Last Week in the Legislature
By Kenneth Besserman
Director of Government Affairs and Special Counsel
January 21, 2021 | Issue No. 1
On January 12, 2021, the Texas Legislature gaveled in the 87th legislative session. The week before opening day of the Texas Legislature, the nation witnessed protests and riots at the U.S. Capitol. Tensions were high in Washington, D.C. and around the country, and state capitols around the country were on high alert. Fortunately, there were no incidents in Austin leading up to or on opening day of the session.
There were many things that were different on opening day compared to past sessions. The ceremonies were short, visitors and guests were limited, masks were ever present, and for the second consecutive session, there is a new speaker of the House.
In the Texas Senate, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick started his fourth session in charge with Republicans maintaining an 18-13 majority, one less than last session. There are four freshmen senators this session – Sarah Eckhardt (D-Austin), Cesar Blanco (D-El Paso), Roland Gutierrez (D-San Antonio) and Drew Springer (R-Muenster).
While the party split changed very little from last session, after vigorous and heated debate the Senate adopted new rules which now only require 18 votes to bring a bill up for consideration. This will make it easier for the party in power to shepherd through and pass much of their agenda.
In the Texas House, Rep. Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) was elected speaker of the House in an almost unanimous vote. Shortly after the election on November 3, where the Republicans maintained their majority in the same 83-67 split as in the 86th session, Speaker Phelan emerged as the consensus choice for speaker after the announced candidates pledged their support for Phelan.
With the speaker elected, the House turned to debating House rules relating to how committees will function and how floor debate will occur. Among the biggest issues debated were access to the House floor, voting procedures and how public testimony will occur in committees during the pandemic. The House voted to allow members to cast their floor votes from their floor desks or from secure locations close to or attached to the House floor.
In addition, the House voted to allow virtual testimony in committees only for invited testimony. The public will still have access to the Capitol and committee rooms if they wish to testify or register support for or against legislation in committee. The full House and Senate rules can be found on the TXCPA Session page once the rules have been published.
The Texas Legislature has adjourned until January 26. It is quite common for the House and Senate to adjourn for many days at a time early on in the session. The House and Senate cannot pass legislation before the 60-day mark of session unless the matter is set as an emergency item by the governor. The governor has yet to issue any emergency declaration, but that might be forthcoming.
While House and Senate floor debate on legislation is limited in the first 60 days, House and Senate committees may meet and discuss legislation. The Senate has set its committees and chairmanships. While no bills have yet been referred to any committees, the Senate Finance Committee will shortly begin hearing testimony on the state budget.
The Senate and lieutenant governor are currently determining what the committee schedule and hearings will look like during the session. Things will likely be a lot different, perhaps slower, this session as the legislature grapples with holding a session during the pandemic.
In the House, Speaker Phelan has asked House members to submit their requested committee assignments by January 27. The speaker will then take some time to name committees and chairmanships. That will likely take place sometime in February.
Please stay tuned for more information about the big issues facing the legislature, more about issues important to TXCPA and the accounting profession, and more about session operations during the pandemic.
If you have signed up and registered for the TXCPA Virtual Advocacy Day on January 26, please be on the lookout for email invitations for your legislative meetings, which will take place on the afternoons of January 26-28.