87th Legislature – Week 1 Preview
And so it begins …
1. On Tap …
The 87th Legislature will officially kick-off Tuesday. Both the House of Representatives and the Senate will convene at 12:00 pm on Tuesday, where members will be sworn-in to office. The only substantive actions expected to occur this week will be the discussion, and likely adoption, of rules. Many expect both chambers to adjourn by Thursday and to stay adjourn for a week or more due to still-elevated COVID-19 case counts.
One Senate rule to watch ... In the Senate, we will be watching to see whether the Texas Senate will choose to further erode its traditional super-majority requirement to bring a bill up for a floor vote. The rule was historically referred to as the “2/3s Rule”, which required 21 Senators to coalesce to bring a bill to the floor. In 2015, that number was reduced to 19 … With the net loss of 2 GOP Senators over the last two election cycles, the Lt. Governor has suggested he may move to reduce that number even further … to 18.
A change in vaccine distribution strategy. Last Monday, we mentioned that we expect vaccine distribution to be a major political football over the next few weeks. To wit, last week dozens of Democratic legislators sent a letter requesting changes to the distribution process. Also last week, the Department of State Health Services decided to shift its vaccine distribution strategy to emphasize larger providers. This has resulted in a larger number of vaccines being distributed to a smaller number of providers. The Governor tomorrow will visit one such large provider in Tarrant County, where he will get a briefing, tour the operation, and host a press conference. The Governor will be joined by Dr. John Hellerstedt (DSHS), Chief Nim Kidd (Texas Department of Emergency Management), and Texas Health Resources’ CEO Barclay Berdan among others.
Expect the Comptroller to release his Biennial Revenue Estimate. The Biennial Revenue Estimate is typically released the day before the Legislature convenes (which would be today). The budget situation is much improved since he updated his 2019 BRE in July 2020 during the height of COVID-19. The July Update to the BRE forecasted a $4.5 billion deficit for the CURRENT budget cycle. Discussion in Austin recently suggests this number may be much smaller (~$1 billion) due to the influx of federal relief dollars, emergency budget cuts, and higher than expected revenue. All eyes are on the Comptroller as he will now project how quickly state revenues will return to normal during the 2022-2023 budget cycle – the budget legislators must write this session.
2. What to watch this week …
An interview with incoming Speaker of the House Dade Phelan. The Speaker discusses Capitol protocols and session logistics, the tough budget environment, the desire to fully fund public education and more.
The Sunset Commission Meeting, where the Commission will consider and take possible action on recommendations related to the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation, the Texas Racing Commission, the San Jacinto River Authority and other state boards currently under sunset review. Full Agenda.
3. Prevailing political winds …
The legislature will begin with no shortage of tension after last week’s unrest in Washington, DC. In the aftermath of the disturbances, the Texas Capitol was temporarily shut down, only two days after it reopened after being closed for months. It’s back open again, but the fallout also saw harsh rebukes from elected leaders on both sides of the aisle in Austin. Including some finger-pointing directly at Texas leaders.
The riots in DC have also refueled another discussion that is likely to get significant attention this session: law enforcement and policing. The Governor is considering legislation to establish a special district in the aftermath of the City of Austin’s movement to defund the police. And this week the Texas Municipal Police Association launched a new campaign to help shape the discussion: TexasPoliceFacts.com.