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2021 - 87th Legislative Session

The 87th Legislature, Regular Session, veto period ended Sunday, with the Governor vetoing 20 bills. This adds to last week’s line-item vetoes in SB 1 (the state appropriations bill), which essentially defunded the legislative branch. None of the latest vetoed bills were being tracked by the BLS, so all bills that had passed the Legislature, but were pending before the Governor as reflected in the BLS Final Report, will become law. This supplement reflects the effective dates for those bills. At the end of the report, updated legislative statistics on the regular session’s final work product are also included.

The Regular Session of the 87th Legislature adjourned Sine Die today, ending one of the most unusual sessions ever. Starting with an essential lock-down because of the pandemic along with fallout from the Presidential election, then a restructuring of the House with the election of a new Speaker, and then stunned by Winter Storm Uri, the Legislature appeared to retrench for a focused, minimal course to primarily address emergency needs and the budget. What evolved was something quite different, and ended with a quorum-busting walkout by House Democrats, with multiple special sessions and vetoes threatened.

The session’s slow start, from the pandemic and Winter Storm Uri, is looming large as only 200 of the approximate 7000 bills filed have actually passed. Virtually all major issues, including the Governor’s emergency items, remain outstanding, setting the stage for a hectic finish as the May 31st sine die approaches. Exacerbating the situation, the House on Thursday abruptly recessed till Sunday in an effort to spur action on the low output of HBs pending in the Senate.

With the usual array of late-night antics, lengthy floor calendars, points of order, and chubbing, the session wind-down rules kicked-in for remaining HBs in the House. The rules effectively killed hundreds of unreached bills set on the Thursday House calendar, along with all other non-local HBs pending in committee. Unfortunately, included in the unreached bills was HB 1875, the Business Courts bill. The bill came within 16 bills of being taken up on the floor, which essentially translated to a matter of minutes. Notwithstanding, the set-back, the effort went further and had more support and momentum than in any previous session. Its chances for future success have been greatly advanced.

House committee hearings tapered off (temporarily) as long floor calendars and late evenings predominated. The heavy floor action precedes the session wind-down rules that kick-in next week for HBs in the House. Abortion, guns, police funding, elections, and camping bans occupied a major share of the week’s lengthy floor debates. The Comptroller’s revised BRE reflecting even greater surplus revenues than last projected provided additional comfort to budget conferees in ironing out the state’s biennial appropriations bill (SB 1).

The session forges ahead with legislative committee hearings at full-throttle, and floor calendars growing long. The state budget now enters the conference committee reconciliation phase. A firestorm erupted in a House committee over procedural matters in the ‘election integrity v. voter suppression’ fight. The touted trucking liability bill, HB 19, moved out of the House with relatively little turbulence, apparently with some concurrence by TTLA. Medical cannabis use, without much fanfare, garnered a substantial Texas expansion as HB 1535 also passed the House (134 to 12) and heads to the Senate. In the midst of it all, the TBLF Section Prepared Bills enjoyed an excellent week!

On Thursday, after 12 hours of continuous debate, the state’s biennial budget bill (SB 1) passed the House, 149 to 0. There were 240 amendments filed, with 146 actually adopted, a sharp reduction from prior session amendment activity. The touted Medicaid participation amendment was not adopted. The bill now heads back to the Senate, and then to a conference committee. The budget work capped a week focused on government operation, including significant tweaking (HB 1525) to last-session’s massive public school finance reform bill.

Lots of motion this week in the Senate with Lt. Gov. Patrick’s 31-bill priority package, including guns and ‘hotel’ carry (‘constitutional’ carry, quite noticeably, also advanced in the House), the “Business Freedom & Uniformity Act” (SB 14) (which prevents local governments from imposing certain employment practices on businesses, like mandatory sick leave), charter school tweaks, a prohibition on personal data sales by state agencies, and the limitation of women’s sports to biological females. The awaited casino gaming effort finally emerged in a House committee hearing, where Las Vegas Sands executives pitched a constitutional amendment to authorize 4 destination-type casinos in Texas. The re-energized initiative is being accompanied by a 4-city media campaign.

