Discussion: What Gov. Abbott’s State of the State means for you

State of the State

LOCKHART, Texas (KXAN) — A Texas Republican lawmaker and a Texas Democratic lawmaker pledged to work together and with Gov. Greg Abbott during a discussion following his State of the State address and the Democratic response that came after. KXAN anchor Sally Hernandez moderated the discussion, which included Democratic state Sen. Royce West, D-23, Republican state Rep. Geanie Morrison, D-30, State of Texas anchor Josh Hinkle and Texas Politics Project director Jim Henson.

“Well, I think the Democrats are very passionate,” Morrison said about their response. “We’re all passionate. And, we all want to work together during this legislative session to make sure that we address any issues. We’re going to be working together, and I think that’s the theme the governor gave to us tonight.”

Police support and accountability

Abbott outlined police funding and bail reform as key priorities for keeping Texas a “law-and-order” state. He said “defunding law enforcement invites crime and chaos into communities,” and pledged to pass laws to prevent cities from doing so. He also made the Damon Allen Act an emergency item this legislative session. The act, named after a state trooper killed by a man who was out on bond, is meant to improve that system.

“We also cannot ignore the need to improve policing. It helps our law enforcement officers do a better job. It makes our communities safer. This session, we must provide law enforcement with the tools and training they need to ensure the safety that their communities deserve,” Abbott said.

West said one of the things he took away was what the governor didn’t mention.

“When we begin to look at the issues there was a lot of support for police and law enforcement, but there was no mention of accountability, in terms of Black Lives Matter, issues concerning accountability for police officers,” West said.

However, he also mentioned he spoke to Abbott about the George Floyd Act — which would ban chokeholds and require officers to step in if they witness excessive force being used — and said the governor was “open to supporting legislation dealing with police accountability.”

“I’m hoping that the governor, just like the passion that he had behind supporting police, that he also makes sure he has the same passion concerning accountability,” West said.

Morrison added she supports law enforcement and its role in keeping citizens safe and said she thinks lawmakers will also be able to work together to find accountability.

Vaccine rollout

Hinkle pointed out that of the five items the governor outlined as emergency issues, none were directly related to the COVID-19 pandemic. He pointed to the vaccine rollout in particular as being a big topic viewers care about, and the issues with distribution in many parts of the state, especially at the beginning.

“I think we all see COVID as an emergency item,” Morrison said. “We have never been though a pandemic before, and so I think the governor has done a very good job of rolling out what he had to work with.”

She acknowledged there had been “hiccups” throughout the state, but on the whole felt the governor was “helping work with all of us and helping us do it in our areas.”

West agreed that while many people — including his constituents — haven’t been able to get a vaccine, “the reality is we haven’t been here before in terms of a pandemic.” He pointed to the fact that Abbott had people like Texas Department of State Health Services Commissioner Dr. John Hellerstedt and Texas Division of Emergency Management Chief Nim Kidd in place to help.

“If for some reason they were not being responsive to members of the legislature, whether Democrats or Republicans, then I’d be the first one to stand up and say ‘Governor, you’re not doing your job,'” West said.

Unemployment issues

More than 6.9 million unemployment claims have been filed in Texas. Both West and Morrison noted they’ve heard from their constituents about issues with getting help through the Texas Workforce Commission.

Morrison said she understood how TWC was unprepared for how inundated it was with applications, something it had never experienced before.

West stressed he hopes there will be a bipartisan solution not only to this system but to helping people get jobs in Texas.

Education and internet access

Both Morrison and West agreed with Abbott’s educational priorities: funding schools and ensuring reliable internet access for those across the state. The rapid change to online learning highlighted the gaps in access for many across the state.

Morrison said lawmakers need to “fully fund” HB3, referring to a public school finance reform bill Abbott signed into law in 2019.

“In terms of the governor’s talk on connectivity, I’ll work with him to make sure once and for all that we deal with this digital divide that we continue to talk about,” West said.

Run for president?

As a final question, Hernandez asked the panel if the governor’s tackling of federal issues in his speech was a hint that he is preparing to run for the White House.

“I think the governor is preparing for the session, but he’s preparing in the same way that he would prepare if he was going to run for president,” Henson said.

Morrison said Abbott hadn’t talked to her about it, “but I think he’s getting ready for this session and, as Jim (Henson) said, whatever comes after that— we’ll see.”

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