Convening in the speaker’s press room, seven of the eight caucus members ran through each of the items on their priority list.
Rep. Mayes Middleton (R-Wallisville), chair of the caucus, stated, “The voters of Texas sent a decisive and clear message. Despite every major media outlet and political pundits saying the Texas House would flip — despite $50 million of out of state money — Republicans had a victory to remember.”
“Texans didn’t just reject what the left was selling, they voted for the liberty, and the freedoms, and the Texas grit that are the foundations of our state … and it is more important than ever that this be a session about protecting our God-given rights,” he continued.
Laying out the Heartbeat Bill, Rep. Matt Schaefer (R-Tyler) emphasized, “The first responsibility of any government is to protect innocent life.” Last session, the legislation died in committee when its chair, Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston), was not given a hearing and expired.
In addition to the Heartbeat Bill, the caucus will file and push legislation to outlaw late-term abortions for babies with fetal defects.
Constitutional carry, which became a casualty of the spat between former-Speaker Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton) and gun rights activist Chris McNutt, is also on the caucus’ agenda. Bonnen accused McNutt of intimidating his family, but law enforcement body cam video shows the activist did not even make it up to the speaker’s house when canvassing in support of the bill.
After the blow up, and before more details were brought to light, now-former Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford) pulled the legislation from consideration.
Bolstering border security and cracking down on immigration sanctuary cities are also on the caucus’ to-do list.
Rep. Briscoe Cain (R-Deer Park), who has already filed election security-related legislation, stated, “Free, fair, and secure elections are the bedrock of our republic. The freedoms we are all promised and fight for are at risk when our election laws are inadequate or not enforced.”
Voter fraud, especially involving mail ballots, was a topic of heightened discussion in this last election. Cain even went to Pennsylvania to investigate potential fraudulent voting in the aftermath of the election.
Reforms Cain highlighted included instituting stricter voting processes, strengthened auditing capabilities, and purging voter rolls of non-eligible voters.
A significant theme of this past year is the state’s disaster code and the emergency powers it delegates to the governor. The Texas Disaster Act of 1975 (TDA) grants a wide range of authority to the governor during a time of disaster with little to no check on his power available — especially during an interim when the legislature isn’t convened. Some even argue the entire thing is out of step with the Texas Constitution.
Rep. Cody Vasut (R-Angleton) spoke on reforms to the disaster code. “Only the legislature has the power to make and suspend laws. To that end, we’ll bring the [TDA] in compliance with the Texas Constitution,” he underscored.
Specifically, they hope to curtail executive authorities under disaster declarations at all levels of government, such as by prohibiting the closure of businesses via executive order.
Asked about the support for emergency powers reform within the House, Vasut said it is “nearly unanimous.”
Vasut also touched on the “defund the police” issue in Texas, and the need to “protect our law enforcement from all attempts to defund the police.” Last week, Governor Abbott announced that among his legislative priorities is a financial penalty for cities that “defund their police.”
The caucus’ other priorities include a potential swap from property taxes to sales taxes at the local level; the casualty from two years ago, a ban on taxpayer-funded lobbying; school choice and standardized testing reform; spending cuts; and a prohibition on sex-change hormone therapy used on minors.
To view the full list of priorities, click here.
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Brad Johnson is a senior reporter for The Texan and an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.