Protecting our Parks
On January 30, 2019, Rep. Cyrier filed House Bill 1214 and House Joint Resolution 39, which would amend the Texas Constitution to dedicate revenue from the state’s Sporting Goods Sales Tax to fund the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and Texas Historical Commission.
The Sporting Goods Sales Tax was intended to fund the parks and historical commission, but the legislature has frequently diverted these funds to elsewhere in the budget, leaving our parks and historical sites badly underfunded. In fact, from 1993 to 2017, the state collected nearly $2.5 billion from the Sporting Goods Sales Tax but less than 40 percent has been appropriated to our state parks.
As a result, Texas state parks have fallen into a state of disrepair after decades of deferred maintenance. Many have been forced to close at times due to lack of maintenance, such as broken and unusable restroom facilities. For a state with such natural beauty and a heritage of sporting and outdoor recreation, this is an embarrassment. It is time to end the practice of raiding funds intended for our parks and historical sites, and repair our state’s most treasured places—from the Palo Duro Canyon to Mustang Island, the Davis Mountains to the forests of lakes of East Texas, and everywhere in between.
Millions of people visit Texas every year to recreate and enjoy our state’s scenic and historical wonders. Tourism in Texas accounts for billions of dollars in economic impact and more than one million Texas jobs. By preserving our state’s natural treasures, we pass on an inheritance to future generations of Texans and contribute to our state’s economic prosperity.
In recent years, wildfires have devastated many communities in the U.S., including causing major damage in Central Texas. Bastrop County in particular has suffered two major fires, including the 2011 Bastrop Complex fire and the Hidden Pines fire of 2015. Collectively, these two fires burned 39,000 acres and destroyed 1700 homes. As a pilot, John Cyrier flew aerial observation during the 2011 fire. During the 2015 fire, he was the area's newly elected representative and worked alongside emergency service personnel.
In the aftermath of the Hidden Pines fire, a group of citizens developed a report with recommendations to improve our preparedness for a future fire event. One of the most significant recommendations was to locate an air tanker base in the Central Texas area, so that fire retardant drops could occur quicker and at more frequent intervals. Tankers in previous Central Texas fires came from out of state.
Rep. Cyrier brought together representatives of the Texas A&M Forest Service, Austin Fire Department, and Austin airport officials to reach an agreement to locate a portable tanker base at the Austin airport. Funding was provided by the legislature through the Texas Wildfire Protection Plan, and local firefighters are now trained on the operation of the equipment. The base is now operational thanks to the hard work of grassroots citizens and the partnership of different levels of government with the common goal of serving the public. As a result, we are more prepared to fight wildfires in Central Texas than ever before.
Hunters for the Hungry
Thanks to legislation sponsored and passed by Rep. Cyrier, Texas hunters have the opportunity to make a donation to the Hunters for the Hungry program when purchasing their hunting licenses. This program allows hunters to donate legally-tagged and field dressed deer to hunger relief programs to help feed Texans in need. Hunters can donate their deer through any participating meat processor, which will process the meat for a nominal fee. Meat is then distributed to Texans in need through participating hunger relief agencies.
During the legislation’s inaugural year in 2016, Hunters for the Hungry collected more than $88,000 in donations from hunters to offset deer processing fees for nearly 50,000 pounds of venison.
Having served on the Board of Directors for the Central Texas Food Bank, and an avid hunter, Rep. Cyrier knows the value of this program in providing a much-needed source of lean protein to our neighbors who lack food security, The 2017-2018 hunting season brought approximately 379, 000 meals to hungry Texans through the Hunters for the Hungry program. Since its inception the program has distributed around 9.5 million meals.
Hunters for the Hungry helps Texas hunters manage the deer population while also meeting a critical community need. Statistics show that one-in-six Texas families struggle with food insecurity. By donating to Hunters for the Hungry when you purchase a hunting license, and donating meat through a participating processor, you will directly impact the lives of Texas children, seniors, and families in need. To learn more, donate, or find a participating meat processor, visit www.feedingtexas.org.
Improving Hot Air Balloon Oversight
In July of 2016, Caldwell County was the site of the one of the nation’s worst transportation accidents in recent history when a commercial hot air balloon crashed, taking all 16 lives aboard. Following the disaster, Rep. Cyrier immediately requested an investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which was granted. This made sure that family members of those who lost their lives had the opportunity to learn the facts surrounding the crash, and would help to prevent similar crashes in the future.
