88th LegislaturePatrick, Phelan Draw Battle Lines Between House and Senate in Dueling Speeches

About three months remain in the 88th Legislative Session, plenty of time for policy fights to unfold and be hammered out within the Capitol.
and March 3, 2023
The leaders of the Texas House and Senate — both Republicans, both intensely defensive of their respective chambers — traded jabs on the policy pulpit this week, hashing out last session’s disagreements on a stage set to discuss this session’s goals.

Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) began the exchange in a speech at the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s 2023 Policy Summit. 

“I know what to do this session when it comes to criminal justice,” Phelan said, “and that is pass what the Senate did not pass last session.”

The House had 17 bills in its 2021 criminal justice reform package, 11 of which stalled out in the Senate. One was vetoed by Gov. Greg Abbott. The Senate had pocketed the legislation, another page in a long string of tit-for-tat between the two chambers last session that really took off with the electricity repricing dispute.

On that day in May 2021, the House recessed for two days in protest.

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“We passed all this wonderful, bipartisan, TPPF-approved criminal justice reform package and the Senate just wasn’t on board with a lot of it. I figure that if it’s good enough for TPPF, if it’s good enough for Donald Trump, it should be good enough for the Senate.”

He then highlighted four aspects of that slate: sending juvenile offenders to community supervision facilities rather than detention centers, eliminating civil asset forfeiture and “no-knock warrants,” and striking the “dead suspect loophole” that prevents the release of public information if an individual charged with a crime dies in custody.

The speaker then teased a forthcoming border security bill he said introduces a novel strategy.

A few hours later, it became clear Phelan’s comments caught the ear of his peer across the rotunda.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, as the keynote speaker during the TPPF afternoon luncheon on Wednesday, delivered his speech with a response to Phelan and his earlier comments.

Patrick turned Phelan’s remarks back on him, using it to cite similar policy grievances against the House.

“If the Senate likes it, and TPPF likes it, and Donald Trump likes it, then the House should like it,” he said, pointing to various Senate priority legislation that did not make it through the lower chamber.

The first example Patrick used to illustrate his point is the much-discussed school choice legislation — to be Senate Bill 8 in his chamber. Abbott is pushing the issue hard, choosing Education Savings Accounts as his preferred method, but the main question is where the House membership lies on the issue.

Last session, a kind of test vote occurred during the budget proceedings with a voucher rider failing overwhelmingly. Phelan said Thursday that on school choice, there are 149 different opinions on the issue in his chamber; Patrick countered that if the speaker got on board, those on the fence in his chamber would jump to his side.

Patrick then repeated this formula for a handful of other policies on the table this session such as prohibiting children at drag shows, removing obscene materials from school libraries, preventing biological men from competing in women’s sports, and extending the critical race theory ban to higher education.

“The House, we’ll work with them as always do, but we are not going to backpedal,” Patrick added. “I don’t care how many special sessions it takes… we have time, I don’t have any plans this summer.”

Patrick further touted the importance of ending college professors’ tenure as a means of combating the teaching of critical race theory in universities — an idea about which Phelan has expressed skepticism. Patrick says it will attract more conservative professors and spotlighted both the University of North Carolina and North Carolina State as examples of outright ending DEI on campuses.

The lieutenant governor has underscored the importance of ending DEI policies at Texas universities.

Perhaps the biggest example of juxtaposition during the speeches comes on appraisal reform — a smaller subsection of the Legislature’s broader property tax relief plan, the feature of which is another round of tax rate compression.

Patrick and the Senate are set on an increase in the homestead exemption to $70,000 while Phelan and the House prefer lowering the year-to-year appraisal cap from 10 to 5 percent, paired with expanding its application to all property in the state.

In less than 24 hours, the dispute has already caused a ripple effect; senators and representatives took to social media to defend their chambers’ plans against criticism from their peers across the rotunda.

A few members and critics on social media have knocked the House for not mirroring the rapid pace of the Senate — which often gavels in and adjourns multiple times in a calendar day toward the twilight of the session to expedite legislation.

Intentional or not, Patrick poked at this when highlighting a proposed constitutional amendment, SJR 62 carried by Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury), that would end the 60-day waiting period at the start of the session before legislation can be voted on.

Patrick ended his address with his plans to contract with a manufacturing company to produce ammunition for law enforcement. A $300 million designation for rural law enforcement and $2 billion for beds in hospitals and full scholarships for nurses was noted as being inspired by his tour through rural Texas in his 2022 campaign.  

Patrick plans to model the manufacturing of ammunition after HB 483, which created the nation’s first state-owned metals depository.  The Texas Bullion Depository is privately operated but leased through the Texas comptroller. Operation of the facility goes through a triple-level audit that allows private sector expertise to operate with oversight and audit privileges from the Comptroller’s office.

Roughly three months remain in the 88th Legislative Session, and this disagreement is part and parcel of the legislative process.

Setting a seemingly lofty goal given the recent history, Patrick posited, “Our goal is to make this the best session ever working with the other chamber. It should not be hard, it should be easy. We have the leadership in the House, in the Senate, and in the governor’s mansion — and we’re not always going to completely agree on everything, but this should be easy.”

Even so, there’s already plenty for the two to disagree about and a chasm of space between the two chambers on certain issues — and if they cannot be resolved, there’s always the potential for a special session.


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Brad Johnson

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.