Governor’s Emergency Items
In his February 1 State of the State speech, Governor Greg Abbott outlined five emergency items he’d task the legislature with addressing during the legislative session. That list grew to seven in the wake of the mid-February winter storm.
At varying points of resolution, key legislation is making its way through the legislature on each of these categories. Nearly on its way to the governor’s desk is House Bill (HB) 5 that would create a Broadband Expansion Office for the state to facilitate awarding federal grants to service providers. That bill is currently in conference wherein the biggest fight between the House and Senate will be over language prioritizing applicants who agree to install a pornography filter in their default service.
The House’s slate of electricity priorities, including an ERCOT board in-state residency requirement and power grid weatherization, have been approved by the lower chamber and are now in the Senate’s hands — except for HB 16 that was sent back to the House with amendments.
Meanwhile, the Senate’s key power grid weatherization bill, Senate Bill (SB) 3 was heard by the House State Affairs Committee last week and awaits its up or down vote. The Senate has also passed reforms to the Public Utility Commission of Texas.
After many months of controversy over the 2020 presidential election, on Friday last week the House passed SB 7, a bill promoted by Republicans as election integrity legislation and criticized as a voter suppression bill by Democrats. The bill now awaits Senate approval of the House’s amendments or the formation of a conference committee.
Protection for businesses from coronavirus-related lawsuits has multiple forms, but the two with the most backing are HB 3, the Pandemic Response Act, and SB 6. The latter has passed the Senate and awaits scheduling for a floor vote while the former passed the House this week.
The House’s key bail reform bill, prohibiting bail to alleged violent offenders, has advanced through the lower chamber. The Senate’s version has been left pending in the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee since April 20.
Many of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s priorities in the Texas Senate are also making their way to the finish line. Senate Bill (SB) 1, which is the proposed state budget, is being considered in a conference committee to reconcile the differences between the version the Senate passed and the one that cleared the House.
The state senators on the conference committee are Sens. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound), Joan Huffman (R-Houston), Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham), Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville), and Larry Taylor (R-Houston). The House appointed Reps. Greg Bonnen (R-Friendswood), Giovanni Capriglione (R-Southlake), Mary Gonzalez (D-Clint), Armando Walle (D-Houston), and Terry Wilson (R-Marble Falls).
Cultural and social issues have been sore points in the 87th legislature, and Patrick’s chosen legislation to advance conservative social priorities is making headway, including bills to protect the Star Spangled Banner, abortion restrictions, and limits on how social media companies can censor the speech of their users.
After it came to light that Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban had quietly stopped playing the national anthem prior to the team’s home games, Patrick lambasted Cuban and announced legislation to require the song before any games that received state funding. SB 4 passed unanimously out of committee and overwhelmingly in the Senate. Sens. Sarah Eckhardt (D-Austin) and Nathan Johnson (D-Dallas) were the only to vote against it.
SB 8, which would prohibit abortion after the detection of an unborn child’s heartbeat, passed the Senate and an amended version passed the House. The next stage in the process is the Senate’s approval or disapproval of the House changes. SB 9, which would ban almost all abortions if Roe v. Wade or Planned Parenthood v. Casey is overturned or modified, passed the Senate and is still in committee. However, an identical bill, HB 1280, passed the House and is now awaiting consideration by the Senate.
SB 12, which would place strict limits on censorship by large social media companies, passed the Senate and is pending in the House State Affairs Committee. A bill designed to protect religious freedom, SB 26, also passed the Senate and is pending in the same committee.
Legislation to require athletes in public schools to compete in sports based on their biological sex, SB 29, passed the Senate and passed the House Public Education Committee after Chairman Harold Dutton (D-Houston) became irked with fellow Democrats over their refusal to support his bill designed to increase accountability for public schools by giving more clout to the Texas Education Agency. Dutton’s support of SB 29 was transparently an act of “consequence” against the members of his own party.
Bills designed to safeguard the right to keep and bear arms in Texas, including bills to protect businesses such as firearms manufacturers and shooting ranges, have passed the Senate and are at various stages in the House. A bill to require hotels to allow guests to keep firearms and ammunition in their rooms and vehicles, as well as one to ban public contracts with “companies that discriminate against firearm and ammunition industries,” have passed the Senate, cleared House committees, and await scheduling by the House Calendars Committee.
The only items on Patrick’s priority list that have not at least been approved by the Senate are a data protection bill, legislation making changes to civil procedure in suits over commercial vehicle accidents, an appellate court reorganization bill, and the redistricting bill. The redistricting bill, SB 31, is to redraw the lines for Senate districts in light of the findings of the U.S. Census. However, due to delayed completion of the 2020 census, the governor will likely have to call a special session so the legislature can complete redistricting.
The last day for House committees to pass Senate bills is Saturday, May 22.
A majority of Speaker Dade Phelan’s (R-Beaumont) priorities have passed the House and some have made it out of Senate committees.
Phelan and other House members unveiled a slew of health care priority bills including telehealth expansion and hospital price transparency. The former is set for a Senate hearing this week while the latter has been left pending in committee for a while — but its Senate companion is being advanced through the House in its stead.
A bill to create a prescription drug savings program for some uninsured Texas residents, an effort led by Rep. Tom Oliverson (R-Cypress) passed the House overwhelmingly and is now awaiting referral to a Senate committee. Additionally, a bill to broaden eligibility for Medicaid to include women who have given birth or who have had an involuntary miscarriage passed the House and is now pending in the Senate Health & Human Services Committee.
One of the more criticized bills from the right flank is Rep. Garnet Coleman’s (D-Houston) HB 4139 that would create the Office of Health Equity in Texas designed to “address social determinants of health.” It passed the House and now awaits direction from the Senate.
HB 3752 by Rep. James Frank (R-Wichita Falls), which establishes a state-facilitated health insurance program that small businesses can use for their employees, passed the House last week and is now in the Senate’s hands.
The other main slate of priorities House leadership has pushed focuses on criminal justice. Its headline is the bail reform bill, but other notables include restriction of the scope of the death penalty, namely that an alleged conspirator to murder must have actually caused or intended to cause the death of the victim; reform to the practice of civil asset forfeiture; legislation that credits time served before conviction for offenders toward their overall sentence; and an across-the-board expungement of offenses later decriminalized.
Each of those has passed the House and made it to the Senate except the last on the list.
The House’s deadline that it can pass its own legislation out of the body is Thursday at 11:59 p.m. With only a few days to go, there’ll be a race to get as much of the priority legislation across the initial checkpoint. Any House legislation that fails to make it through by that deadline will be either dead entirely this session or must move from the Senate’s version.
The countdown clock is ticking.
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Brad Johnson is 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.