The Back MicThe Back Mic: Democrat Moves After Redistricting, New Legislator Off to Fast Start, Approval of University Spending Requested

This week — a look at Texas politics during the last full week of the third special session.
October 15, 2021
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Democratic Legislator Moves to Blue District After Redistricting

House District (HD) 52 in Williamson County, currently represented by Rep. James Talarico (D-Round Rock), was made a Republican-leaning district in the state House redistricting map.

Hoping to kill two birds with one stone and make a blue seat more competitive while taking out one of the rising stars for Texas Democrats, the House GOP adjusted the boundaries for Talarico’s district. Already facing two young GOP challengers running to specifically take him out on the issue of the state representative’s D.C. expatriation over the summer, Talarico has decided to switch seats.

Instead of HD 52, which he flipped in 2018 and won again in 2020, Talarico will run in HD 50 in 2022 — currently represented by Rep. Celia Israel (D-Austin) who is not seeking re-election and is exploring a run for Austin mayor.

“Texas Republicans are attempting to eliminate me by using racist gerrymandering to divide our community. If they think they can keep me out of the House, they better think again,” Talarico said announcing his move.

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Having grown up in North Austin, Talarico announced a litany of high-profile Democratic endorsements for the seat, including:

  • Former U.S. Senate and presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke
  • Former gubernatorial and congressional candidate Wendy Davis
  • Congressman Joaquin Castro (D-TX-20)
  • Former U.S. Senate candidate M.J. Hegar
  • Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo
  • Austin Mayor Steve Adler

HD 50 was made even more strongly Democratic under the new map proposal — so should he win the primary, Republicans will likely be stuck with Talarico in the House for as long as he chooses to be there.

New Lawmaker Files Vaccine Mandate Prohibition on First Day

State Rep. Brian Harrison (R-Midlothian) had barely located his desk in the Texas House chamber before he jumpstarted his legislative career. Harrison won the special election for HD 10, vacant after now Congressman Jake Ellzey’s special election win, and defeated former state representative John Wray who tried to retake the seat he previously held.

After getting sworn in on Tuesday, Harrison filed House Bill (HB) 168 that aims to ban all vaccine mandates, public or private, in the State of Texas.

“This is boldest, broadest, most legally defensible assertion of individual liberty with respect to medical decisions and against unconstitutional and illegal federal covid mandates to date,” Harrison said.

Harrison served as the chief of staff to the Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar during the Trump administration.

The legislation prohibits any forced vaccinations for individuals without their “informed consent,” defined in such a way that “[m]akes clear that any individual who is coerced or forced to receive a vaccine against their wishes cannot” meet that benchmark.

HB 168 tasks the Texas attorney general with enforcement, enabling him to sue health care providers who violate the provision for damages not less than $5,000.

The day before Harrison filed the bill, Governor Greg Abbott about-faced and issued an executive order prohibiting vaccine mandates writ large, not just for government entities, and added the issue to the third special session agenda.

Lt. Governor Calls for Tuition Revenue Bonds to Be Added to Special Session Agenda

The last time the state legislature approved tuition revenue bonds (TRB) — a form of public higher education funding that is financed by revenues from the institution, most often through student tuition or fees — was in 2015.

“There have been requests and demands from schools across the state,” Lt. Governor Dan Patrick said in a letter to the governor on Wednesday.

“Members in the House and the Senate are ready to address this need, but the House parliamentarian has indicated that it needs to be included in the call before a bill can be passed. Both chambers stand willing to address the issue and provide the funds for tuition revenue bonds to our higher education institutions.”

TRBs are used to finance capital projects by universities. Legislation outlining an array of projects across 60 Texas public institutions amounting to a combined $3.8 billion in bond authority didn’t advance past its committee in either chamber.

“I am requesting that the subject be added to the call today, so that we can begin the process of getting the legislation passed through both chambers quickly,” Patrick concluded.

The third called special session expires on Tuesday, October 19, and Governor Abbott has not yet acquiesced Patrick’s request.

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Brad Johnson

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.