Around the Texas Capitol:
A flurry of both bills filed and recent snowfall
By Lauren Fairbanks, Shayne Woodard and J Pete Laney
TAD Governmental Affairs
The ongoing Texas legislative session reached a milestone on March 12 with the final day that bills could be filed for consideration by the 87th Legislature. When the deadline arrived, 6,699 bills had been filed. This is below the 7,324 bills filed in the 2019 session.
While bill filing started off slowly and an entire week of filing was lost amid the winter storm that shut down the Capitol City for a week, a session expected to be relatively quiet due to COVID-19 has been anything but.
A lot of that can be attributed to the flurry of activity in the aftermath of Winter Storm Uri, as has been evident in both the number of bills filed and committee hearings. Both have taken a much more focused approach in recent days, as legislators seek solutions and reforms to prevent another catastrophic winter event in the state. In a session where legislative agendas have already been minimized because of challenges from COVID-19, electricity reforms are now on the forefront of all legislators’ minds, and Gov. Greg Abbott has added ERCOT reform and facility weatherization to his list of emergency items. Reforms are necessary to ensure that Texans are never again without power and water for days at a time.
It will be some time before the full extent of damage is known, but a snapshot of some impacts include:
- According to ERCOT officials, Texas’ power grid was “seconds and minutes” away from a catastrophic failure, which triggered what was intended to be rolling blackouts.
- Millions of Texans lost electricity as energy providers forced outages during the subfreezing temperatures.
- As power returned, water disruptions created new challenges across the state. Thousands of public water systems reported some sort of issue, including “boil water notices” covering 13 million Texans.
- Supply chains to grocery stores and restaurants were severely impacted, after many grocery stores were shuttered due to lack of power, and the few that were open had near-empty shelves and long lines.
Your Texas Association of Dairymen government relations team will continue to monitor issues as they are considered and will weigh the potential impact on the state’s dairy industry.
More recent highlights from Austin:
Feb. 14: President Joe Biden declared a federal emergency for Texas due to the winter storm and ordered federal assistance to supplement state and local response efforts. The president’s action authorized the Department of Homeland Security and Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate all disaster relief efforts
Feb 25: Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick announced his top priorities for the 2021 legislative session. The list reflects his own priorities as well as priorities from senators and Texans around the state. The priorities are designed to protect taxpayers and the Texas economy as it rebuilds following the pandemic and to secure Texas’ future, including addressing power failures in the recent winter storm. Priorities include ERCOT reform and grid stability, broadband access, pandemic liability protections, banning taxpayer-funded lobbying and redistricting. You can find a list of all 31 of his priorities here.
March 2: Gov. Abbott issued an executive order that, as of March 10, lifted the statewide mask mandate and increased capacity of all businesses and facilities in the state to 100%. The governor made the announcement in Lubbock in an address to the Chamber of Commerce. The executive order rescinds most of the governor’s earlier executive orders related to COVID-19. Businesses may still limit capacity or implement additional safety protocols at their own discretion. If COVID-19 hospitalizations in any of the 22 hospital regions in Texas rise to 15% of the hospital bed capacity in that region for seven straight days, a county judge in that region may use COVID-19 mitigation strategies. However, county judges may not impose jail time for not following COVID-19 orders nor may any penalties be imposed for failing to wear a face mask. If restrictions are imposed at a county level, those restrictions may not include reducing capacity to less than 50% for any type of entity.
March 9: Rep. David Spiller was sworn in as state representative for House District 68 after winning the Feb. 25 special election runoff. Spiller beat his opponent, Craig Carter, by 26 percentage points, 63% to 37%. Spiller replaces Drew Springer (R-Muenster) who was elected to the Texas Senate in December. After taking office, Spiller was appointed to the House Committee on Land and Resource Management and the Committee on County Affairs.