AUSTIN (Nexstar) — On Thursday afternoon, just days after the conclusion of the 87th Texas legislative session, Governor Greg Abbott had work to do. Piles of folders were stacked on his desk, each one holding a bill awaiting his signature.
Sitting next to that stack was a box of pens and a rubber stamp with the letters “VETO” on it.
Lawmakers passed several bills which have long been considered Republican priorities, much to the delight of the governor. The Governor already signed Senate Bill 8, which bans abortions after a fetal heartbeat has been detected. Soon, he’s expected to sign House Bill 1927, which allows Texans to carry a handgun without a permit or training.
“It’s a remarkable session, there were legacy based issues that people have been clamoring for a long time that finally got across the finish line, things like constitutional carry… making sure that we keep our cities safe, which means addressing cities that try to defund police,” said Abbott.
After winter storm Uri swept through Texas mid-February and killed more than a hundred citizens, Texans across the state have been calling for legislation to prevent the destruction caused by the storm from ever happening again. When asked whether legislators did enough to address the problems with the power grid, Gov. Abbott was quite positive.
“As we come out of this session, the power grid is more secure, more robust and safer than ever before,” Abbott said. The governor elaborated that “I do know from talking to legislators, they were very pleased with the product they got across the finish line.”
However, some of the governor’s priority items did not reach the finish line. Republicans were strongly pushing Senate Bill 7, an election reform bill. But Democrats blocked the bill in the final hours of the regular session, by walking off the house floor and breaking quorum.
Also, issues including transgender athletes, social media censorship, and taxpayer funded lobbying failed to advance to the governor’s desk. Governor Abbott has said he supports legislation on all of those topics. This begs several questions: How many special sessions will the governor call? What issues will or will not be covered? And what is the timeline?
The only answer Abbott provided was that “You’ll have to stay tuned.”
Lt. Governor says many issues need to be addressed in a special session, including ratepayer relief for the winter storm.
While it is the governor who determines when a special session is called and what the session will cover, most lawmakers have a wish list, including Lt. Governor Dan Patrick.
In an interview Monday, Patrick listed four bills which he wanted addressed in a special session: SB 7, SB 10, SB12, and SB 29. The bills cover election security, taxpayer funded lobbying, social media censorship, and transgender athletes.
Patrick also spoke extensively about winter storm URI, both on what was accomplished and what still needs to be done.
“We have totally revamped the PUC board… but we have more to do,” said Patrick.
While Governor Abbott claims that legislators are “pleased with the product they got across the finish line,” Patrick said that the Senate was not successful in providing relief for ratepayers, which was a priority.
“29 out of 31 senators had pretty strong message that we want to give billions of dollars in rate relief. And I said last night on the Senate floor. When we come back, if we get another bill that puts more money towards industry, I’m not bringing it to the floor. I want money to come to the floor for ratepayers. We’ve taken a stand on that almost all session, and we’re not going to give up on that issue.”
So far, Governor Abbott has confirmed that he will call at least one special session. To get his wish list done, Lt. Gov. Patrick believes that a second special session will be needed.
“Redistricting is hard… It’s not a good time to try to get a vote sometimes. So that must be its own separate deal and should not be mixed in with politics.”
Patrick also said that the Governor was smart to say he will veto Article 10 of the budget, which includes funding to pay House lawmakers and their staff members. By doing this, the Lt. Governor believes that it will ensure Democrats are present at the special session.
“If they don’t come back at all, they’re going to lose their entire staff and people going to be out of work. So, this says, if you want to come back and protect your staffs, you need to come back to work at a special session,” Patrick said.
“You’re going to vote on these bills,” Patrick added.
Speaker of the House responds to calendar mismanagement accusations and his guess on what’s to come.
A notable bill that did not pass this legislative session was Senate Bill 7, the elections reform bill which was highly prioritized by Republicans. Lt. Governor Dan Patrick blames this failure on mismanagement of the calendar by Speaker of the House, Dade Phelan.
Phelan responded to Patrick’s accusations and expressed his frustration that more was not done in the legislative session. Election integrity and bail reform were two topics that Phelan said he wanted to address, but he knows that, at some point, they will be taken up again. Regarding Patrick’s accusations of calendar mismanagement, Phelan shifted the responsibility back to the Senate.
“The issue with Senate Bill 7 was, we had nothing to do with it… if they had passed SB 7 as the House passed it on May 17, then we wouldn’t be having this discussion,” Phelan said.
One area where Patrick and Phelan do see eye-to-eye is on winter storm Uri. Both said that good progress was made, especially on the changes made to the PUC board, but more needs to be done to help Texas citizens.
“I think there’s some securitization issues and some issues where we can help the consumers, those who had really high bills… There are ways we can help, especially the Co-ops and municipal providers. So, I think there’s some work to do on the grid that we can come back on.”
While Phelan does not know when or if a special session will be called to address the issues which were not covered in the legislative session, he does have a guess.
“If the governor’s going to veto Article 10, then many of the support staff of legislators in here in the building will not get paid after September 1. So, I would assume we’re coming in before September 1st,” said Phelan.
State Senator believes Texas needs more legislation on police reform, and pushes the message that people need to vote for change to happen.
State Senator Royce West, a Democrat who represents Dallas in the 23rd senatorial district, believes that there is a lot more to be done in the legislature.
In an interview on Thursday, West explained that he wants to see more achieved in the areas of police reform, maternal mortality, and winter storm Uri.
For maternal mortality, lawmakers approved legislation to expand Medicaid to cover mothers up to six months postpartum, but people wonder if it should be twelve months. Like people on both sides of the aisle, West wants to protect ratepayers who were affected by winter storm Uri. And in police reform, a bill to ban chokeholds statewide was passed, but it has yet to be signed by the Governor. Also, the George Floyd Act failed to receive the necessary votes and the use of deadly force by the police was not been standardized.
“We want to continue to work to make certain that people know that there’s uniformity in the use of deadly force in the state of Texas. Especially now, when the bill concerning permanent, permit-less carry was passed, that didn’t make police officers jobs any safer,” said West.
Looking back at the legislative session, West says that he has never seen state government more polarized.
“This has been the most divisive legislative session that I’ve ever been involved in,” West said. He was first elected to the Texas Senate in 1992, and he’s seen many changes. He says the latest change is not welcome.
“I mean there’s always this constant refrain, ‘We don’t want to be like Washington.’ Well, guess what friends, we’re like Washington now,” West added.
Despite what he views as a bleak outlook, West continued to push the message that change can come through voting.
“If people want change in the state, guess what they have to do? Vote. Republicans have been out voting Democrats, and until we as Democrats get out and vote, we’re going to continue to have the same situations.”