The 87th Texas Legislative Session is underway. We have a couple days under our belt of the total 140-day session. As of this post there have been 1,404 bills filed. Our team has gone through all of them, as we will continue to do until the bill filling deadline when we expect the final number to be between 6,000 – 7,000.
Needless to say, we will have much more to report on throughout the next six-months. However, this session has already had its fair share of unique changes from all prior sessions. Just to name a few, there are many more armed police and security surrounding the Capitol, as well as only a single-entry point with rapid testing for every entrant. The numbers of people on the premises is significantly lower, and much of the typical pomp and ceremony has been eliminated or scaled significantly back.
The Senate wrapped up its rules debate on Wednesday. Among the new rules because of COVID are daily testing requirements for members and staff to attend the floor or committees, and mask requirements. But in the realm of politics (and fractions for that matter) the most significant rule change was lowering the threshold of the requisite number of votes needed to suspend the rules and bring a bill up for debate on the Senate floor. Translation into normal speak, no bill can be heard and therefore even have a chance of passing unless there are enough votes to allow it to even be debated.
Historically, the rules required a 2/3rds super-majority vote (21 out of 31) to bring a bill to the floor for debate. Then in 2015 that was lowered to 3/5ths (19 out of 31) and this session lowered again to, for the fraction buffs, 5/9ths so that 18 votes are needed. And you thought there wasn’t going to be math today.
If you are curious as to why these changes occurred, the number of Republicans, who hold the majority, in the Senate this session is 18, down from 19 as a result of a seat that went to the Democrats in the last election. Prior to this most recent election going back to the 2015 Session the Republicans controlled 19 seats in the Senate. I’m guessing the fractions are beginning to make a bit more sense now.
The first order of business on Tuesday for the House was the speaker election. As expected, Rep. Dade Phelan was elected as the new Speaker of the House.
Then on Thursday new House rules were debated for about four hours, with 23 amendments offered, but ultimately only a single amendment was passed. The major change in the House rules comes from a brand-new Rule 16 “Special Rule.” It is a rule to be used and supersedes the normal rules, basically during the COIV-19 pandemic.
The new rules require face masks, provides for online electronic public comment of written testimony, allows at committee to limit the number of in person witness to testify on a bill to only two people, allows for only two members in-person need to be present to satisfy a committee quorum, only invited testimony has the option of being done remotely, and House members will be able to vote from the gallery.
And finally, as if there wasn’t enough going on, a large portion of the rules debate from the party caucus meetings prior and then on the floor debate addressed issues not related to COVID, or even the budget that is facing a $1 billion less in revenue compared to two years ago, but rather to procedures dealing with the redistricting process. It doesn’t get any more contentious in the world of politics than when they pull out the maps every ten years to draw new lines for political districts.
For a multitude of reasons, this session will certainly be one for the history books.