Summer’s first special session is hot! More than fifty lawmakers left the state this week as the legislature discussed election integrity, power grid reform, and more. With such a headline-making summer, we have all the need-to-know here for you.
The past week has truly put the “special” in “special session.” The House Select Committee on Constitutional Rights and Remedies and the Senate State Affairs Committee held marathon hearings on election integrity and security legislation. SB 1, the Senate’s bill relating to the subject, passed the chamber on Tuesday. The House counterpart, HB 3, passed out of the select committee. The Senate also passed SB 7, a bill to provide a 13th check for retired teachers. Additional work continues on Bail Reform, Fair Sports for Women and Girls, Social Media Censorship, and Property Tax Relief. However, with most Democrats in Washington, D.C., it is unsure what the future of the bills looks like.
By Tuesday, 55 members were no longer in the state, effectively shutting down the State House of Representatives. Without two-thirds of the members present, the Chamber does not have a quorum and cannot conduct the regular order of business.
Representative Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas remarked, “We said no during the regular session and we are saying no during the special session.” Representatives remaining in the House voted 76-4 to direct the sergeant at arms to bring back those absent. The authority to issue such a warrant lies in the Speaker of the House, not the governor, and Speaker Dade Phelan has said that they will be brought back “by warrant of arrest, if necessary.”
On Thursday the Speaker announced he has chartered a plane to await Texas Democrats in Washington D.C. on Saturday and hopes to further compel those lawmakers to “return to Austin in order to do the state’s business.” In response to the event, Governor Abbott issued a statement Monday saying, “Texas Democrats’ decision to break a quorum of the Texas Legislature and abandon the Texas State Capitol inflicts harm on the very Texans who elected them to serve.” With over 300 bills filed in the House and 76 bills filed in the Senate, the results of this special session remain unclear. As a reminder, Governor Abbott proclaimed the following matters to be official business for the session:
- BAIL REFORM: Legislation reforming the bail system in Texas to protect the public from accused criminals who may be released on bail.
- ELECTION INTEGRITY: Legislation strengthening the integrity of elections in Texas.
- BORDER SECURITY: Legislation providing funding to support law-enforcement agencies, counties, and other strategies as part of Texas’ comprehensive border security plan.
- SOCIAL MEDIA CENSORSHIP: Legislation safeguarding the freedom of speech by protecting social-media users from being censored by social-media companies based on the user’s expressed viewpoints, including by providing a legal remedy for those wrongfully excluded from a platform.
- ARTICLE X FUNDING: Legislation providing appropriations to the Legislature and legislative agencies in Article X of the General Appropriations Act.
- FAMILY VIOLENCE PREVENTION: Legislation similar to Senate Bill 1109 from the 87th Legislature, Regular Session, requiring schools to provide appropriate education to middle- and high-school students about dating violence, domestic violence, and child abuse, but that recognizes the right of parents to opt their children out of the instruction.
- YOUTH SPORTS: Legislation identical to Senate Bill 29 as passed by the Texas Senate in the 87th Legislature, Regular Session, disallowing a student from competing in University Interscholastic League athletic competitions designated for the sex opposite to the student’s sex at birth.
- ABORTION-INDUCING DRUGS: Legislation similar to Senate Bill 394 from the 87th Legislature, Regular Session, which prohibits people from providing abortion-inducing drugs by mail or delivery service, strengthens the laws applicable to the reporting of abortions and abortion complications, and ensures that no abortion-inducing drugs are provided unless there is voluntary and informed consent.
- THIRTEENTH CHECK: Legislation similar to House Bill 3507 from the 87th Legislature, Regular Session, relating to a “thirteenth check” or one-time supplemental payment of benefits under the Teacher Retirement System of Texas.
- CRITICAL RACE THEORY: Legislation similar to House Bill 3979 concerning critical race theory as originally passed by the Texas Senate in the 87th Legislature, Regular Session.
- APPROPRIATIONS: Legislation providing appropriations from additional available general revenue for the following purposes:
- property-tax relief;
- enhanced protection for the safety of children in Texas’ foster-care system by attracting and retaining private providers for the system; and
- to better safeguard the state from potential cybersecurity threats.
Keep in mind that another special session is expected in the fall for redistricting. The U.S. Census Bureau is set to release data by August 16 for the drawing of legislative voting districts. This data set reveals information key for redistricting, including race and ethnicity, populations of voting age, and occupied and vacant housing units. Of course, funding for the agencies that assist lawmakers with redrawing the maps is not yet secured after Governor Abbott’s veto of Article X in the budget. However, the Texas House Appropriations Committee voted 21-0 on the second day of this special session to advance a bill to reinstate such funding. Keep an eye and ear out for more special session news – we may see new developments in the coming days. Or we may not.
On Tuesday, the commissioners of the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUC) and the interim president of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) met before the Senate Committee on Business and Commerce. Together, they emphasized a focus on improving back-up systems, redesigning pricing rules, and incentivizing reliability over cheap electricity. Acting quickly, the PUC ordered ERCOT to post information within three days of the June tight-market occurrence. Further data from ERCOT confirms issues with thermal energy sources, including coal and natural gas, which highlights their working towards a solution to address and minimize mechanical failures at generation sites. In a letter to the PUC, Governor Abbott urged that they take immediate action to “Streamline incentives within the ERCOT market to foster the development and maintenance of adequate and reliable sources of power, like natural gas, coal, and nuclear power,” “allocate reliability costs to generation resources that cannot guarantee their own availability, such as wind or solar power,” “instruct ERCOT to establish a maintenance schedule for natural gas, coal, nuclear, and other non-renewable electricity generators to ensure that there is always an adequate supply of power on the grid to maintain reliable electric service for all Texans”, and “order ERCOT to accelerate the development of transmission projects that increase connectivity between existing or new dispatchable generation plants and areas of need.”
Although most of the news this week came out of the legislature, things are far from quiet on the election front. Representative Tan Parker announced for the Texas Senate seat being vacated by Finance Chair Nelson, and Lee Merritt is running for Texas Attorney General. Lee Merritt is a lawyer known for his work in civil rights and runs in the Democratic primary against former Galveston Mayor Joe Jaworski.
There’s plenty more to come, and we’ll be in touch.
Until next time,
Lara Laneri Keel
President, LLK, LLC.