Texas Legislative News: Feb. 8, 2021

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Lawmakers were away from the Texas Capitol for much of the fourth week of the legislative session, as the House and the Senate are both adjourned until Feb. 9. But there were still two major events that will play outsized roles in guiding the agenda of the 87th Texas Legislature: the governor’s State of the State address and the assignment of House members to committees.

State of the State

On Feb. 1, Gov. Greg Abbott gave his State of the State address from a television studio. In his biennial speech, he presented a list of five emergency items that lawmakers will be able to take up immediately, bypassing constitutional limits in Texas regarding the consideration of bills in the first 60 days of a legislative session. The emergency items presented by Abbott included expanding broadband internet access, preventing local governments “from defunding police,” enacting statewide bail reform, ensuring “election integrity,” as the governor put it, and establishing civil liability protections for businesses that were open during the COVID-19 pandemic.

With limited details on some of the items, lawmakers and advocates will have room to influence the discussion on the items so that any final legislation might better reflect their own priorities. For instance, the Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities (TCDD) can provide information to the Legislature indicating the need for bills on election integrity to include measures that address election accessibility. TCDD can also advocate that efforts to expand broadband access should take into account the increased use of telehealth and online special education services during the pandemic and speak to some of the challenges associated with that increase.

There is no requirement for lawmakers to pass or even take up the governor’s emergency items. What is passed by lawmakers can occasionally look different from what was initially proposed by the governor.

House Committee Assignments

On Feb. 4, Speaker Dade Phelan released his list of committee assignments for members of the Texas House. The state representatives were divided up among 34 standing committees, with each representative generally landing two to four assignments each (The individuals assigned as chairs of the House Appropriations and State Affairs committees, both very time-consuming positions, each received only one committee placement.).

A number of committees relevant to TCDD’s work, such as the House Appropriations, Elections, Higher Education, Public Education, and Public Health committees, will all have new chairs in the 87th Legislature. The House is like the Texas Senate in that committees are where a great deal of the work of session is done. The committees take public testimony and make the most significant changes to bills before deciding to move them forward or hold them back in the process. Every new committee chair and every new committee member must be brought up to speed on the issues that they will be covering. Those informational efforts are now underway.

Not all House committees saw massive overhauls. The Human Services Committee, one of the committees most impactful to Texans with disabilities, retained six of its nine members from last session, including its chair, Rep. James Frank, House District 69 (Wichita Falls), and vice-chair, Rep. Gina Hinojosa, House District 49 (Austin).

Updated membership of the committees can be found on the House website.

Stay Informed

Visit our website to check out a new section on our Disability Policy Academy program series. You can find information about past events, as well as details and a registration link for our next academy, “DD Experience in the COVID-19 Pandemic: Developing Responsive Public Policy,” which will take place at 2 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 16.

To stay up to date on how the Legislature is addressing disability-related issues, subscribe to TCDD eNews. On our website, you can find legislative resources and video updates from TCDD Policy Director Scott Daigle on what’s happening at the Capitol. To receive additional notifications, follow us on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram.

Thanks for following our Texas Legislative News updates! We’re taking a short break next week and will resume on Feb. 22.