The time has come. The legislative session starts next month. And while the run-up to session has been very familiar in some ways, the session itself is going to be vastly different than anything we have seen before.
In a normal legislative session, the first day starts with great pomp and circumstance. Families join the members at their desks as they are sworn in. The gallery in each chamber is crammed with close friends and constituents, and the mood is one of celebration.
Usually, before the end of January, the Speaker of the House and Lt. Governor release their committee assignments and we find out which legislators are in favor of the leadership and which are out in the cold. Committees begin to meet soon thereafter although no bill can be voted out of committee until the 30th day of the session unless the topic of the bill has been identified as an emergency item by the governor. Also, early in a session it’s not unusual to see hundreds of people lined up at the capitol cafeteria as different groups hold their lobby days or various counties and cities host activities in and around the capitol. But by the 60th day of session the real work begins. That’s the last day a bill can get filed unless it affects solely local issues, like the establishment of a water district in a specific area. After that day, no more bills can be filed and the real work of passing bills and adding amendments begins.
This session will stand in stark contrast to the usual way sessions run. COVID-19 is still running rampant and the impact on the legislative process will be there for all to see. There will be no great ceremony on the first day of session. There will not be barbecue on the capitol grounds or long lines at the cafeteria. The capitol building itself is still closed to all but legislators and staff. Various ideas have been put forward on how to safely allow the public access to the building. However, the House and Senate still have not released any details about how they plan to gather public input on bills or allow people into the building. Given that we will have a new speaker of the house who will not officially take office until January 12th, things will likely not be any clearer before then.
On the Senate side, strong rumors persist that the 31-member Senate will reduce the number of votes a bill will need to be brought up for consideration on the floor. In his first year in office Lt. Gov. Patrick led the effort to reduce the number of votes needed to bring a bill up for consideration from two-thirds to three-fifths. This reduction matched the number of Republican senators in the chamber, therefore guaranteeing that if the Republicans voted as a block, they could pass whatever they liked.
However, with former State Representative Roland Gutierrez (D-San Antonio) defeating Sen. Pete Flores (R-Pleasanton), the Republicans no longer have a three-fifths majority. As a result, it has been heavily rumored that Lt. Gov. Patrick will further reduce the standard needed for consideration to a simple majority – again giving the Republicans complete control of the Senate. In essence, the Senate would then be run in a similar manner to the House. Of course, with all the uncertainty surrounding the upcoming session, please be sure to stay in constant contact with your legislators and don’t forget to let us know anything you think could help us as we fight for a connected rural Texas.