Legislative Recap of the 87th Texas Legislature
The Regular 87th Session of the Texas Legislature is in the books. True Texas Project has devoted our June meetings to a legislative review of the session. At four of these meetings, the entire hour was devoted to a panel discussion of what really happened in the 87th. I like to call it the good, the bad, the ugly, and the BIZARRE! We had plenty of each.
Instead of asking legislators to do our Leg Review as in past sessions, this year, we invited leaders from various grassroots organizations from all over the state. These are the people that are boots on the ground all during session, monitoring and writing about what happens, and providing useful information. Unlike legislators who usually tell what they want you to hear, these folks gave us an interesting peek behind the scenes at the Capitol, that many average citizens are not aware of.
So, here are a few bullet point highlights from these panel discussions. I know many people were surprised and amazed at what they heard. While many good things came out of this session, there were a large number of disappointments. And while the Bizarre is not uncommon in legislative sessions, the 87th had more than it’s share.
- Covid Testing Tents in front of the Capitol
- DPS officers EVERYWHERE!
- Can’t enter any Senate activities without a Covid test
- Masks required everywhere
- Signs on office doors – “This office is closed”.
- Practically no citizens/activists in the building (BONUS!)
- Issues that could not get attention before, now suddenly front and center (like medical choice) (Again – BONUS!)
- Governor’s priority bills pushed back to last week of session instead of early in the schedule
- Senate and House fussing at each other (more than usual)
- Lt. Governor and Governor fussing at each other (more than usual)
- Democrats walking out the day before Sine Die (and Republicans giving them permission to do so!)
- Three day recess the week before Sine Die, courtesy of Rep Jeff Leach, because….. House Democrat bills were not getting moved through the Senate. (guess what? That 3 day recess also killed a lot of Republican priority bills). Remember this is supposed to be a Republican controlled Legislature?
- Sex scandals in the House! (ok, not so unusual)
- Out of 9 Republican Legislative Priorities, only 2 had action. Seven failed
- Election Integrity FAILED
- Gender Modification on minors ban FAILED (6 different bills failed)
- Ban on Taxpayer Funded Lobbying FAILED
- Monument Protection FAILED
- School Choice FAILED
- Abolish Abortion FAILED
- Religious Freedom FAILED
- Stopping Government over reach FAILED
- Citizens were denied access to government proceedings and legislators because of testing and masking requirements (Unconstitutional!)
- Republican Speaker of the House assigns Democrats to Committee Chairs (again)
- Republicans work against Republican priorities, stalling, slow walking, not moving out of committee.
- Very little legislation addressing the border situation was filed, and what was filed went nowhere. (although money was allocated to border control in the budget – see “GOOD”)
- Hospitals and other medical providers can still pull the plug (life support) on your loved one with only 10 days notice, regardless of patient or family directives.
- Abortions are still legal in Texas
- Election Integrity – the number 1 issue for RPT delegates at convention, and a Governor’s Priority died on the 2nd to last day of session because House members walked out and broke quorum. This bill could have and should have been taken up early in the session, not the 2nd to last day.
- A ban on critical race theory was passed and signed. But it had several bad amendments added by Democrats in the House, taken out by the Senate, then put back in during Conference Committee. Even Governor Abbott, when he signed it said it was not what it should be and will have to be improved in special session.
- Executive powers were not curtailed, and the Disaster Act was not amended
- Constitutional Carry, although it passed, became a political football (all sorts of games were played with that one)
- Rep Burrows and the entire Calendars Committee – did a great job of killing the bills that Leadership wanted killed.
- Out of six bills to ban gender modification on minor children, only one made it out of the House Public Health Committee, chaired by Rep Stephanie Klick, and then it was delayed for 2 weeks in the Calendars Committee, and put at the bottom of the schedule on the last day that it could be considered on the House floor. So it died at the hands of the clock and the calendar. (Maybe we should launch a primary challenge to the clock and the calendar!)
