Last Week in the Legislature
By Kenneth Besserman
Director of Government Affairs and Special Counsel
July 2, 2021
Here We Go Again - Special Session #1
It has been one month since the end of the 87th regular session of the Texas Legislature. During the regular session, and in the aftermath, legislators, staffers, lobbyists, insiders, and everyone involved with the legislature knew that special sessions would be called during the summer and fall to address redistricting and other unfinished business. Last week, Governor Greg Abbott announced that the first special session would be called to begin on July 8, 2021.
The governor has yet to issue the special session call so there is no certainty as to what he will ask the legislature to debate during the special session, but there are a number of issues that were left unfinished or that did not pass that the governor might consider worthy of consideration during a special session.
To start, the governor line item vetoed the appropriations for the legislative branch of government. That includes funding for the legislature, legislative agencies (Legislative Budget Board, Legislative Council, Sunset Commission), and salaries for all legislative staff and members of the legislature. Funding for the legislative branch will run out on August 31 unless the legislature passes, and the governor signs, an appropriations bill restoring that funding. Abbott stressed that his veto of legislative appropriations was in response to Democratic lawmakers breaking a quorum and killing legislation addressing election integrity reform. It is likely that legislative appropriations will be on the call for this first called special session.
There were a number of state leadership priorities that did not pass during the 87th session that may be added to the special session call. Abbott had declared bail reform to be a priority for the regular session. The comprehensive bail reform legislation failed to pass during the waning days of session, and the governor continues to maintain bail reform is important and should be addressed by the legislature.
Election integrity reform, while very controversial on the state and national level, will also likely be added to the special session call. Senate Bill 7 failed in the last hour of the regular session when a number of controversial items were added in the conference committee report and many House Democratic lawmakers felt that they had no option but to break the legislative quorum and deny the House a vote on the controversial legislation. Senate Bill 7, or a version of it, will likely be addressed during the special session.
Other issues that may be added to the call include additional ERCOT/power grid reform. While some important legislation did pass during the regular session, many legislators continue to demand that more be done to avoid any possibility of system-wide power grid failures like those that Texans faced in February. Many legislators also continue to ask the governor to add items such as transgender issues and social media censorship to the special session call. Abbott has indicated that he will issue his special session call shortly before the start of the special session.
The last remaining issue that has to constitutionally be addressed by the Texas Legislature is redistricting. Census numbers were not available during the regular session, thereby ensuring that a special session would have to be called when the Census numbers are available to the states. It appears that those numbers may be available in late summer or early fall, meaning that a second special session will likely occur in the fall.
Texas will be gaining two new Congressional seats and with the increased population, state House and Senate seats will have to be redrawn. Preliminary numbers indicate that population has increased and shifted towards Houston, DFW, Austin and San Antonio, meaning that those areas will see increased legislators while rural east and west Texas will see representation decline and those districts get even larger to account for the population loss. You can be sure that the redistricting special session will be lively and contentious.
For a good review of the issues and politics of the special session, the Texas Tribune has a great podcast episode that might be of interest.
Watch this space in the coming weeks as we detail what is happening in the special session. While we do not envision any accounting or CPA issues to be raised during the special sessions, we will be on the lookout for any issues that we need to address or engage.
Thank you for your hard work to make the 87th session a successful one for TXCPA.