Texas Legislative News: Jan. 11, 2021

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Welcome to the first edition of Texas Legislative News for the 87th Texas Legislature. In this weekly feature, we’ll provide information on disability-related issues that are being considered at the Texas State Capitol. We’ll also include overviews of how business is conducted by lawmakers and details on upcoming events coordinated by the Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities (TCDD).

The Legislature Comes to Town

On Tuesday, Jan. 12, state lawmakers will convene for the 87th regular session of the Texas Legislature. These regular sessions take place for 140 days every two years and include the consideration of a vast array of policy topics. House and Senate members are typically required to pass only a single piece of legislation — the two-year state budget — but in this session, they’re sure to grapple with matters related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and, following the completion of the 2020 U.S. Census, the redrawing of maps for legislative and congressional districts. If there is unfinished business when the legislature adjourns on May 31, then Gov. Greg Abbott can call lawmakers back for 30-day special sessions on topics of his choosing.

The Senate
The Texas Senate is comprised of 31 members, each of whom represents over 800,000 constituents. A senator’s term of office is generally four years, and those terms are scheduled so that about half of the body is up for election every two years. It’s worth noting that, in the first general election following redistricting, all 31 Senate seats are on the ballot. This will be the case in 2022.

The Senate’s presiding officer is the lieutenant governor of Texas, currently Dan Patrick, who is elected statewide every four years. Under current Senate rules, the lieutenant governor essentially controls which bills are brought up for consideration by the body and appoints the committees that do much of the Senate’s work.

The House
The Texas House of Representatives is comprised of 150 members, each of whom represents about 167,000 constituents. A state representative’s term of office is two years, and each of them comes up for election every even-numbered year.

The body’s presiding officer is the speaker of the Texas House. The speaker is named on the first day of the legislative session, decided by a vote of the 150 House members. Last session’s speaker chose not to run for reelection to the House, so the position in the 87th Legislature will most assuredly be filled by someone new; based on commitments made in November, it is presumed that Rep. Dade Phelan will be elected by his fellow members to fill the role.

Rules of Operation
Once lawmakers convene, it is customary for them to quickly adopt the rules under which they will operate for the session. Senators usually adopt the rules for their body on the first day, whereas House members generally wait a day or two before doing so.

This session, we’ll be watching to see if any rules are changed in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic to allow the public to provide input remotely, or even to allow lawmakers to cast votes and conduct business from outside the Capitol.

The Rhythm of Session
Based on Texas Constitutional guidelines limiting the consideration of bills, the first month of the legislative session has a fairly slow pace. It starts to pick up in February, particularly after committees are appointed in the Texas House. Once we get into April, lawmakers are typically considering dozens, if not hundreds, of bills each day and continue that through May. We will be following along to keep you updated on issues of interest to the disability community.

Disability Policy Academy

On Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021, we will host a Disability Policy Academy titled “Public Input During the 87th Texas Legislature.” Moderated by TCDD Public Policy Director Scott Daigle, the event will feature a panel of experts including State Rep. Donna Howard; Bryan Law, director of the Senate Health & Human Services Committee; and Mel Hocker, past president of Texas Advocates. During the Disability Policy Academy, we will address questions about advocacy in the upcoming Texas legislative session, including:

  • How will the public communicate with lawmakers amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic?
  • What is the expectation for in-person vs. remote input this session?
  • What COVID-19 safety precautions are being taken at the Capitol?
  • What resources can be used to track legislation?
  • What are some tips for being an effective advocate?

The event will be held via Zoom. Participants must register ahead of time to attend.

Registration Details
Date: Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021
Time: 1-2:30 p.m. CT
Register to attend

Accommodations
Communication Access Real-time Translation (CART) service will be provided. If you need other accommodations to participate, please contact Koren Vogel at koren.vogel@tcdd.texas.gov or 512-437-5416.

Stay Informed

To stay up to date regarding how disability-related issues are being addressed by the Legislature, subscribe to TCDD eNews. To receive additional notifications, follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.