Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo delivered her annual “State of the County” address where she walked through victories for the largest county in Texas.
The event was hosted by the Greater Houston Partnership.
After speaking to the strength of Houston’s economy– a 3.8 percent unemployment rate for the county and a triple-A bond rating– Hidalgo joked with the crowd of business leaders and elected officials about the criticism she recieved after her election last year.
“When I came into office, a lot of folks pointed out my lack of experience,” Hidalgo said. But what I’ve lacked in experience as a politician, I’ve made up for in an ignorance of limitations.”
“Let me put it this another way: My team has never seen good ideas fail because of bureaucracy,” she continued. “We’ve never decided that something can’t be done because it has never been done before.”
Changes in the county
With a $5 billion budget, Hidalgo said the county was capable of doing much with its taxpayer money than just officiating roads and bridges. To illustrate that point, she listed several achievements the Houston area saw in the past year.
Among them were significant changes to the county’s voting infrastructure that made it easier for residents to vote. This November was the first election Harris County used countywide voting centers that allowed voters to cast their ballot at any polling location on election day. As a result, Hidalgo said 48 percent of Harris County residents voted outside their district on election day.
The county judge also boasted about improvements to flood mitigation, which she rightfully wed to also fighting climate change. She said 105 subdivisions were currently enjoying fast-tracked draining improvements and that 1,178 homes were bought out that would have otherwise flooded during Imelda, the tropical storm that made landfall in September and caused record-breaking flooding across southeast Texas.
Changes to criminal justice
Above all, Hidalgo touted the county’s changes to the criminal justice system.
In July, Harris County Commissioners Court approved a settlement that brought historic criminal justice system reform closer to the Houston area. If the changes are approved by a federal judge, the reforms would essentially end poverty jailing in the Houston area for petty crimes and misdemeanors, allowing for roughly 85 percent of misdemeanor defendants to be released from jail without paying bail.
“Bail reform does more than just protect the constitutional rights of defendants, it also lowers crime,” Hidalgo said in her speech. “An independent academic study of Harris County pre-trial practices determined that over a five-year period, with bail reform, 1,600 fewer felonies would have been committed.”
“Bail reform also saves taxpayer dollars,” Hidalgo said. “After accounting for both reductions in jail time and increases in probation time, the county would have saved an estimated $20 million in supervision costs alone.”
Hidalgo’s State of the County address on Friday was the first one that the county judge has given in her tenure. A transcript of her speech can be found here.
Fernando covers Texas politics and government at the Texas Signal. Before joining the Signal, Fernando spent two years at the Houston Chronicle and previously interned at Houston’s NPR station News 88.7. He is a graduate of the University of Houston, Jack J. Valenti School of Communication, and enjoys reading, highlighting things, and arguing on social media. You can follow him on Twitter at @fernramirez93 or email at email@example.com