87th Legislature – State of the State Preview – Week 4
Here’s an early preview of tonight’s State of the State address by Governor Abbott …
Streaming statewide … from Lockhart, Texas. The Governor – and the state – will find themselves in unprecedented territory tonight. The State of the State, which is normally given in the Capitol in front of a joint session of the Legislature, will instead be streamed by Nexstar statewide from a small business (Visionary Fiber Technologies) in Lockhart, Texas.
The speech will be optimistic … but cognizant of the tough year the state and its residents have endured. Expect an optimistic speech that turns Texas’ eyes towards a return to normalcy. However, also expect the Governor to begin by recognizing the pain and grief that the pandemic has caused many. From lost loved ones to economic hardship, the Governor will likely be keenly aware that there is still healing taking place and that while there is an end in sight, the pandemic and the scars it has caused are not yet gone. As we look forward, the Governor will likely note the many months of job growth … and that, just like its past, Texas’ future will be bright. The Governor will undoubtedly mention the massive migration of corporate headquarters and manufacturing facilities to Texas as a harbinger of more good things to come (e.g., Oracle, Tesla, Hewlett Packard).
Expect the Governor to lay out some broad legislative priorities … many that we have highlighted previously in this update. The Governor will touch on a dozen or so issues that he hopes to see accomplished this session. Many of the issues are ones we have been tracking for many months as major trends during the legislative session. The Governor’s designation of some of these as an emergency item (see below) provides further momentum for these major trends.
Broadband and closing the digital divide. The Governor will undoubtedly discuss the work that has already begun here, but emphasize that Texas must seize on this momentum to ensure every family and every school child has access to quality broadband. This is an issue we have foreshadowed for many months as a major priority this session. The designation of it as an emergency item provides further momentum. (Emergency Item)
The continued expansion of telehealth. Again, expect the Governor to mention the expanded use of telehealth during the pandemic. The Governor will ask that many of these stop-gap measures employed during the pandemic be made standard practice. (Emergency Item)
Continued efforts to improve Public Safety. This topic will include gratitude for our public safety officers, including the Governor’s opposition and desire to see legislation to discourage movements to defund the police. The Governor is also very keen to see bail reform, to ensure that dangerous criminals remain behind bars. This will include expanded criteria that will need to be considered in setting bail and increased qualifications for judges that set bail. The Governor will also recognize the need for increased training for police officers as well. (Emergency Item)
Civil liability protection. The Governor will reiterate his desire to see a bill this session that shields individuals and businesses from civil liability during the pandemic. (Emergency Item)
Election integrity. Another legislative priority this session will be continued improvement of our election processes – to ensure both the integrity of the election system and voter confidence and trust in the system. As we have noted in previous updates, election issues often rise to the top following major elections and during redistricting years. (Emergency Item)
Other major priorities. The Governor will also mention several other major priorities … including the importance of balancing the budget without raising taxes; cutting regulations on small businesses to jump start the economic recovery; continued protection of First and Second Amendment rights; job training and skills for Texans to ensure Texans fill Texas job growth; border security; and protecting unborn life.
The Governor will declare several emergency items. As is typical for the State of the State, the Governor will declare several emergency items. We have noted the topics above that we believe are most likely to be declared emergency items. A quick Texas civics lesson … an emergency item is simply anything the Governor deems important enough to prioritize during the coming legislative session. By designating the item as an emergency, members are permitted to decide to vote on those items earlier in the session than they are normally permitted to do by the Constitution. Of course, they should also be viewed as a use of the Governor’s bully pulpit.