Please find a brief update on where things stand as we begin to round the final curve …
Constitutional carry loses steam … before regaining it. As we noted last week, constitutional carry (sometimes called permitless carry because it would allow Texans to carry a firearm without obtaining a state issued permit) passed the House, while companion bills have yet to receive a hearing in the Senate. Early last week, Lieutenant Governor Patrick took the unusual step early last week to say that he lacked the votes in the Texas Senate to pass the measure. Despite the pronouncement, Lt. Governor Patrick later created a new Special Committee on Constitutional Issues and quickly referred the House bill to the new committee. Still, Patrick’s office continued to pour cold water on the bill’s prospect.
House easily passes budget … without much incident. The House unanimously voted to approve a $246 billion budget last Thursday, where debate lingered late into the evening. The budget will now move to conference committee where significant differences will be worked out between the two chambers’ versions. Conference committee this year could take on added significance. All eyes are on the comptroller, who is expected to revise his biennial revenue estimate. The BRE determines how much money appropriators will be able to spend when crafting the budget. We expect the revision to come early next month, shortly after the Comptroller reviews April’s revenue collections. We also expect a significant increase in the amount of available money. Significantly, the budget does not appropriate nearly $17 billion in federal relief that has yet to reach the state. An amendment to the house budget would require a special session to appropriate those dollars.
Symbolic vote on Medicaid Expansion fails. Buried in 200+ prefiled amendments to the House budget was an amendment urging the state to expand Medicaid. While similar amendments periodically are filed, this amendment received more attention given the increased chatter about coverage expansion coming into session and the recent news that the Biden Administration had rescinded the state’s 1115 Waiver renewal (a key source of federal funding that helps pay for uncompensated care and fund the state’s hospital safety net). Because amendments attempting to expand Medicaid face multiple legal questions, the vote was largely symbolic. The vote failed along mostly party line, surprising some given bipartisan support for a much more comprehensive bill aimed at expanding Medicaid. That bill still remains motionless in committee and is unlikely to pass at this point absent a very concerted push by leadership, which we doubt is in the cards. As we have mentioned previously, the politics for expanding coverage in Texas hinged in large degree on the outcome of the 2020 elections and dimmed significantly with the success enjoyed by the GOP. Moreover, we believe the rescission of the Waiver actually creates political headwind for expansion in Texas.
Texas resumes use of the J&J vaccine. On Friday afternoon, state officials told providers they could resume using the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The state had halted use of the vaccine a couple weeks ago based on guidance from the CDC, which had identified the potential risk of blood clots as side effect of the vaccine. At least one Texas woman had been hospitalized with similar conditions following the vaccine. A nationwide survey conducted prior to resumption of the vaccine showed significant hesitancy towards the J&J vaccine, but it remains to be seen how opinions may shift following last week’s announcement.
Scandal involving lobbyist and legislative staffer comes to light. Over the weekend, revelations that the Department of Public Safety was investigating whether a lobbyist gave a date rape drug to a legislative staffer came to light, prompting universal outcry from legislators. As more facts come to light, we will provide additional updates on the scandal and any ramifications in the legislative session.