Last Week in the Legislature

By Kenneth Besserman
Director of Government Affairs and Special Counsel

February 26, 2021 | Issue No. 5-6

The Lost Week(s)

Weeks 5 and 6 of the Texas legislative session started off very cold and ended with heated hearings in the Texas House and Senate about the power grid and water failures that gripped the state. Heart wrenching accounts of Texas families coping with the electric power and water outages were, and continue to be, ever present. What Texas and the legislature are learning about the devastation, family struggles and financial costs related to the winter storm will reverberate around the Capitol all session long and well beyond.

When Week 5 began, the state was in the midst of one of the coldest times in its history. There were major power outages across the state, and water system failures and disruptions abounded. Millions of Texans were without electricity and water for days during the subfreezing temperatures. Both the House and Senate convened for a very short meeting early in the week and then promptly adjourned until the following week. Week 6 saw the House and Senate once again convene for a very short time and then both adjourned until March 2.

On Thursday, February 25, the Senate Business and Commerce Committee and the House State Affairs and Energy Resources Committees (meeting jointly) held hearings to discuss the power grid failures. The committees heard from the leaders of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), energy companies, water utilities, advocates and others to discuss what happened in the power grid failures and what reforms the legislature should consider. On Wednesday, February 24, Governor Greg Abbott addressed the state about the winter storm and power grid failures. While no specific reforms were mentioned, the governor stressed that such a power grid failure should never happen again in Texas. Abbott has expanded his emergency items to now include ERCOT reform and power grid weatherization as issues that the legislature should tackle quickly.

In addition, in past comments Abbott has met with legislators and spoken about financial relief that he would like to see for those affected by exorbitant electric bills during the power outage and immediately thereafter. There are no specific details yet about what the financial relief will be or look like, but we will make that available to you once the details are known.

The committee hearings included testimony about the grid’s portfolio (gas, coal, nuclear, wind, and solar), how that portfolio performed during the winter storm, how ERCOT works and what ERCOT has the power to do and not do, weatherization, and possible legislative reforms. 

If you did not have the opportunity to view the TXCPA Facebook Live presentation (Feb. 26 at 10 a.m. - 10:30 a.m.) on the power outages, you can see a replay of the event here.  We had the opportunity to speak with Michele Richmond, executive director of the Texas Competitive Power Advocates, who spoke about the power grid failures, past legislative reforms and what the legislature might consider in the coming months.

The legislative session was already off to a very slow start and much of the time was already going to be dedicated to dealing with the state budget and COVID-related legislation (liability reform, gubernatorial executive powers, COVID-related school issues). Now it appears that any oxygen that will be left in the legislature is going to be taken up by power grid failure issues.

Lt. Governor Dan Patrick announced his legislative priorities for the session. At the time of this article, only about half of the items have been introduced as bills. Over the coming days and weeks, more of these legislative priorities will be filed and the Senate will have the opportunity to hold committee hearings and debate these matters.

The Senate Finance and House Appropriations Committees continued to hold budget hearings during Week 6. Other House and Senate committees have not yet met (other than the special hearings on the power grid failures) but will begin in earnest in Weeks 7 and 8. As mentioned previously, this COVID-dominated session will likely see significantly fewer bills passed and shorter and fewer committee hearings. We are already seeing the process being played out with very few bills having been referred to committees thus far. Both the House and the Senate have internal mechanisms to slow the bill referral and bill passage process. 

Rumors abound about how the session will operate during the coming months, what the priorities will be, what members will be the leaders of power grid reform, and countless other inside Capitol matters. Stay tuned as we learn more about how this unpredictable session will develop.

Only 93 days remain in the session.