The Back MicThe Back Mic: Senate Priorities Released, Prominent Chairman Censured by Local GOP, Pandemic Unemployment Benefits Total $56 Billion

This week — Lt. Governor Dan Patrick lists priority items for the next special session, a lawmaker is censured by his local GOP, and an agency gives an update on the pandemic unemployment.
September 17, 2021
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Lt. Governor Releases Priority Items for 3rd Special Session

The third, and possibly final, special session of 2021 begins next week and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick has released his slate of priority items during the 30-day sprint to complete the legislature’s business.

Four of the five items on the governor’s proclamation are on Patrick’s priority list, the lone absence being a prohibition on vaccine mandates issued by political subdivisions. It also includes one item not explicitly on the governor’s call, which is a compression of property tax rates similar to the legislature’s 2019 reform.

Patrick’s list includes:

  • Senate Bill (SB) 1 – Continued property tax compression
  • SB 2 – Replenishment of the unemployment insurance fund
  • SB 3 – Prohibition on biological males competing with females in youth sports
  • SB 4 – Senate redistricting map
  • SB 5 – Establish a criminal penalty for the unlawful restraint of a dog

None of the bills have been filed yet but they’ll be authored by Sens. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound), Charles Perry (R-Lubbock), Joan Huffman (R-Houston), and Eddie Lucio (D-Brownsville) in order, respectively.

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While not on his priority bill list, Patrick further stated that he wants the Senate to consider the creation of a fund that would “incentivize more investment in dispatchable energy” for the grid. Dispatchable energy is generation that can be called upon on short notice, i.e. not renewable sources that are subject to the weather. That discussion will be spearheaded by Sen. Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown).

“My message is simple: when state coffers have a surplus in any given year, our first priority must be to return much of it to homeowners for their property taxes and to save some for the future,” Patrick said. “Any additional spending should come only after those two priorities are addressed.”

Texas House Chairman Censured by Harrison County GOP

One of the Texas House’s most powerful chairmen was censured by his local GOP this week. Rep. Chris Paddie (R-Marshall), chairman of the State Affairs Committee through which many big-ticket items flow, was censured by the Harrison County Republican Party executive committee by a nine to one vote.

The censure occurred in accordance with Rule 44, a provision within the Republican Party of Texas that allows some degree of reprimand for elected officials. A censure has no penalty associated with it and is simply a “statement of strong disapproval.”

Harrison County GOP Chair Lee Lester told the Marshall News Messenger the course was taken because “[Paddie’s] still not representing the people who sent him.”

The Marshall News Messenger published a full list of the county party’s grievances against Paddie.

Paddie played a large role in stymieing the prospective ban on taxpayer-funded lobbying, which is among the party’s legislative priorities, and he was one of 28 GOP House members that voted to kill the bill at the end of the regular session.

“We’re in a representative republic, and he doesn’t represent us, so we have to do something,” Lester concluded.

Paddie responded sharply by calling the maneuver a “joke” and added, “When someone claims ‘We’re in a representative republic, and he doesn’t represent us, so we have to do something,’ is the ‘us’ that matters a handful of local party people or the nearly 80% of Republican voters in Harrison [County] who continue to vote for me?”

The executive committee members are elected to their positions by primary voters in their precincts.

Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) responded to the censure, saying, “This is absurd. [House District 9] knows and all of Texas deserves to know that [Paddie] represents true Texas conservative values and votes his district every single day in the [legislature].”

$55.7 Billion in State Unemployment Benefits Dispersed During Pandemic

Over 3.1 million Texans have received a combined $55.7 billion in unemployment since the beginning of the pandemic, the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) told The Texan this week.

There still remains over 300,000 people receiving benefits as the state stumbles toward recovery.

Texas’ unemployment rate boomed during March and April of 2020 after setting record lows the months prior. The pandemic’s natural restriction of commerce was then exacerbated by state and local governments’ mandated business closures.

Since November of last year, the unemployment rate has declined and tapered off. Back in May, Governor Greg Abbott announced the state would opt out of the additional $300 per week federal benefit on top of the benefits. Then in June, the TWC reinstated the work search requirement as at least 800,000 job openings existed throughout the state.

To help finance the benefits, Texas had to take out $6.9 billion in federal loans and those must be paid back through the unemployment insurance system via taxes on businesses.

While the pandemic is on its downslope, its effects still linger. Texas’ unemployment rate still sits around double the low it had reached in late 2019, and hundreds of thousands are still out of work — some due to forces out of their control and others entirely of their own volition.

 

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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.