Just past the halfway mark of the 87th Legislative Session, there was great news for Texas this week as Covid-19 vaccine eligibility expansion was announced, the Senate reviewed important pandemic liability legislation, and efforts to improve the state’s power system forged ahead.
Fast Facts and Figures
Last week, the total number of bills reported out of Senate committees was 17, and the total number of bills passed by the Senate was 3. In the House, the total number of bills reported out of committees was 18. As of March 12, there were just 9 bills reported out of committee in the House and 2 bills in the Senate, for a total of 11 bills reported out of committee. To compare, there were 72 bills total reported out of committee at the same point in the 86th session. Certainly, our lawmakers have had unexpected priorities to address this year, and each day more bills are scheduled for hearings and make their way to the chamber floors for final readings and discussion. There are so many things currently up for hearing and discussion, we are calling it “whiplash!”
Texas Supreme Court on ERCOT
In a challenging 5-4 decision, the Texas Supreme Court ruled last Friday that the state’s power-grid manager has legal immunity which may shield it from billions of dollars in black-out related claims. The decision effectively leaves the question on the Electric Reliability Council of Texas’s (ERCOT) legal immunity unanswered. But lawmakers are working around the clock to ensure that Texans get results. SB 2142, relating to correcting the prices of wholesale power and ancillary services sold in the ERCOT market during the winter storm, was referred to the House Committee on State Affairs on March 18. SB 2154, relating to the membership of the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUC), was unanimously advanced out of the Senate Jurisprudence Committee to the full Senate and placed on the Senate Intent Calendar. There are a number of other bills filed in both chambers addressing the events of the winter storm last month, and lawmakers are acting swiftly to instate reforms. Several bills will be taken up on the House Floor on this coming Tuesday.
Sunset Bills are Moving
Sunset is quickly approaching on this session’s sunset bills. There are seventeen agencies up for review this session, and the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission conducted testimony and review throughout the pandemic. The bills are starting to move through the chambers, and there is a sunset safety net bill filed, HB 1600, to keep agencies going until the next legislative session, if necessary. Among the agencies up for review are the Texas Racing Commission, the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation, and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
This week’s announcement by the Department of State Health Services expands eligibility for the Covid-19 vaccine to all adults beginning Monday, March 29. The announcement comes as Texas nears 10 million administered vaccine doses – the state will join about 20 others administering vaccines to all adults. The Pfizer vaccine is approved for those aged 16 and older, and the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines have been approved for people 18 and older. With the help of the National Guard and Meals on Wheels program, homebound residents can now get the Covid-19 vaccine delivered to their doorstep. Despite some disagreement on Covid-19 testing at the capitol, the momentum behind the vaccination campaign is only growing as nursing homes and assisted living facilities re-open to visiting families and guests. Active Covid-19 cases in Texas nursing homes drop by 80% since December. SB 25 and SJR 19, two landmark pieces of legislation establishing a resident’s right to an Essential Caregiver, have been received by the House after passing out of the Senate. The bill and resolution aim to ensure and protect the well-being of long-term care residents, especially in times of crisis. We love it when the “peoples business” gets done!
Covid-19 Liability Part Deux
Governor Abbott highlighted one of his declared emergency action items this week at a roundtable discussion in Fort Worth. The Governor emphasized the importance of reinforcing Texas’ strong business climate and small business community. SB 6 does precisely that, protecting businesses from Covid-19 liability suits arising out of the pandemic. In the words of the Governor, “Businesses and healthcare providers that operated safely throughout the Covid-19 pandemic shouldn’t have their livelihoods destroyed by frivolous lawsuits, which is why [he] made civil liability protections an emergency item this session.” The Senate Committee on Business and Commerce heard testimony on the bill Tuesday from healthcare workers and business owners.
Helpful Resources and Countdowns
There are nine weeks left in the session. Preferably, a House bill should be voted out of committee by Monday, April 19, to ensure ample time for passage. Realistically, a bill should be out of committee by Thursday, April 29, to make it to the floor on time. However, a bill could be voted out of committee as late as Friday, May 7, and still be reported to the Calendars Committee in time to be scheduled for a vote on the general calendar. Although those are the bills that rarely survive the long lines… This website provides a comprehensive overview of important dates and deadlines this session.
For more information on the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission, visit the website here.
For House and Senate calendars (these can change daily), refer to the link here.
For a complete schedule on upcoming House committee hearings, click here.
For a complete schedule on upcoming Senate committee hearings, click here.
For more information on bills filed and legislative details visit TLO.
Spring has Sprung! Enjoy! Until next week,
Lara Laneri Keel
President, LLK, LLC.