Last Week in the Legislature
By Kenneth Besserman
Director of Government Affairs and Special Counsel
February 11, 2021 | Issue No. 4
Hurry Up and Wait
Week 4 of the Texas Legislature is upon us. The Texas House and Senate gaveled in on Tuesday and adjourned on Wednesday (Senate) and Thursday (House) until February 16.
The Texas Senate Finance Committee began considering the state budget in public hearings. The Finance Committee heard from Comptroller Glenn Hegar on the state of the budget, finances, revenues, economic forecasts and agency operations. Much of the Comptroller’s testimony mirrored what has been released in the Biennial Revenue Estimate. State agencies will continue to present their agency budgets, priorities and needs to the Senate Finance Committee over the coming weeks. The House Appropriations Committee will shortly begin considering the state budget from their perspective. It will be many weeks before state budgets will emerge from the Senate and House committees for consideration by the full Senate and House.
The Senate Redistricting Committee continued hearing testimony about new state and congressional maps. As previously mentioned, the federal Census numbers are not scheduled to be fully released to the states until sometime in June or July after the regular session of the legislature concludes. Much Capitol speculation and prognostication points towards a special session (or multiple special sessions) later in 2021 to formally draw state House and Senate maps. Depending on when those special sessions occur and what legal challenges arise, the Spring 2022 primary election dates may have to be delayed. Delays on election dates are not uncommon when new maps are drawn and litigation ensues. Stay tuned for lots of redistricting updates throughout 2021 and beyond.
In the House, Speaker Dade Phelan began the week naming committee chairpersons and assigning members their committees. Some of the most significant appointments to committee chairs include Appropriations – Greg Bonnen (R-Friendswood), Calendars – Dustin Burrows (R-Lubbock), Redistricting – Todd Hunter (R-Corpus Christi), Public Education – Harold Dutton (D-Houston), Licensing & Administrative Procedures – Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston), and Ways & Means – Morgan Meyer (R-Dallas).
Of the 34 standing committees, 21 will be chaired by Republicans, 13 by Democrats and Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso) will serve another term as speaker pro tem. Five committee chairs and 14 vice-chairs are women, while 14 chairs and 21 vice-chairs are Black, Hispanic or Asian American. A full listing of House Committees can be found here.
On the legislative front, members continue to file bills before the March 12 filing deadline. Committees may start meeting in the coming days or weeks to hear testimony. It is understood and discussed (both in quiet and openly) that committees will have a considerably lighter workload this session as fewer bills either get referred to committee or are set for hearings. Because testimony will be somewhat limited by virtual testimony and limited Capitol and committee hearing access, both the House and Senate may try to limit the number of bills heard in committees as a way to limit the spread of the virus. Health and safety concerns for the public, members and staff have become of paramount importance this session.
Lt. Governor Dan Patrick has recently indicated that he does not intend to bring any expanded gambling legislation to the Senate floor this session. There has been a big push by the gambling industry and hired gun lobbyists to open the state to casino gambling. At this time, it appears that gambling is not going to see the light of day in 2021.
Pandemic-related business liability legislation got a shot in the arm this week when it was announced that Chairman Jeff Leach (R-Plano) would be joining Senator Kelly Hancock (R-North Richland Hills) in introducing legislation to protect businesses from civil liability for opening their business during a pandemic if they have followed safety and health protocols. Leach is the chairman of the House Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Committee, which will hear the bill during the session and give the bill added weight and importance and increase the likelihood of getting to the governor’s desk.
Now that committees have been named and state budget hearings have begun, the session can now be considered to have officially started. The weeks ahead will be busier both in a virtual and in-person sense.
Stay tuned for more updates. Only 107 days to go!