It's A Wrap
A Review of Texas' Third Special Legislative Session
By Kenneth Besserman
Director of Government Affairs and Special Counsel
November 3, 2021
The Texas Legislature concluded the third special session on October 19. From a regular session that was dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic and Winter Storm Uri to the first special sessions dominated by voting rights legislation and a Democratic House quorum break, the long 2021 legislative year ended (likely? hopefully?) on the most partisan of issues – redistricting. (See second special session article.)
Traditionally, the Texas Legislature (as required by the Texas Constitution) draws new maps for Congress, the State Board of Education and the Texas Legislature during the first regular session after the state receives the Census numbers. This year, because of the pandemic and a number of lawsuits, the Census numbers were not delivered to the states until the summer of 2021. Governor Abbott called a third special session for late September 2021 to address redistricting and a number of other issues.
As Republicans are in power – holding all statewide offices and with 83-67 and 18-13 majorities in the House and Senate respectively – it was clear from the beginning that Republicans would draw maps to their advantage. The only question was how advantageous those maps would be in light of the large population increase primarily fueled by minority populations. The Census numbers showed that Texas had enough population growth to warrant two new Congressional seats. At the same time, those numbers showed that 95% of the population growth in Texas over the last decade was attributed to the Hispanic, African-American and Asian-Pacific Islander population mostly centered around the urban areas of Houston, Dallas-Ft. Worth, and Austin/Central Texas.
The current Texas Congressional makeup is 23 Republicans and 13 Democrats. With two new seats in Texas, the new map that has been passed and signed by the governor will likely see the makeup at 24 Republicans and 14 Democrats (if the same voting results from 2020 hold for the 2022 elections). With retirements and two new seats, it is impossible to predict the actual outcome of the 2022 Congressional elections, but what is certain is that the Republicans will still dominate the Texas Congressional delegation. The two new seats in Texas will be based in Austin/Central Texas and the DFW region.
There was some significant controversy in the late stages of the Congressional map. Initially, the map paired two Democratic African-American members of Congress (Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee and Rep. Al Green) into one district. After a lot of heated debate and amendments, the final map retained both of those Congressional districts without pairing those members of Congress.
State House and Senate maps that passed will also likely retain and increase the Republican majorities in both houses. If 2020 voting results and patterns hold for 2022, the House could increase to 87-89 Republicans (up from the current 83) and the Senate could increase to 19 Republicans (from the current 18). Early analysis of the Senate map shows that only one incumbent member, Sen. Beverly Powell (D – Ft. Worth), could not currently win in her district based on 2020 voting demographics. All other Senate incumbents seems safe at this point.
The new state legislative maps have already had a significant impact on the makeup of the 2023 legislature. As of November 1, 2021, there have already been at least 19 retirements or decisions not to seek reelection. Among those not returning in 2023 are Republican Reps. Paddie, Leman, White, King (running for Senate), Parker, Sanford, Krause (running for AG), Larson, Murphy, Huberty, Biederman (running for a different seat), and Democratic Reps. Lucio, Israel, Talarico (running for a different seat), Beckley, Turner, Pacheco, Minjarez (running for county commissioner?). In the Senate, Senators Nelson, Buckingham and Seliger will not be returning in 2023.
The final point to note on redistricting is that while the maps have been signed by the governor and the secretary of state has indicated that candidate filing will run from Nov. 13 to Dec. 13, 2021, there is sure to be, and in some cases have already been filed, significant legislation attacking the validity and legality of the Congressional and legislative maps. As we have seen in past decades, redistricting litigation can drag on for years, sometimes creating new filing deadlines and new election dates. Unless the courts intervene in the coming weeks or months, the 2022 primaries are set for March 1, 2022.
Find all the new Congressional and legislative maps and which district your home is in.
While the legislature was debating redistricting, a number of other important (and controversial) issues were debated.
Bills that passed included:
- SB 8 – appropriated $16 billion of American Recovery Plan Act federal funds to shore up the unemployment insurance fund, and to fund broadband, food banks, cybersecurity, court case backlog programs and improved 911 programs,
- SB 52 – revenue bonds for higher education institutions (building construction), and
- HB 25 – requiring high school athletes to only play sports on the team of their birth sex, not their gender identity (transgender student athletes).
The most significant issue that did not pass in the third special session was SB51/HB155, which sought to prohibit an employer from imposing a vaccination mandate on their employees. Governor Abbott issued an executive order in the fall that seeks to prohibit a private employer from imposing a vaccination mandate. Bills were filed to attempt to codify the executive order. Businesses, business groups, chambers of commerce, trade associations and many others expressed their concerns to the legislature over this mandate prohibition. They felt that such a prohibition would place many large businesses in conflict with the proposed federal vaccine requirement.
In addition, the legislation was opposed because it would create a private cause of action against an employer that instituted a vaccination mandate and would undo much of the hard work done in the regular session to protect employers from being sued for pandemic-related injuries. The legislation did not pass, but there are efforts and calls for the governor to bring back the legislature for yet another special session to pass the vaccine mandate prohibition.
The third special session has concluded, but it will be remembered for quite a long time. The redistricting maps will be a part of the political landscape for the next decade and will be the basis for much of the legislation for the next several legislative sessions. The legislature has gone home, and members and candidates will begin their campaigns in earnest in the coming weeks and months. Stay tuned to this space for more legislative updates as we get into 2022 and the next legislative session.