- Chubbing by Democrats on everything (not unusual, but still ugly)
- Ban on Taxpayer Funding Lobbyists legislation (after being modified and watered down to nothingness) was deliberately killed in the House by Republican Chris Paddie. (The trick for this one was a motion to postpone consideration of the bill to several months out (after session ends), and oh by the way – to the date of Rep Mayes Middleton’s birthday. Rep Middleton is the House Rep who has been championing this issue – so Paddie’s move was a direct slap in the face to Middleton. And childish to boot.)
THE GOOD (I saved the good for last!)
- No lines! At entry, the bathrooms, the elevators, or the cafeteria
- The liberals mostly stayed home because of Covid fears, which left the conservatives a clean playing field to do their activism
- More Citizen engagement than we’ve ever seen before! (congratulations citizen advocates!)
- Additional funding for pregnancy centers in the budget
- The Heartbeat Bill passed – stopping abortions when a heartbeat is detected, AND, giving citizens the right to sue abortionists in civil court. (go after the money!)
- Great strides in CPS reform that protects families and children from overbearing CPS intrusion
- Constitutional Carry (sort of) passed. So they gave us back the rights that are already guaranteed in the US Constitution. Thank you!
- The bill to ban vaccine passports was passed and signed. Although it doesn’t cover employees, only patrons, visitors, and customers
- A spending limitation bill, 5 sessions in the making, finally passed which caps state spending growth to population plus inflation.
- They passed a budget that is smaller than last session’s budget
- Over $1 billion of budget dedicated to border control.
- Chapter 313 of the Tax code, which allows taxing entities to grant tax abatement to new businesses who move into the area was NOT renewed, and therefore died. For now! We are sure that someone will try to raise it from the dead, just like Lazarus, so you might want to talk to your legislators about that before they get the chance to bring it back up.
- Several smaller religious liberty protection bills were passed
- Several stand alone election integrity bills passed including creating felonies for election fraud (much needed enforcement tool); No outside private funding to elections officials; a requirement for audit-able paper trails by 2026; a requirement that you must register at a place you actually inhabit; and withholding state funding form county clerks who do not abide by election laws. (How extreme is that? Expecting County Clerks to abide by election law?)
- Statewide ban on public camping
- Lone Star Infrastructure Act passed, ensuring foreign, countries can’t contract/own critical infrastructure in the state.
- Essential caregiver visitation Act passed giving people in long term care facilities the right to visitation even in the midst of a communicable disease
If my remarks sound cynical, it’s because I am! There’s a “but” caveat to almost everything that’s done. So many games are played, and our liberties are traded like stocks on the NASDAQ, it just breeds cynicism. Plenty of good things came out of the 87th Session. Plenty of bad/ugly things came out of the 87th Session too. And the bizarre? Well, I guess we’re just getting used to the bizarre.
Three things I hope people realize about the Texas Legislature: 1) That what you see in the media, on social media, or on the voting records don’t always tell the whole story. Sometimes what people don’t do is just as important as what they do. Concerned citizens have to dig deeper than how someone voted, or what someone says in their public announcements. 2) Citizen Advocates are making a difference! We’ve seen it and heard it from many different sources. Your efforts do pay off, so keep it up! 3) All the people on our panels work hard to pass good legislation. But they work even harder to stop bad legislation. No one sees that part. No one applauds those actions or even notices because that is not what is celebrated in the public eye. But every session, they play whack-a-mole, and stop thousands of pieces of really bad legislation from getting passed, and you should thank them for that.
Speaking of thanks – THANK YOU to all the grassroots leaders who participated in our 2021 Legislative Review. They attended 9 different meetings in the month of June, 4 of which were intense one hour sessions, and gave us all an interesting look behind the curtain.
Now we are in the interim period and facing 2 or more special sessions. Now is the time to talk to your elected representatives. Let them know your priorities for the special, ask them if they supported the RPT Legislative Priorities and if not, why not? Ask them how hard they fought for the unborn, vulnerable children, election security, religious liberties, second amendment rights, and taxpayers.
And remember, when special sessions are finished – the work is still not yet done! There is plenty to do during the interim. Speaker Phelan just made some interim assignments last week. Hearings are held during the interim, and there is plenty of work to do. So don’t lose the momentum! The Little Red Car and I will see you in Austin soon!
Fran Rhodes, True Texas Project President