He also seemed to allude to the quorum busts that occurred in 2021 when Democrats fled the Capitol to Washington, D.C. and elsewhere to scuttle consideration of the election reform bill, commenting that lawmakers should not “flee from their responsibilities.”
On the subject of property taxes, Phelan said he’s heard from his constituents and others that the property tax burden is overwhelming.
“Ever-increasing property taxes have led many to feel — year-in and year-out — that they are renting their property from the government. Like them, I believe that tax relief should be a priority,” he said.
The speaker also foreshadowed possible criminal justice reform legislation focused on “decreasing incarceration rates, reducing recidivism, and facilitating reentry.”
“We have proven you can be tough on violent criminals while also making the criminal justice system work better for nonviolent offenders, and that is what we will continue to do,” Phelan said.
Phelan also referenced the Robb Elementary School shooting, which took the lives of 19 children and two teachers in Uvalde on May 24 of last year. The speaker indicated that he spoke with families of the survivors last week, and that the chamber would use its findings from a special investigative committee Phelan assembled.
“This is going to be an especially tough conversation, but this body has proven capable of handling conversations like this in the past. I am confident we will do so again,” Phelan said.
Other issues he mentioned included increasing access to healthcare for mothers in rural areas, protecting children from “exploitation, sexualization, and indoctrination,” and addressing the border crisis.
The speaker said that any funding for border security measures should be based on what “not only fits the realities on the ground, but is truly, measurably effective.”
The Legislature will have an estimated $32.7 billion budget surplus at its disposal this session, according to Comptroller Glenn Hegar.
The speech followed a brief contest for the speaker’s gavel that was more symbolic than competitive. Rep. Bryan Slaton (R-Royse City) nominated Rep. Tony Tinderholt (R-Arlington), who announced his candidacy for speaker in November.
Slaton argued Democrats have “created an environment where Republicans believe we can only get a few wins each session.”
In a speech of his own, Tinderholt commented that he believes the speaker is not giving conservative legislation enough daylight.
“Ask yourself, what do Texans need and deserve? I’ve realized they need me to fight to change this broken system,” he said.
He added, “The status quo remains, because people want their power. They want their committee chairmanships. They want their gavel.”
Though Phelan himself did not address the chamber before the vote, several members gave speeches in support of his candidacy, including Rep. Toni Rose (D-Dallas).
Rep. Angie Chen Button (R-Richardson) reflected on her work with Phelan when he served as chair of the House State Affairs Committee.
“[Phelan] has presided over this body with the same respect for the office we all hold,” Button said.
Tinderholt launched his campaign for speaker over his criticism of Phelan for appointing Democratic committee chairs during the 87th Legislature.
First-term Rep. Nate Schatzline (R-Bedford) also gave a speech in favor of Tinderholt’s nomination, though he was much less critical of Phelan. He said Tinderholt “votes his conscience” and supports “biblical Christian values.”
On the House floor Tuesday, there was no detectable reaction from Phelan as Tinderholt and Slaton criticized the speaker’s record. However, he did repeat the argument that many Republicans made regarding working relationships at the Texas Capitol.
Phelan said, “Words of caution: please do not confuse this body with the one in Washington, D.C. After watching Congress attempt to function last week, I cannot imagine why some want Texas to be like D.C.”
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Hayden Sparks is a senior reporter for The Texan and a lifelong resident of the Lone Star State. He has coached competitive speech and debate and has been involved in politics since a young age. One of Hayden's favorite quotes is by Sam Houston: "Texas has yet to learn submission to any oppression, come from what source it may."