It’s a big hot summer at the Take 2 Texas Lege! The Texas 87th Legislature is back again for its second special session. This past week, the legislature has seen a filibuster, the signing of civil arrest warrants, the reinstitution of temporary legislative funding, court rulings and so much more! The wheels are off the bus! With no gameplan in sight, see the below.
The second special session for the Texas 87th began last Saturday, less than 24 hours after the closing of the first. This special session is certainly proving to be special indeed. On Monday, a state district judge signed a temporary restraining order blocking the arrest of absent Texas House members. The following day, the Texas House (still lacking a quorum) voted 80 to 12 to send law enforcement to retrieve those absent after the Texas Supreme Court overturned the state district judge’s ruling. This vote authorized the House Sergeant-at-Arms to dispatch law enforcement officers to compel attendance. Shortly afterwards, Speaker Phelan signed 52 civil arrest warrants, which were delivered to the House Sergeant-at-Arms Wednesday morning. A Harris County district judge soon followed with an order stating that Representative Wu cannot be arrested to compel his attendance at the Capitol. Although eleven Democrats returned to the chamber by the start of the second special session, a large majority remained in Washington. However, some Texas Democrats are believed to be back in the state and could be subject to arrest. House Democrats had until Thursday at 4 p.m. to respond to the court. The first scheduled hearing in district court is set for August 20. Judd E. Stone II, the state’s solicitor general, remarked in his emergency motion to the court that waiting until then “virtually guarantees that no significant legislation will be passed during this session.” Interestingly, the Texas House is not taking daily attendance on the floor. By not doing so, the House makes it possible to only add to the attendance but never subtract.
Governor Abbott announced 17 special agenda items for this session, including bail reform, federal relief appropriations, primary elections, and border security. In the meantime, the Texas Senate quickly moved through a list of priority bills. In some instances, hearings were as short as 8 minutes. The Senate also adopted a rule to allow for chairman to not hold a hearing on a bill if one has already been held on the same subject. The bill, however, does not need to be substantially similar to the one already discussed. The Senate Select Committee on Constitutional Issues also approved SJR 1, a constitutional amendment to lower quorum rule to simple majority.
Ahead of the start of the second special session, Governor Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Patrick, Speaker Phelan, Senate Finance Committee Chair Nelson, and House Appropriations Chair Bonnen announced an additional month of funding for the Texas Legislature. “Texans should not have to pay for Legislators who quit their jobs and leave unfinished business,” said Governor Abbott.
“Today, funding is being temporarily restored for Legislative staff that will be necessary to pass critical legislation on the call, including COVID-19 funding for healthcare, strategies for public school education during the COVID-19 pandemic, providing property tax relief, funding our retired teachers, protecting our foster children, and securing the border.”
“As Lt. Governor of Texas and Joint-Chair of the Legislative Budget Board, I was never going to let the irresponsible runaway Democrats take paychecks and benefits away from our capitol staff who work hard every day for the people of Texas,” said Lieutenant Governor Patrick. “As a former legislative staff member, I know firsthand the dedication of those who work for elected officials and our legislative agencies,” said Speaker Phelan. “Chairman Greg Bonnen and I worked with Lt. Gov. Patrick, Chair Nelson, and the Texas House and Senate to extend funding for salaries and benefits for those individuals who devote significant time and energy in service of our great state. Every constituent in Texas deserves leaders who will fight for them in Austin and the Texas House will deliver real results for the people of Texas during the second special session.” “We care deeply about our staff, and this action will prevent any interruptions of their salaries or benefits during our deliberations,” said Senator Nelson, Chair of the Senate Finance Committee. “This is a temporary extension – which can be made permanent if legislators will show up to work in the special session.” “The Texas House of Representatives, Speaker Phelan, and I care deeply for our legislative staffers who serve the State of Texas,” said Dr. Bonnen, Chair of the House Appropriations Committee. “With the help of Lieutenant Governor Patrick, Chair Nelson, and our colleagues in the Senate, we identified a solution to address the needs of our staff who support us and our constituents year round. However, commonsense Texans know that long-term fixes require that our absent colleagues get back to work so we can pass Article X of the budget to fully fund our staff and other legislative agencies.”
SB1 and the filibuster.
