Every other year the Texas Legislative Session kicks off with an air of mystery for local neighborhoods; what are my representatives doing on our behalf? So this week, The Leader decided to check in with Representative Jessica Farrar of District 148 (which encompasses much of Garden Oaks/Oak Forest and the Heights) and see what she has in the queue for the 85th Legislative session which could affect our neighborhood and its residents.
Farrar has made gargantuan efforts to thrust women’s health in local areas to the forefront of the queue in previous sessions, and plans to do so once more as chair of the Women’s Caucus while focusing on replacing services provided until recently by clinics such as Planned Parenthood, as well as breastfeeding education and Medicaid reform with regards to post-birth extensions.
“I may not be able to affect the outcome, but I try to lend a voice to things such as the closing of clinics and services needed by my constituents,” she said, referencing services such as health screenings provided by clinics like Planned Parenthood before it was shut down.
“They provided more than half of the services that the state funded, so I’m trying to make sure that the programs the state has now put in place of Planned Parenthood in some semblance addresses the needs Planned Parenthood used to,” she added.
Farrar also said a breastfeeding bill currently sits on the books but with no enforcement to it—something she plans on attacking head-on.
“It’s very difficult to get some of these things done in a very conservative place, but I think I’ll get more traction on this and hopefully get it over the goal line this time,” she said. “It’s ironic because a lot of my colleagues want to regulate women’s bodies, yet at the same time they’re very uncomfortable with them.”
Another would extend Medicaid coverage for women to one full-year post-birth.
“Medicaid is a 7 to 3 match; it’s 70 cents on the dollar that federal puts up to the 30 cents the state puts up, so it’s a good match,” she said. “Otherwise, if anyone presents at the public hospital system, that’s 100 percent local tax dollars.
Farrar noted that the waters in this area become muddied in the ongoing conversation due to dealing with city issues agencies, and seeing as not all halfway houses are state facilities regulated by TBCJ; however, she continues the push in each session— and this will be no exception.
“When we’re in session I tend to have the attention of many of these agencies, so we hope to have more movement there,” she said with a hearty laugh.
Additionally, Farrar has made a priority of focusing on legislation regarding instances where folks rely on state services such as Medicaid, in particular Child Protection Services.
“I do that to make sure we have additional resources to protect children that are in the care of the state. I’ve had a couple of extremely distressing constituent cases that brought some issues to light that need to be addressed,” she said. “People have lots of different ideas, so I’m going to be looking at what legislation is going to be filed and participate in helping some of that along. Some of it I might carry and some of it I might just co-sponsor.”
Building on past efforts
As vice chair of the Civil Judiciary committee, Farrar said some work in the probate area has landed in her lap over the last couple of sessions, and she did not hesitate to dive in.
In working with a group from the State Supreme Court and the Access for Justice Foundation during the previous session, Farrar said she built a foundation for helping every-day residents use the courts without having to pay money for an attorney they might not be able to afford for simple matters such as transference of property. During the 84th session, Farrar introduced the Transfer on Death deed, which allows someone to sign property over to a specified individual, and the property is passed over immediately at the time of death to whomever is named in the deed. In the current session, Farrar is attempting to move forward with a similar bill when it comes to transferring ownership of a motor vehicle.
Finally, Farrar and her team are working on multiple bills to create stability when it comes to prosecuting and controlling animal cruelty issues.
One dealing with animal cruelty cases that would allow the court to order someone convicted of animal cruelty to pay the county attorney fees.
“What the county wants to do is be able to use those knowing they’re going to get that money,” she said. “Instead of going to GR, it would go directly to them so they could use it to prosecute more cases; right now they’re very low priority.”
However, some work remains to be done after prosecution for such a crime, and that is where the second proposed bill focuses its efforts on establishing an animal cruelty database—a development she sees as crucial for multiple reasons in the neighborhoods of her district.
“(Right now) you could be convicted of doing something horrible to an animal and then turn around and go pick another one out at a shelter,” she said. “You would end up in this database so shelters and others can look and see. Research has also shown that people begin with doing horrible things to animals before graduating on to do terrible things to people.”