Last Week in the Legislature

By Kenneth Besserman
Director of Government Affairs and Special Counsel

February 4, 2021 | Issue No. 3

The Quiet Before the Storm

Week three of the 87th session began and ended very quietly. The House and the Senate adjourned on January 28 and will not return to Austin until February 9. Legislative adjournments are common at the start of all sessions although extended recesses of more than a week are relatively rare.

Because House committees have not yet been formed and because very few bills have been referred to Senate committees, there is no pressing need for the legislature to be in session for the usual recognitions, celebrations or similar matters. The House and the Senate continue to take a very cautious approach to starting the session and meeting on a regular basis while the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread in Texas and Austin.

Governor Greg Abbott gave his State of the State address on February 1. Traditionally, governors present their State of the State to a joint session of the legislature, but this year he gave a televised evening address laying out his priorities for the session. Those items included:

  • Expanding broadband internet access,
  • Punishing local governments that “defund the police” as he defines it,
  • Changing the bail system,
  • Ensuring “election integrity,” and
  • Providing civil liability protections for businesses that were open during the pandemic.

By designating these items as emergency items and presenting that declaration to the legislature, both the House and the Senate may debate those items during the first 60 days of the session. While governors often set out emergency items, which allows for quick debate and quick passage of those items, more often than not those items take time to negotiate and if they do ultimately pass, they pass during the waning days of session. The emergency items declaration is a way for a governor to stress the matters most important to them and to advocate and push the matters in the public arena. 

In addition to the emergency items, Abbott laid out a few more of his legislative priorities, which include making Texas a “Second Amendment sanctuary state,” legislation to strengthen civics education in Texas public schools and further restrictions on abortion. It is still too early to know whether these issues will pass the legislature and in what form, but these issues, whether they pass or not, provide Abbott with a platform on which to run again for governor in 2022 or possibly be a candidate for president in 2024. 

Most legislative offices continue to have staff working in the Capitol, and most offices are requesting that meetings with lobbyists, interest groups and constituents be by appointment only and virtual. Some offices are having in-person meetings of very small groups or having those meetings outside or in larger rooms.

Legislative and session operations continue to be a work in progress, and we can expect that the rules and guidance will change regularly as the pandemic ebbs and flows throughout the spring. Stay tuned to the TXCPA session page for updates on session operations, legislative office access and other items of interest.

Only 114 days to go!