AUSTIN (Nexstar) — As Texas lawmakers wrap up the legislative session at the state Capitol, they’re unsure about when they’ll come back to Austin.
All eyes are on Gov. Greg Abbott to announce a special legislative session, and importantly, when he’ll do it. He has already expressed his intention to call lawmakers back in the fall to redraw legislative maps when the Census Bureau releases its population data for redistricting.
Abbott, a Republican, called this session “one of the most conservative legislative sessions our state has ever seen.”
“We passed legislation to secure our border, support our police, expand second amendment rights, defend religious liberty and protect the sanctity of life in Texas,” he stated Monday afternoon. “We also enacted several key emergency items like reforming the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, weatherizing and stabilizing our power grid, ensuring COVID-19 liability protections and expanding access to broadband and telemedicine.”
Those legislative victories, which House Speaker Dade Phelan and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick— both Republicans— highlighted Monday, also came with failures to pass some conservative priorities, like changes to the state’s elections rules and bail reform.
Texas Democrats had something to do with that. They staged a walkout in the House Sunday night, breaking a quorum up against a midnight deadline to pass the elections bill during its debate. They used delay tactics last week to knock down legislation that would have required high school student-athletes to participate in sports matching their biological sex.
“My Democratic colleagues have been masterful in their use of the rules to kill bad bills on and off the floor this session,” State Rep. James Talarico, D-Round Rock, said. “And we’ve had to be creative in order to really block some of these dangerous pieces of legislation that are trying to be pushed through the legislature.”
In remarks to the House on Monday, Phelan applauded legislative efforts to improve health for Texas moms and pass a balanced budget during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We maintained our commitment to public education and higher education when no one thought we could do that,” he said. “But we did it.”
Both Phelan and Patrick highlighted updates to the state-run electricity grid, which became a point of focus after the deadly winter storm in February.
“We did a lot, but we have more to do,” Patrick said in an interview Monday.
Lawmakers passed bills revamping the Electric Reliability Council of Texas and the Public Utility Commission of Texas, which are responsible for management of the power grid.
“(We passed) major changes, winterization, we’re making sure we have some money to keep ERCOT operating so they don’t have a liquidity issue, but the thing that we did not do, that the Senate asked to do, multiple times was to provide relief for ratepayers,” Patrick opined.
“When we come back, if we get another bill that puts more money toward industry, I’m not bringing it to the floor,” Patrick said. “I want money to come to the floor for ratepayers. We’ve taken a stand on that almost all session, and we’re not going to give up on that issue.”
Patrick lobbed criticism at House leadership’s calendar management, which he believes is responsible for some of his key priorities failing to pass like the elections overhaul, the transgender student-athletes bill, legislation to ban taxpayer-funded lobbying and a bill he believes will improve free speech on social media.
“It was just poor management of the calendar,” Patrick said. “Our trains run on time in the Senate, we get our work done.”
“We passed these in March and April,” he said. “They’ve been sitting over there for months and they wait to the last two or three days… you’re just asking for trouble. Now the Democrats shouldn’t have walked out, but they were given the opportunity and they did,” Patrick chided.
In Phelan’s address, the first-year Speaker did not specifically mention Patrick or the Senate, but he defended the body’s work and legislative priorities.
“Every member of this body was productive,” Phelan said.
“No matter the external forces that try to distract us, or diminish the work of this body, we are the Texas House. In this House we work hard and our rules matter,” he said, appearing to take a dig at the Senate regularly suspending its rules to take up bills.
As lawmakers head home to recoup before they’re called back to the Capitol, Patrick said he has given Abbott a wish list of legislation to prioritize. He said he believes the conservative priorities should be taken up in a separate special session than the one dedicated to redistricting and federal stimulus.
“Redistricting is hard,” he said. “We gotta redraw the Congressional maps, the Senate maps, the House maps and we’re gonna have about $16 billion coming in from the federal government, we have to figure out how we’re going to spend it.”
“When you’re redrawing people districts, most of them aren’t happy because it changes every 10 years just by population, it’s not a good time to try to get a vote sometimes,” he said. “So that has to be its own separate deal and should not be mixed in with politics.”