Wednesday evening, Senator Alvarado began her filibuster of SB 1, the elections bill. After 15 hours, the bill passed the Senate 18-11 in favor of SB1. Per legislative rules, Senator Carol Alvardo of District 6, was not allowed to sit, go to the bathroom, eat, lean on her desk, or go off topic in any way. She closed her floor discussion saying, “My friends, voter suppression anywhere is a threat to democracy everywhere. As we draw this discussion to an end, it is my sincere hope that civil acts by everyday Texans — from the Senate floor to the ballot box — can help shed the light.”
It should be noted that the election integrity bill looks a little different than it did last special session. Yes, it’s hard to keep up! The 87th special no. 2 finds the controversial voter bill losing some of the items it had established in the original version from special no. 1. Senator Hugh was quoted saying that input from various parties has made this a better bill. Some of the changes reflected state that partisan poll watchers will be required to receive a training manual from the Secretary of State to help address any training needs and create neutrality. Additionally, anyone that previously casted early ballots had to previously use the same ID number on an application for early-voting and additionally use the same ID on the ballot itself. The newer version of SB 1 states that the numbers must simply be connected to the same person in an attempt to make this process easier.
Have no doubt, the bill still maintains much of the same elements it previously had by tightening mail voting, restricting drive-through and 24 hours voting as well as restricting jurisdictions from steps to expand voting access on their own terms. Lieutenant Patrick wanted to make sure the bills intent was clear by stating, “It increases transparency and ensures the voting rules are the same in every county across the state. It will require that signatures on mail-in ballots are verified so we know that ballots cast by mail belong to the people they say they belong to.” He additionally made it certain, “The Senate will pass SB 1 over and over again until the House finally has a quorum.” Let’s hope we don’t have a re-run of Groundhog day!
Covid-19 in Texas
Texas is a mess right now. Following a continued surge in Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations, Governor Abbott announced that the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) will utilize staffing agencies to provide medical personnel from other states. He also sent a letter to the Texas Hospital Association asking hospitals to voluntarily postpone elective medical procedures. Further, the Governor directed the Texas Division of Emergency Management and DSHS to open additional Covid-19 antibody infusion centers. He also instructed the two agencies to increase vaccination availability across the state.
As students return to school for the fall semester, Austin and Dallas schools have issued their own mask mandates, and a San Antonio state district judge granted a request to require facial coverings in schools and city and county facilities. UT Austin will require Covid-19 testing for students within three days of the first class day. Several other districts are expected to follow suit, especially after a Dallas judge ruled that the Governor’s ban on mask mandates “is not [a] necessary action to combat the pandemic.” The various rulings and mandates serve to protect vulnerable populations, especially children 12 and younger, who are not eligible to receive a vaccine for Covid-19 and are returning to campuses in the coming weeks.
Governor Abbott has appointed Jimmy Glotfelty to the Public Utility Commission of Texas for a term set to expire September 1, 2025. Governor Abbott has appointed Arch Aplin to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas Board Selection Committee for a term at the pleasure of the Governor.
Governor Abbott issued a proclamation announcing Tuesday, August 31, 2021 as the special election date for the Texas State House of Representatives District 10 seat recently vacated by Representative Jake Ellzey. Representative Leo Pacheco will formally step down from his District 118 seat after accepting a full-time faculty position at San Antonio College. Katie Farias, a member of the Southside Independent School District, said she will compete in the District 118 special election. Jessica Cisneros announced she will run against U.S. Representative Henry Cuellar in the Texas Democratic primary. Tannya Benavides recently launched her campaign for the 28th congressional seat. Former state senator Kirk Watson says he might run for Austin mayor in 2022, when current Mayor Steve Adler completes his second term.
August 12th, 2021 new Census data was released and will help power next steps for redistricting and funding. You can access a link to that report at https://www.census.gov. Representative Hunter, Chairman of House Redistricting released a statement stating that the Texas Legislative Budget Board would be inputting data into the RedAppl redistricting software to be available by September 1st. The information will later be available for download at http://redistricting.capitol.texas.gov . Once information is finalized, hearings will begin at the Capitol and can will be livestreamed.
Stay tuned for more news from the Texas 87th second special.
Until next time, and continuing with crazy times… you cannot make this stuff up. All the Best!
Lara Laneri Keel
President, LLK, LLC.