a change to SB 8, the legislature's comprehensive anti-abortion rights bill from this session, that would make the safest procedure available to women seeking an abortion after 12 weeks of pregnancy illegal, effectively banning second-trimester abortions in Texas.

Jonathan Stickland — In a way, state Rep. Jonathan Stickland is a candidate for both halves of this list. Despite his constant obstructionism and grandstanding, he keeps getting elected by his north Tarrant County district, which can't seem to get enough of the high-school dropout. This session, Stickland led the Mothers' Day Massacre, a procedural move by the Texas Freedom Caucus that killed hundreds of bills at a May filing deadline. Among those bills was a key measure keeping several state departments open. With the law dead in the House, Stickland effectively wrested control of the session from Texas House Speaker Joe Strauss and handed it to his far more conservative Senate counterpart, Patrick. With Patrick in the driver's seat, the bathroom bill, which was dead as of a couple of weeks ago, gained new life, all thanks to Stickland.
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Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young