Well, the long-anticipated 87th Texas Legislative Session finally began on Jan. 12. The session goes for 140 calendar days and ends on May 29. During that time, they are constitutionally required to pass a budget for the next two years, but everything else is optional. That means any business left on the table at the end of May will be null and void. Anything not passed by then will have to wait until the next session, in 2023, or Gov. Abbott may choose to call a special session to address an item or two he finds of particular importance. Traditionally, those special sessions have been few and far between, though, so don’t count on one.
That said, this year is as good a candidate as any for one or more special sessions. Due to coronavirus precautions, the Senate and House have only been on the floor for short periods on five days since the session began 18 days ago. While certainly unusual, the abbreviated schedule isn’t as impactful as it may sound. The early weeks of any legislative session are usually filled with ceremonial recognitions on the floor while everyone gets their ducks in a row behind the scenes. Though neither chamber has been on the floor much so far, there are still a lot of ducks getting lined up as usual.
One of the first things to happen in the House is the election of a speaker. That occurred on the first day, and as expected, Rep. Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont), was chosen by his peers to lead the House. The other significant waypoint is the appointment of committees.
One of the first stops for every piece of legislation is a House or Senate committee where a small group of legislators hear public testimony and decide whether the bill is worthy of moving forward to be considered by the entire body. Which legislators chair and sit on those respective committees can have a huge impact on what legislation reaches the finish line.
In the Senate, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has already announced the makeup of their committees. You can check out who is where by visiting https://senate.texas.gov/committees.php. Having just elected a new speaker, the House has yet to release their committee assignments, but they’re expected to come out soon, possibly as early as next week.
For our part, the government relations staff at TSCRA have been busy over the last several weeks meeting with legislators and legislative staff to discuss our priorities and their priorities for the session. We’re already heavily engaged on dozens of bills on topics including property taxes, fake meat, animal health, liability protections, eminent domain, water and more. Additionally, we are already closely monitoring hundreds of other bills that could impact your ability to raise cattle.
So far, there have been almost 2,000 bills filed. Last session, there were a total of almost 7,500 bills filed, so we still have quite a ways to go if history is any indication.
On the federal level, the Biden administration continues to get its feet on the ground but has already issued a flood of executive orders. Many seek to undo Trump-era orders and have already been caught up in legal challenges. Elsewhere, he continues to seek confirmation on his cabinet-level appointments.
The new legislature has already begun reintroducing legislation, including the DIRECT Act, by Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX) and Dusty Johnson (R-SD) to allow interstate shipment of state-inspected meat. We expect much more to come, so stay tuned.
I leave it at that for this week, so until next time, keep up the good work and stay safe out there!
Jeremy Fuchs is the director of policy communications and government relations for Texas & Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association.