87th LegislatureState HouseState SenateTexas GOP Priority Legislation Lingers With One Month Left in Session

With only until the end of the month for lawmakers to pass bills, here’s where the progress on the Texas GOP’s legislative priorities currently stands.
May 3, 2021
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Before the 87th Legislative Session began in January, the Republican Party of Texas listed eight top priorities that the party wanted to see state lawmakers address.

None of the bills specifically promoted by the party have yet to be voted on by both chambers, though legislation for priorities such as election integrity and constitutional carry are still moving.

But the clock is ticking down on the 140 days that legislators have to pass bills, the end date — also known as Sine Die — being May 31.

With less than a month left, the GOP-backed legislation for issues like school choice for all and monument protection appear all but dead. 

Here is where the party’s priorities currently stand heading into the final few weeks of the legislative session.

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Election Integrity

The focal point of election integrity legislation throughout the session has been the House and Senate omnibus bills that are both backed by the GOP, House Bill (HB) 6 from Rep. Briscoe Cain (R-Deer Park) and Senate Bill (SB) 7 from Rep. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola).

SB 7 was acted on more quickly, with the Senate approving the bill along party lines in the early hours of April 1 after a long night of debate on the floor.

The progress of HB 6 through the House has been more tumultuous, first with the accidental delay of the bill’s hearing after Cain, also the chair of the House Elections Committee, got into a dispute with Rep. Jessica Gonzalez (D-Dallas), the committee’s vice-chair.

Last week, more drama unfolded in the committee when Cain brought up — to the ire of the committee’s Democrats — a vote on SB 7 without a hearing on the legislation, saying that it wasn’t needed since he substituted the language in the Senate bill with the same text of HB 6 which the committee already approved.

SB 7 — which now contains the text of the similar, but far from identical House bill — will need to be approved by the Calendars Committee to be brought to the floor for a vote by the whole chamber.

If passed by the House, the Senate would need to agree with the amendments or, more likely, send the bill to a conference committee with a few representatives from each chamber to work out the differences in the House and Senate versions.

Once the final form of the bill is approved by both chambers, SB 7 will be sent to Gov. Greg Abbott for his signature.

The GOP has two other priority election integrity bills that have been approved by at least one chamber.

SB 155, a bill from Sen. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock) to require voter registration lists to be compared to a list of noncitizens or nonresidents disqualified from jury service, was approved by the Senate as well as the House Elections Committee. The bill is now waiting to be placed on the calendar for a vote on the House floor.

HB 574, a bill from Rep. Greg Bonnen (R-Friendswood) to broaden the definition of voter fraud and increase its penalty, was approved by the House and is now currently in the Senate State Affairs Committee where it was heard and left pending.

Religious Freedom

Out of all the priority GOP issues, the party is backing the most religious freedom bills and several have advanced out of a chamber.

SB 797, a bill from Hughes to require the display of the national motto (“In God We Trust”) in public schools if the poster is donated, passed the Senate and is scheduled for a House committee hearing on Tuesday.

Two originally identical bills to prohibit the closure of churches during a disaster declaration, HB 1239 from Rep. Scott Sanford (R-McKinney) and SB 26 from Sen. Angela Paxton (R-McKinney), have passed each chamber, though they are no longer identical.

Aside from some slight language differences, the House version also includes a floor amendment from Rep. Cole Hefner (R-Mt. Pleasant) that would also prohibit capacity restrictions for churches under a disaster declaration.

SB 26 was referred to the House State Affairs committee, but HB 1239 has not yet been referred to a committee in the Senate.

More broadly, SJR 27, a constitutional amendment from Sen. Kelly Hancock (R-North Richland Hills), would prohibit the state or any political subdivision from prohibiting or limiting any religious service. It was passed by the Senate in a 28 to 2 vote and referred to the House State Affairs committee.

SB 247, a bill from Sen. Bob Hall (R-Edgewood) to prohibit religious discrimination against state bar members, passed an initial vote in the Senate but needs another formal vote before it will move on to the House.

Children and Gender Modification

SB 1646 from Perry would add to the list of definitions of child abuse in state code the use of puberty blockers or surgeries on minors “for the purpose of gender transitioning or gender reassignment.” 

