On February 7, 186 Texas architects descended on the Capitol for a day of legislative action (and snakes!).
Advocating a slate of priorities, including adequate funding for courthouse preservation, 186 TxA members formed 39 teams to meet with state lawmakers. After a stem-winding greeting from Rep. Drew Darby of San Angelo who challenged architects to seek vision from their elected officials as well as providing it through their designs, followed by training in the morning briefing at the AT&T Center, architects assembled for a group photo at the Capitol, avoiding a tangle of rattlesnakes in a rotunda in the process. The resulting image launched a thousand quips and even more goosebumps, no doubt encouraging early team departures for appointments. Chapter teams met with senators and representatives representing their area, and even on a day when the Senate was in session all day and long into the night, several teams still met personally with their senators.
El Paso’s team, consisting of Tommy Razloznik, AIA, Frederic Dalbin, AIA, Hector De Santiago, AIA, and Bruno Vasquez, AIA, met with staff in Senator Jose Rodriguez’s office. The Senator represents District 29. Discussing courthouse preservation, the team described, “El Paso, at one time we had a jewel, but it fell in total despair.” Even the replacement has been replaced. Connecting on this point, the team urged “enough funding to at least stabilize all our structures so we don’t lose them entirely.” Staff was sympathetic, but cautioned that Senate budgets are tighter than in years past and suggested that the House budget might be friendlier to architects, as the House budget has $8 billion more than the Senate’s.
The team then described personal experiences in the increasingly litigious environment in which firms operate today, including the way insurance rates have skyrocketed in recent years even as deductibles have doubled or even trebled. They expressed support for HB 1053, which would shorten Texas’s current 10-year Statute of Repose, bringing it more in line with other states at around 5-7 years.
When all their issues were covered, teams left for the next visit, but not before leaving each office this year’s Architects Day poster, a depiction of how the Capitol Complex Mall should look in 2020. (Our 2017 print is a sketch from Page’s Capitol Complex Master Plan.) “I don’t think anyone on staff is will end up getting this. The boss only passes along what he doesn’t want,” said one.
Next, a team representing the Lower Rio Grande Valley, including Manuel Hinojosa, FAIA, Michael Allex, AIA, and Jamie Crawley, AIA, visited state representative Oscar Longoria. Longoria, Vice Chair of the Committee on Investments and Financial Services, learned that this team had similar problems to the one from El Paso. “In the Valley, we’re getting lawsuit after lawsuit…talking to school districts trying to get free money.” Representative Longoria was already familiar with the problem and was interested in helping find solutions. He particularly seemed to like the idea that schools should use any proceeds from such suits to fix any problems that had been cited as reasons for filing the case initially. “We’re not big firms in the Valley, mostly 10 people or fewer,” one architect said. “If you get hit by even two of these lawsuits, you’re pretty much out of business.”
As the day concluded, architects returned to the “Capitol Control Room” to share the results of their visits, and everyone seemed encouraged with their success in making their voices heard during what promises to be an important, albeit contentious, legislative session.
The Society’s advocacy efforts continue next week as we host a screening of our courthouse preservation videos at the Capitol for legislators and staff.