Over the past year, the NTSB held public hearings and fully investigated the crash. John traveled to Washington, D.C., to speak with crash investigators and NTSB members. The facts that emerged were nothing short of alarming. The pilot of the balloon had a long pattern of alcohol related driving convictions, took prescription drugs that could impair his flying ability, and yet retained his pilot’s license.
In late 2017, the NTSB issued its final report, determining that contributing factors to the accident included "(1) the pilot’s impairing medical conditions and medications and (2) the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) policy to not require a medical certificate for commercial balloon pilots.” The report also recommended policy changes by the FAA to improve hot air balloon safety.
Following the report, the U.S. House of Representatives passed an amendment to require hot air balloon pilots to obtain medical certifications similar to those required for helicopter and airline pilots. These tougher regulations are the direct result of the persistence of local citizens and our office in pushing federal regulators to investigate the disastrous Caldwell County crash, make policy recommendations to prevent such disasters from recurring, and working with our elected members of Congress to act on these recommendations. While this does not diminish the pain of the families who lost loved ones in the crash, we can take solace in knowing that something good has resulted from that tragedy.
Supporting Texas Public Schools
For the first time in decades, the legislative leaders in both the state house and senate, along with the Governor, have committed to addressing the funding crisis facing Texas public schools. Rep. Cyrier was a founding board member of his local school district's education foundation and understands the critical importance of providing adequate school funding, investing in technology and innovation in the classroom, improving teacher pay. That is why he consistently supports making public education a budget priority.
During his time in the legislature, John supported efforts to fully fund enrollment growth in Texas public schools and provide an additional $1.5 billion to restore funding cuts to public schools and improve classroom education. Along with these funds, John supported new accountability standards for Texas public schools that rely less on standardized testing and empower parents and local school districts with better metrics for success. John also voted to fill a budget shortfall in the health plan for retired teachers, who have devoted their professional lives to Texas students. He will continue to work for improvements to the accountability system and long-term security for teacher retirement and health care programs.
Local Groundwater Protection
To responsibly steward and protect the quality of Texas groundwater, we rely on the efforts of volunteer board members for our many groundwater conservation districts. Until recently, these board members could be sued personally for the decisions of these boards, which made them targets of unfair legal intimidation and compromised the ability of these boards to make responsible and unbiased decisions. During the 84th legislative session, Rep. Cyrier authored and passed House Bill 3163, which protects these board members from being personally sued for their work managing our local groundwater resources.
Within the first year of the law's passage, two Texas groundwater conservation districts had already cited this new law while defending their board members against lawsuits. In one of these suits, board members were successful in dismissing the lawsuit. Protecting these board members from personal lawsuits allows local groundwater conservation districts to independently and fairly make decisions without the fear or threat of lawsuits. Our work to ensure sustainable and high quality groundwater is far from finished, but House Bill 3136 represents an important step in the right direction to protect the local control of our communities in managing their natural resources.
The Second Amendment
Texas has a rich sporting heritage of hunting, which is an important part of our Texas culture as well as a means to manage certain wildlife populations. This cannot be separated from the Second Amendment right of citizens to safely own and responsibly use personal firearms.
Rep. Cyrier has worked to pass sensible legislation to protect the right of Texans to hunt and fish, defend the Second Amendment, and keep Texans safe. Rep. Cyrier co-authored HJR 61, which proposed a new amendment to the Texas Constitution to safeguard hunting and fishing rights. The amendment passed overwhelmingly in a statewide vote, protecting our cultural heritage of sports and outdoors. Hunting and fishing also represent a vital industry for our state. According to the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, hunting and fishing pump more than $4 billion into the Texas economy and support more than 65,000 jobs.
The right to self-defense is also protected by the Second Amendment, which is why Rep. Cyrier voted to reduce the fees associated with obtaining a license to carry (LTC) from $140 to just $40. He also voted to eliminate the minimum caliber requirement (formerly .32) for the handgun proficiency test in the state LTC course. Rep. Cyrier also supported HB 910, which eliminated penalties for unconcealed firearms by LTC holders. Prior to this legislation, Texas was one of only six states with such penalties.