Perry’s bill passed the Senate, but has not yet been referred to a House committee.

A companion bill, HB 4014 from Hefner, was referred to the Public Health Committee but has not received a hearing.

Abolition of Abortion

One of the GOP’s top priorities in way of pro-life legislation this session has been SB 8, “The Texas Heartbeat Act,” which would ban abortions after a heartbeat has been detected in the mother’s womb.

The legislation from Hughes, sponsored by Rep. Shelby Slawson (R-Stephenville) in the House, passed the Senate and was approved by the Public Health Committee.

SB 9 from Angela Paxton would create a trigger law to ban abortions if Roe v. Wade is overturned by the Supreme Court, and the bill was approved by the Senate and sent to the Public Health Committee.

An omnibus bill from Perry, SB 1647, would combine the heartbeat legislation, the trigger ban, and a policy to prohibit abortions based on sex, race, or disability. It was approved by both the Senate and the Public Health Committee.

Constitutional Carry

While constitutional carry bills to allow the carry of handguns without a permit have been filed in previous sessions, the 87th Legislature has made the most progress on the measure yet.

HB 1927 from Rep. Matt Schaefer (R-Tyler) and sponsored by Sen. Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown) passed the House and was approved by a new special Senate Committee on Constitutional Issues.

The new committee was created by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and packed with a majority of its members who had expressed support for the permitless carry measure.

While it passed with unanimous support from the five Republicans on the committee, Patrick has expressed some uncertainty about having the necessary votes from all 18 GOP members in the chamber.

However, Patrick also said during a radio interview last week that he intends to bring the bill to the Senate floor this week.

If amended by the Senate — and Schwertner has said that there will be at least six amendments on the floor — the bill will need to be reapproved by the House or in a conference committee before it can be sent to the governor.

Abbott has said that he intends to sign the legislation when it reaches him.

Monument Protection

While the debate on protecting certain monuments has been seen during committee hearings in the House, only a handful of the bills prioritized by the Texas GOP have passed out of committee and none have been approved by a chamber.

The three to receive committee approval include:

  • HB 2713 from Hefner aims to provide uniform statewide regulations for removing, relocating, or altering monuments;
  • HB 3013 from Rep. Kyle Biedermann (R-Fredericksburg) would require the General Land Office to ensure that displays at the Alamo prominently feature the story of the 1836 Battle of the Alamo and the grievances of Texans listed in the Texas Declaration of Independence;
  • And HB 3584 from Rep. Andrew Murr (R-Junction) would clarify and expand the civil penalty for altering or removing historical items in the custody of the Texas Historical Commission without the commission’s approval.

School Choice for All

The Texas GOP has prioritized two school identical school choice bills — HB 4537 from Rep. Mayes Middleton (R-Wallisville) and SB 1968 from Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) — but neither chamber has heard the legislation in a committee.

Ban Taxpayer-Funded Lobbying

While one of the GOP’s priority taxpayer-funded lobbying bills, HB 749 from Middleton, was left pending after a marathon House committee hearing, the Senate gave high priority to Bettencourt’s SB 10 and passed it out in a 17 to 13 vote.

Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. (D-Brownsville), was absent for the vote, while Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo) voted against the bill.

After approval from the Senate, SB 10 was referred to the House State Affairs Committee but has not yet received a hearing.

Executive Overreach

Earlier in the session, the House and Senate butt heads with competing proposals to reform the Texas Disaster Act.

Texas GOP leaders, including Chairman Allen West, have criticized HB 3 from Rep. Dustin Burrows (R-Lubbock) and have instead thrown their support behind SJR 45, a constitutional amendment offered by Sen. Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury).

Birdwell’s proposal, which is tied to SB 1025, would require legislative approval for renewals of major disaster declarations.

SJR 45 and SB 1025 were passed by the Senate in mid-April, but have not been acted on by the House beyond their referral to the House State Affairs Committee.

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Daniel Friend

Daniel Friend is a reporter for The Texan. He participated in a Great Books program at Azusa Pacific University and graduated in 2019 with a degree in Political Science. He has studied C.S. Lewis’s science fiction trilogy and in his spare time you might find him writing his own novel partly inspired by the series.