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Sen. Schwertner talks civic engagement, pandemic at Bryan Rotary Club
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Sen. Schwertner talks civic engagement, pandemic at Bryan Rotary Club

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Texas Sen. Charles Schwertner addressed the Bryan Rotary Club on Wednesday and discussed — among other topics — civic engagement and the COVID-19 pandemic with the gathering of area leaders.

Schwertner, an orthopedic surgeon, is a Republican who represents Texas Senate District 5, which includes Brazos and Robertson counties among 10 counties in central and east central Texas. He won reelection in 2018, and his Senate seat will next be on the ballot in 2022.

Asked by local media after the forum to share his priorities for the upcoming session, Schwertner replied, “I always go back to the core functions of state government — first of all, education.” He said that balancing the budget considering the increased economic challenges facing many Texans will be a vital task for the state government to tackle.

“Health care is the other big portion of our budget. [There are] about 4 million individuals on Medicaid. … There’s always, when you have a recession, an increased number of individuals seeking Medicaid and obtaining Medicaid assistance. That’s going to be tough,” Schwertner said. “With an economic downturn and diminished sales tax revenue — which is the primary way we’re funded as a state — it’s going to be a tough budget to balance. It’s probably going to be the hardest one that I’ve had to deal with since 2011.”

To the Bryan Rotary Club, Schwertner noted the balancing act of reopening the economy, the wide-ranging effects of shutdowns and maintaining best health practices during the ongoing pandemic.

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Near the end of the question-and-answer section of Schwertner’s appearance, Janet Dudding — the Democratic candidate for Texas House District 14 — mentioned to Schwertner his 2015 bill that would have implemented a task force’s recommendations for bolstering the state’s preparedness for a pandemic or other public health crisis. She asked for his thoughts on pandemic response for the upcoming session. Dudding’s opponent, incumbent state Rep. John Raney, also attended the meeting.

In response, Schwertner relayed some of the history of the bill he authored, which passed the Texas Senate but died in a House committee — he said, because of concerns about state overreach and local control, as well as opposition “on my right” because of views on individual freedoms.

He explained that the 2015 bill, Senate Bill 538, would have allowed for stockpiling of protective equipment, as well as letting the state government mandate quarantines and call for a state of emergency for infectious diseases, among other aspects.

“It was a big bill. You’re going to see a lot of variations of that type of bill this session — but I guess I plowed the ground for it,” he said.

He added that plans are “being synthesized” regarding COVID-19 safety protocols for the Legislative session itself, and he discussed the upcoming task of redistricting. Schwertner also urged Texans to participate in the political process through and beyond voting, including by reaching out to their representatives and senators to ensure their views and needs are known.

“I’m glad people are getting out and voting. It’s a representative democracy, a republic, and we need people involved,” Schwertner said of high turnout. “Part of that involvement is voting, but there’s a larger obligation to being a citizen of our country.”

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