After 13 years serving in the state legislature, Rep. Zerwas (R-Richmond) steps away from his position with a reputation for working across the political aisle—but also leaves behind a legacy that prioritized business interests over the needs of his constituents and the people of Texas.
Despite proposing alternatives to Medicaid expansion in a failed 2013 attempt to appease GOP legislators, Zerwas conceded that his Republican colleagues were concerned about voting for something that could be seen as “propping up Obamacare.”
In 2017, as chair of Appropriations, Zerwas oversaw a budget that proposed to reduce Medicaid funding by $2.4 billion, cutting $1 billion in state funding, and forfeiting $1.4 billion in federal funding. In discussing the cuts, Zerwas said that although they cut funding with this “maneuver,” it wouldn’t compromise access to services.
In the most recent legislative session, Zerwas voted against seeking a waiver to expand Medicaid coverage to Texans in need via HB 1 Amendment 72 RV 107. This lack of expansion would affect an estimated 1.1 million low-income uninsured Texans.
In 2011, Zerwas introduced a bill that would allow suspected child abusers to appeal their inclusion on a private state registry. Names are added to the registry by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services if abuse is found with evidence. Critics of Zerwas’ bill worried about the impact this could have on children the agency is trying to protect.
In the 2013 session, Zerwas voted against establishing a free breakfast program for students in need. The bill required school district campuses or open-enrollment charter schools participating in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) to offer a free breakfast to each student if 80 percent or more students qualified.
Rep. Zerwas voted twice to reduce state regulations on gun suppressors, despite evidence and statements from officials that these tools make it much harder to identify offenders. In May 2019, he voted to reduce regulations on gun silencers and prohibit state enforcement of federal regulations. Silencers are muzzle-like additions to guns that make it harder to recognize gunfire’s origins.
Elected officials fundraise in order to maintain their staff, buy provisions for the campaign trail, and compete with their opponents. In Texas, contributions are mostly unlimited, which can make money an appealing incentive to sway a politician’s legislative priorities. Zerwas repeatedly took donations from industries that would later benefit from his votes. For example, he took over $100,000 from the real estate industry and over $150,000 from the construction sector. He’s also accepted significant amounts from oil and gas companies while voting for prohibiting local bans on oil and gas drilling.
Bills like HB 2439, which Zerwas voted for this session, often strip local governments and councils of decision-making abilities, much to Republican supporters’ confusion. After taking almost $30,000 from Texans for Lawsuit Reform, Zerwas voted in favor of, and co-authored legislation they supported. In the 2017 session, HB 1774 was passed and eventually signed into law, making it harder for insured individuals to get assistance from their insurance agencies after a serious natural disaster—an especially perplexing vote given Zerwas’ role as a Houston-area representative faced with the negative impacts of Hurricane Harvey.