The Texas Senate and Texas House of Representatives convened on Tuesday, January 12th for the 87th Texas Legislative Session. Both chambers passed parliamentary rules then quickly gaveled out for two weeks due to caution over Covid-19. As with all things in the past year around the world, things are very different around the Texas Capitol at the opening of session. Most Capitol staff continue to work from home, everyone must take rapid tests and wear masks upon entering the building, and Capitol office meetings are generally by invitation only leading to eerily quiet, empty hallways around the Capitol building.
On its opening day, the Texas House of Representatives chose a new Speaker electing Representative Dade Phelan (R - Beaumont). TFFA staff and TFFA member companies both have excellent pre-existing relationships with Speaker Phelan so we look forward to working with him and his new staff. The House also passed new Covid adjusted rules for procedures relating to committee hearings, committee testimony and member voting requirements. For committee hearings only two members must be on the dais for a 'quorum' to be present and then other committee members may vote from the committee office or their own office. Invited testimony can be taken remotely, but regular walk-up oral testimony must be allowed in person by the committee. Also, for House floor votes, members can vote from the House gallery or from rooms adjacent to the House floor. All of these measures are to encourage social distancing while simultaneously allowing for public access to committee hearings and for transparent voting processes. The House is currently awaiting House Committee assignments and is adjourned until Tuesday, February 9th.
In the Senate the big opening day news was Lt. Governor Dan Patrick's successful move to change the eligibility threshold for bills moving onto the Senate floor. Last session there were 19 Republicans and 12 Democrats in the Senate and Senate rules required 19 votes for a bill to be able to make into onto the Senate floor for consideration. This session there are 18 Republicans and 13 Democrats. On opening day, Senate Republicans followed Lt. Governor Patrick's wishes and lowered the threshold to 18 votes for floor consideration. Shortly after the Lt. Governor named Senate Committees and adjourned the Senate for two weeks. Currently the Senate Redistricting Committee is meeting everyday while the full Senate is also adjourned until Tuesday, February 9th.
Overall, we expect things at the Capitol to continue to proceed very slowly as both bodies drag their feet waiting for Covid numbers to go down and vaccinations to increase. There is general agreement across the Capitol to file fewer bills and to hear fewer bills in committee.
TFFA's top priority issues this session are trucking liability reform, Covid liability assistance, city labor ordinance reform, and alcohol to-go legislation. The primary bills on all of these issues are still being worked on at Texas Legislative Council and have not been filed.
TFFA is so far tracking 102 bills that have been filed, including bills filed on raising the state minimum wage, a July 4th sales tax holiday for beer and wine, and tax forgiveness for loans made under the Paycheck Protection Program. These bills are not TFFA’s priority agenda but are just an example of the types of bills that we track as they could potentially affect our industry.
The TFFA Legislative Council will be having its first Legislative Webinar of the session on Wednesday, February 10th at 2:00pm CST. The webinar will be led by TFFA Director of Government Relations, Matt Burgin, and is open to all TFFA members. Please be on the look out next week for an email with Zoom links and the link will be posted on the TFFA Legislative page.
- Matt Burgin, Director of Government Relations