The legislature reconvenes on Tuesday, which means the ongoing battle between state and local authority will likely continue over the next several months at the Texas Capitol.
And that battle isn’t just about one issue; it has many facets. For months, COVID-19 has been front and center in the local-versus-state push-pull. But Jasper Scherer of the Houston Chronicle says there’s also tension over how to manage issues like election law, taxpayer-funded lobbying and policing. What’s more, all of these issues will be hashed out against the backdrop of once-a-decade political redistricting that lawmakers must complete during the session.
“Temperatures are already going to be pretty high this session,” Scherer told Texas Standard. “Both parties always want what’s best for them. … Tension is already going to be higher.”
Scherer says during the 2019 legislative session, Republicans fought to prevent cities and counties from being able to use public money to pay for lobbyists to push for certain bills to get passed. They’re going to continue that this year, he says.
“That measure is expected to be revived this upcoming session. And there’s a lot of bad blood kind of flying around over that issue,” Scherer said.
This was a heated topic in November, when Scherer says the Texas Supreme Court blocked Harris County from sending mail-in ballots to every voter in the county to make voting more accessible during the pandemic. He says one Republican senator from Houston, Paul Bettencourt, wants to codify that decision in state law.
“That was a pretty contentious issue, kind of in the lead-up to the November election. So you can expect to see some some fights over election-related matters. I think that’s the big one,” Scherer said.
Expect to see an effort to limit county judges’ authority when it comes to pandemic decision-making, Scherer says. County judges have often been at odds with the state when it comes to lockdowns, mask-wearing and other public health measures during the pandemic.
“There’s also potentially going to be an effort to limit the power … of county judges during future pandemics. And Bettencourt has kind of teased some efforts related to that,” Scherer said.
This summer’s protests against racial injustice and police brutality have led some cities, including Austin, to rethink police department organization and funding. Scherer says to expect Republicans, in particular, to push back on those changes through legislation. Fort Worth Republican Rep. Matt Krause has already filed a bill that would prevent local governments from reducing fire and police budgets.
“That’s what Republicans want to prevent,” Scherer said.