Preview of the Regular Session of 87th Texas Legislature: The Legislature During a Pandemic

by Ty Embrey

The Texas Legislature commenced its 87th Regular Session Tuesday, January 12, 2021, and promises to be unlike any we have seen in some time. Every Regular Session of the Texas Legislature is unique, but the 2021 Regular Session will be conducted during the COVID-19 Pandemic, which presents a whole new set of challenges for state legislators.

One of the biggest issues facing the Texas Legislature during the 2021 Regular Session will be addressing the logistical challenges of holding a Regular Session while trying to protect the health of all of the individuals involved, from the state legislators themselves and the legislative staff to the members of the public who want to participate in the legislative process. The State Preservation Board, the Texas Senate and Texas House have all issued guidelines and protocols that explain how access to the State Capitol, the Senate and House chambers, and the individual offices of the legislators will work during the beginning phases of the 2021 Regular Session. As the vaccination effort continues throughout the U.S. and in Texas, the logistics are likely to be revised and updated to reflect the current public health situation.

The Texas House members are expected to elect Dade Phelan of Beaumont as the next Speaker of the Texas House when the Texas Legislature convenes. This Speaker election will establish the leadership for the Legislature with Governor Abbott and Lieutenant Governor Patrick already in place. The leadership has indicated an interest in minimizing the amount of in-person legislative activity, particularly at the beginning of the Regular Session after the Texas Senate and Texas House adopt their respective rules for each chamber. It is interesting to note that as of January 8, state legislators have filed 1,335 bills, which is a larger number of bills filed than any other Regular Session in the last 10 years.

The Texas Legislature definitely has several significant issues to address during the Regular Session which will impact every citizen of Texas in some way. The Texas Constitution requires that the Legislature adopt only one bill during the Regular Session: the appropriations bill to establish a budget for the state government for the next two years. This task of adopting a state budget has been made more difficult this year, with the negative impact the Covid-19 Pandemic has had on the state’s economy and tax revenue, as well as the drop in oil and gas prices due to international oil and gas market developments. The State Comptroller, Glenn Hegar, provided the Biennial Revenue Estimate on Monday, January 11 which will give the Texas Legislature information to enable the legislators to know how much money they have to work with to establish a budget.

The Texas Legislature also has the substantial task of addressing redistricting for the Texas Senate, the Texas House, and the U.S. Congressional seats for Texas during the Regular Session. The Texas Legislature is required by the Texas Constitution to address the redistricting issues during a Regular Session after receiving the population data and related information from the federal government following the completion of the U.S. Census which occurs every 10 years. The Texas Legislature is still waiting on receiving the information associated with the 2020 U.S. Census and the Legislature’s redistricting efforts are contingent on obtaining such information. The Legislature is also likely to address police reform issues in some form, Medicare access, possible reform of the election process, and how Texas will respond to the Covid-19 Pandemic along with responses to future pandemics.

There are several legislative issues that will impact clients of Lloyd Gosselink in some way and bills have already been filed or will be filed on those issues. There is likely to be legislation filed to amend the Texas Open Meetings Act to enable more use of technology to implement some of the lessons we have learned from the Covid-19 Pandemic, such as the ability to hold virtual meetings. There are several bills that have been filed which will impact the municipal solid waste industry, including bills that address the ability of governmental entities to establish bag bans and bills that place limitations on the franchise fees municipalities can charge. In the water arena, bills have been filed that impact groundwater conservation districts and a district’s ability to address petitions for rulemaking, recover attorney fees, and provide notice of permitting activities. It is anticipated that bills will be filed to affect the wholesale water rate process in Texas.

The Texas Legislature will be a busy place again during the 2021 Regular Session, even if some of that legislative activity will occur on-line, on Zoom calls, by phone, by text and by email correspondence. We will be participating in the legislative process and monitoring all of the legislative developments in an effort to keep our clients informed. If you think you need help with a legislative issue during the Regular Session, please contact me at tembrey@lglawfirm.com or 512-322-5829 and we will be glad to help you.

Ty Embrey is a Principal in the Firm’s Water and Districts Practice Groups. If you have any questions concerning Legislative tracking and monitoring services or legislative consulting services, please contact Ty at 512.322.5829 or tembrey@lglawfirm.com.

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