What Are Texas Lawmakers Up To? Two Political Reporters Break Down What You Need To Know.

From measures aimed at winterizing electric grid equipment to bills restricting abortion access, lawmakers have limited time left to hash out priorities in the current legislative session.

By Laura Rice & Rhonda FanningApril 22, 2021 11:54 am

Six weeks remain in the current legislative session and much work is still ahead for Texas lawmakers. They absolutely have to pass a budget to guide the state over the next two years. Fighting for the rest of their attention are priority measures from state leadership including Gov. Greg Abbott, and bills with a lot of public recognition including one named after George Floyd.

Texas Monthly politics reporter Andrea Zelinski and Texas Tribune state politics reporter Cassi Pollock have been following the session closely. They share some takeaways.

What’s going on with: the state budget

The one measure Texas lawmakers have to pass every regular session is a budget. The Texas House is currently putting a version together. The Texas Senate already passed a budget. Later, the two chambers will need to reconcile those two documents.

“A budget is a political document, not just one of numbers and accounting,” Zelinski said. “So we’re going to get a first taste today of what the House thinks is important.”

Pollock says House members filed around 240 amendments to the spending plan.

“I’m watching for controversial votes on issues like Medicaid expansion and border security,” Pollock said. “Another point of contention I’m expecting is that there will be quite a bit of debate on what should be done with tens of billions of dollars in federal funding for coronavirus relief.”

What’s going on with: ‘election integrity’

Among Gov. Greg Abbott’s priorities was something he called “election integrity.”

“The Senate has passed an ‘elections integrity’ bill that a lot of people find pretty onerous,” Zelinski said. “First of all, it would kind of clamp down on hours that polls can be open. It would further dictate where polls can be, which some Republican county leaders tell me would even tie their hands.”

A House bill on the issue looks very different. Zelinski expects the chambers may butt heads over what a final law may actually look like.

What’s going on with: measures addressing criminal justice

State Rep. Senfronia Thompson,a Houston Democrat, authored the George Floyd Act. It has not yet made its way to the House floor for debate.

Pollock says on the Republican side of the aisle there are a number of bills filed to prevent or penalize local governments’ “defunding” of police.

What’s going on with: limiting abortion access

“So the Senate has already passed a number of sweeping abortion bills, including bills that would ban late term abortions out of abnormalities,” Zelinksi said. “So if someone is pregnant and there’s a problem with the fetus then, under this bill, you would still have to carry your pregnancy to term.”

Zelinski said other legislation would make abortion illegal in Texas if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade.

“All these abortion bills would likely immediately go into the legal system and be challenged because they all are definitely pushing the envelope with established law on abortion,” Zelinksi said.

What’s going on with: ‘winterization’ efforts after the winter storm

Both the Texas House and Senate have passed a number of measures aimed at reforming the state’s electrical grid, the boards that operate the grid, and to weatherize or winterize equipment.

Because it’s another emergency item from Gov. Abbott, Pollock said he’ll determine “whether those proposals meet his emergency item criteria.”

Zelinski says this is an issue she’s heard a lot from the public about as well.

“And there are criticisms that, in terms of weatherizing, that there hasn’t been as much focus on natural gas and their facilities and requiring them to truly weatherize,” Zelinski said. “So that’s going to be an ongoing issue throughout the session that some people aren’t quite satisfied with.”

What’s going on with: redistricting

Not much. That’s because the U.S. Census numbers lawmakers need to redraw political maps are arriving late due to delays caused by the pandemic. That may lead to…

What’s going on with: rumors of a special session

Pollock says word around the capitol building is that, especially because of redistricting delays, a special session is likely.

“When you talk to lawmakers or lobbyists at the capitol, the line that you hear most often is that everybody will be back at the capitol sometime in October, maybe November,” Pollock said.

Zelinski says in addition to redistricting, a special session could include further talk of weatherizing or “maybe some red meat issues that the governor wants addressed.”

“I don’t think that special session is going to be just about redistricting,” Zelinski said. “I think they’ll find something else to add in there.”

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