More than 500 county officials and staff from across Texas gathered in Austin Sept. 1-3 for TAC’s 2021 Legislative Conference. About 300 others participated online as the hybrid event — a first in conference history — delved into actions taken by the 87th Legislature to explore how they affect county government.
TAC's Legislative Consultants moderated informative sessions with county officials, state lawmakers and subject-area experts that focused on elections, redistricting, property tax reform, broadband expansion and several other topics of primary interest and concern to counties. Attendees also had the opportunity to visit with vendors in the conference's exhibit hall and participate in a series of tutorials on media relations, among other activities.
TAC Executive Director Susan Redford premiered two videos titled "We Are TAC" and "254 Strong" during the conference's opening general session. TAC Legislative Director Noe Barrios followed to introduce this year's keynote speaker, Evan Smith, the CEO and co-founder of The Texas Tribune. Before welcoming Smith on stage, Barrios compared county officials to Theodore Roosevelt's "man in the arena" to reinforce the central role county government plays in the lives of Texas taxpayers.
Smith offered an energetic, occasionally provocative perspective on Texas lawmaking informed by his deep experience covering the Legislature. Smith said he has never seen the partisan divide at the Capitol as wide as it is now and traced the path state politics have taken over the past five years to give context to this year's regular and special sessions "in which Republicans not only were in charge, they were metaphysically in charge." The rancor between parties — and in some cases within parties — has put the future of our Legislature and how legislators get along with each other up in the air, Smith said.
TAC dedicated two sessions to helping counties decode the American Rescue Plan Act, a topic of intense interest during the conference. A slide presentation shown during one session by Brett Mattson, the associate legislative director for justice and public safety for the National Association of Counties (NACo), is available for download on TAC's American Rescue Plan Information & Resources page on www.county.org.
The page also includes an interview with NACo CEO/Executive Director Matthew Chase, who sat down with TAC during the conference to discuss the American Rescue Plan from the county perspective. NACo played a key role in persuading Congress to allocate the plan's funding directly to counties. You can listen to TAC's interview with Chase here.
In his closing-session remarks, Tom Green County Auditor and TAC President-Elect Nathan Cradduck reflected on the conference's theme, "Stronger Together," underscoring that counties are better prepared to help each other when they learn from each other. TAC's annual conference aims to facilitate those connections. By all responses seen and heard, the aim was met.
Next year's Legislative Conference is scheduled for Aug. 24-26 in Austin. Stay tuned for more information.