More than 200 Galveston County residents took to the state capitol Wednesday in an effort to get state legislators to pay attention, at least briefly, to the county’s issues during the 85th Legislative Session.
Wednesday’s was the largest effort ever to represent Galveston County’s interests at the state level, organizers said.
“We had a plan,” said C.B. “Bix” Rathburn, Galveston County’s director of Economic Development and one of the organizers of the lobbying day. “The plan said we’re not just going to come up here and listen, we’re going to come up here and be heard.”
Previous lobbying efforts drew groups of about 35 people, making the goal of interacting with 181 senators and representatives difficult to achieve, Rathburn said.
The event was planned by Galveston County and the chambers of commerce of Galveston, Texas City, La Marque, League City, Friendswood, Hitchcock and Santa Fe.
It included city council members, county commissioners, school board trustees and superintendents and representatives from major county businesses, including BP and Marathon Petroleum Corp.
Some of the strategy of the day was just trying to familiarize state officials who are not from the area, League City Mayor Pat Hallisey said.
“Some of these ones that aren’t from the county didn’t know about our issues,” Hallisey said. “We were talking to a representative out of El Paso and everybody started talking about the Ike Dike, and he was just sitting there and asked ‘What’s an Ike Dike? Not everybody around Texas knows about it.’”
The teams of local lobbyists — some of whom left Galveston County on a bus at 5 a.m. to make it on time — were given guidance sheets outlining what issues to support when they met with representatives or senators, or more frequently, members of their staffs.
Garnering support for a coastal barrier system — a wall and gate system that would protect Galveston and inland communities from storm surge caused by a hurricane — was among the top talking points.
No bills specific to funding such a barrier had been filed as of Wednesday, but advocates hope legislators continue to fund groups that are studying the concept — such as Texas A&M University at Galveston, which has a $2 million annual request for research of the barrier concept.
Local advocates pushed for “uniformity in tax appraisal policies” and for restoration of funding to the University of Texas Medical Branch, one of the county’s largest employers.
Tourism was also on the list of priorities, although specific issues such as the so-called “bathroom bill” being considered by the Texas Senate, were absent from the day’s published agenda. Some tourism groups in the state have objected to the bill, which would create rules dictating which public bathrooms transgender people would be allowed to use.
There were other efforts going on behind the scene as well. Hallisey and other mayors met briefly with Gov. Greg Abbott early in the morning. Galveston City Manager Brian Maxwell and other Galveston officials met with officials about a tax revenue cap and public pension issues.
“I think it’s effective,” said state Sen. Larry Taylor, a Galveston Republican, who met with the county group as it entered the capitol and again later during a seafood reception at a restaurant near the capitol. “It makes a good, positive impression when things come up.”