On Tuesday, the Legislature returned from the short Easter break with a bang. A $250B state budget passed the Senate. Abortion, medical marijuana, the Star Spangled Banner Protection Act, voter integrity/suppression (depending on your viewpoint), COVID liability limits, and broadband access, all received significant legislative attention, along with much of the TBLF agenda. The session’s committee hearing phase is now in full swing, with longer floor calendars materializing. Both the House and Senate have even conducted expedited, local and consent calendars. So the reality of the session, and the enormity of the tasks ahead is setting in.

The committee hearing phase of the session continues to ramp up as the bottle-neck of newly-filed bills starts to resolve. Senate floor action on the storm and grid also continued, as SB 2154, expanding the PUC to 5 members, was voted out of the Senate. The Senate's primary storm response package (SB 3) will move next week; it establishes new warning and winterization requirements, and includes a penalty provision for renewables. The storm debate also took an interesting twist as Warren Buffett and Berkshire Hathaway Energy (and an arsenal of lobbyists) entered the fray with an $8B proposal to build 10 new back-up power plants. A new BHE entity would be created, the 'Texas Emergency Power Reserve', to own and operate the facilities, and collect a related fee from all Texas electric retail consumers

The assimilation of 1000s of newly filed bills continued after last Friday's deadline. We continue to sort through the deluge. The surge of activity brought the general bill count to 6,726 bills, only about a 5% reduction from last session's count at this point. The storm and power-grid failures continued to dominate discourse and legislative activity at the capitol. With re-pricing at the center of the debate, the Senate, the House, and the Governor continued go in different directions on courses of action. In the midst of it all, the only remaining PUC commissioner resigned.

Today is the 60th day of the session; more consequently, it's the deadline for the free-filing of general bills. As always, a mad scramble is in play. With the slow start to the session, the scramble is more intense than usual. The storm-aftermath rhetoric remained high in the Capitol, as another abrupt resignation form the PUC occurred, and finger-pointing continued. Gov. Abbott expanded the emergency items list to include corrections to ERCOT billing errors.

House committees continued organizational meetings, as bill referrals accelerated. The Senate started its committee referrals on Wednesday. High levels of rhetoric on the storm and the pandemic (masks) continued in both houses, and from the Governor. Bill filing also accelerated. The TLC is at full throttle in churning out bills. Power grid management and related bills not surprisingly have dominated the recent filings. As the 60-day filing deadline approaches (March 12th), expect a massive amount of filing activity next week.

The failure of the state's power infrastructure during last week's winter storms took center stage Thursday as key committees in both chambers formally opened a legislative investigation. ERCOT, power generation entities, grid operators, and electricity retailers all came under fire as the search for answers and solutions lurched forward. This will consume significant and valuable legislative attention.

The Legislature met briefly this week for some housekeeping matters, then recessed until next week. In the Senate, the traditional “Blocker Bill” was put in place triggering the new "5/9ths" rule (18 votes) for suspending the regular order of business which permits a bill to be heard on the Senate floor. The 5/9ths rule replaces the 3/5ths rule, which replaced the previous long-standing 3/4ths rule, the percentages conforming to the number of Republican members in the chamber. The Senate Appropriations Committee began hearings on the budget bill.

Monday evening, in a statewide televised appearance, Governor Abbott delivered his bi-annual State-of-the-State address declaring five "emergency" items that could generate legislative action during the session's first 60 days. One emergency item covers bills shielding business owners from certain COVID-19 liability; those bills will be identified when filed. The other emergency declarations pertained to broadband internet access, municipal police funding, bail system reforms, and election integrity.

The Senate and House reconvened briefly this week, but then adjourned until February 9th. Despite the adjournments, the Governor will move forward with a virtual State-of-the-State address, normally delivered to a joint session. The Governor's address is scheduled for 7:00 p.m., Monday, February 1st, and will be televised live on Nexstar television stations across the state.

The 87th Texas Legislature convened as scheduled on January 12th, but with a very different look. The usual opening day pomp and ceremony gave way to coronavirus rapid-testing, masks, and social distancing. Adding to the strangeness were terrorist threats requiring enhanced security and a National Guard presence. After convening and conducting preliminary business, both Houses adjourned until January 26th. The Capitol building then completely closed until the 21st.