AUSTIN (KXAN) — On the eve of the start of the 87th Legislative Session, the Texas Capitol grounds and building are open to the public. But incoming state Sen. Sarah Eckhardt, an Austin Democrat, is nowhere near her new office.
“I have been working out of my attic, here, since March,” Eckhardt told KXAN. “It’s very, very strange trying to build relationships through electronic means but that’s what we need to do.”
The Texas House and Senate will swear-in members on Tuesday, launching the 140-day biennium legislative session in a state where the coronavirus continues to strain health care systems and thwart the economy.
On Monday, Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar told lawmakers that they will face a $1 billion budget shortfall in the upcoming session, a relief compared to the $4.6 billion shortfall estimate he made in July.
Eckhardt brings with her a background in shaping budgets from her time as the Travis County judge.
“I’m looking forward to learning how to rebuild a state infrastructure that responds even in good times to Texas residents,” Eckhardt said.
Rep. Donna Howard of Austin was first elected to the Texas House in 2006 and served through the housing market crash and recession.
Howard, a Democrat, said the state is only now recovering from billions of dollars of cuts that were made to public education, a mistake it can’t afford to make again.
“It was very grueling, actually, because there was clearly a demarcation between those who wanted to maintain services and those who wanted to cut,” Howard said.
Republican Rep. John Cyrier of Lockhart represents Central Texas’ most rural district.
He believes some pandemic-related issues, like broadband access for students learning from home, may force lawmakers to bridge the gap between rural and urban Texans.
“To me, it’s more education,” Cyrier said. “It’s more of just understanding our way of life.”