87th Legislature – Week 12
Both chambers are expected to pass major legislative responses to Winter Storm Uri this week. Both chambers are scheduled to consider bills filed in response to the power outages last month. As soon as today, the Senate will consider SB 3, an omnibus bill that creates the Texas Energy Reliability Council to ensure the state’s natural gas needs are met, requires the weatherization of all generation, transmission, and natural gas facilities, and prohibits retail electric variable rate plans (among other changes). For a quick summary of the bill’s measures, click here. The full House will consider HB 10 (reforming the ERCOT board), HB 11 (winterization of generation), HB 12 (creating a statewide disaster alert system), and HB 16 (prohibiting retail electric indexed products).
Twinning broadband bills clear committee. Companion bills SB 5 and HB 5 both were favorably voted out of their respective committees this week. The bills are nearly identical and would establish a state broadband office, require a state broadband plan to be created, and create a broadband development incentive program. The incentive program would still require a legislative appropriation. Both bills have significant bipartisan support.
Other major priority bills are moving in both chambers. After progress on major priority bills was delayed for weeks by the fallout from Winter Storm Uri, last week saw major bills voted out of committee (see broadband above) and this coming week will see both chambers take up priority bills. Here’s a sampling of what’s on tap:
House of Representatives. Several key bills are scheduled for hearing … HB 4 (expanding the use of telemedicine) and HB 6 (election integrity bill). HB 6 was scheduled for a hearing last week before a procedural error forced an abrupt end to the hearing. Last week, House committees also heard bills that would limit the ability of local governments to use lobbyists and a bill designed to punish cities who slash police budgets. The latter bill was heard on the same day as the George Floyd Act, which would ban chokeholds, require officers to intervene if their partner is using excessive force, and limited qualified immunity for police officers (a major sticking point for Republican lawmakers).
Senate. Committees took testimony and voted out SB 4 (preventing local governments from making financial commitments with professional sports teams unless they commit to play the National Anthem) and SB 7 (election integrity). And other priority bills are eligible to be heard by the full Senate this week: SB 8 (which would ban abortion once a heartbeat can be detected) and SB 9 (which would trigger an outright ban on abortion should Roe v. Wade and related cases are overturned).
COVID vaccines will be available to everyone starting today. The Governor announced last week that every adult would be eligible for a vaccine beginning this week. The announcement comes as the state is set to receive 1 million first doses this week. The state surpassed 10 million vaccines administered last week. New cases have plummeted since January highs as the state nears the 3-week mark since the Governor lifted the mask mandate and reopened business to 100%. A legal battle over the lifting of the mask mandate produced an initial victory for the City of Austin, where a state district judge sided with the City in its efforts to continue to enforce its mask mandate.
The crisis at the border continues. The crisis at the southern border, which has seen a record number of migrants including thousands of unaccompanied children crossing the border, continues to be a major issue with state leaders. Last week, a significant number of Congress visited the border in the Rio Grande Valley. This comes on the heels of several weeks of criticism by Governor Abbott about the lack of preparedness of the Biden Administration for the wave of migrants. Expect this issue to continue to be a major thread in Texas politics.