Bill Filing For 2021 Texas Session Begins With Legislation On Abortion, Police Stops, Redistricting
The 87th Texas Legislature won’t gavel in until January, but state lawmakers on Monday got their first chance to file legislation for what’s expected to be a particularly tough 140-day stretch at the Capitol next year.
By mid-afternoon Monday, the first day to pre-file legislation, more than 530 bills had already been filed in the House and Senate. Thousands of bills are expected to be filed throughout the legislative session, though only a fraction of them will make it through both chambers and end up on Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk.
State leaders have already said they expect the upcoming session to be the toughest state lawmakers have seen in years. The state is forecasting billions of dollars in shortfalls to the state budget, which the coronavirus pandemic has fueled. On top of that, lawmakers are set to undergo the once-in-a-decade process of redrawing the state’s political maps.
House Redistricting Committee Chair Phil King, a Weatherford Republican, filed legislation Monday morning related to the composition of House districts and State Board of Education districts with House Bill 63 and 64, respectively. Later Monday, King filed a bill related to congressional districts.
With fights over voter access and ballot integrity dominating the election offices and courthouse across the state in recent months, lawmakers are also seeking to resolve some of the central issues around how Texans vote with a battery of bills filed in the early hours Monday. Before noon, nearly 30 pieces of elections-related legislation had already been proposed in both chambers.
Mail-in voting and voter registration emerged as two key focal points in bills filed by members of both parties. There was also legislation focused on countywide voting centers, voter identification, access for voters with disabilities, straight-ticket voting and designating any day an election is held statewide, including primaries, as a state holiday.
State Rep. Drew Springer, R-Muenster, filed proposals aimed at curbing the power of the governor's emergency powers, including one that would create an "Emergency Powers Board" to provide oversight during a declared disaster. The state's "Big Three" — the governor, lieutenant governor and speaker of the House — would sit on the board, as would the chairs of the House and Senate State Affairs Committees. Some Republicans have argued Abbott has overstepped his authority as the state has responded to the pandemic.
Filing a bill early typically results in a low number. But the lowest numbers are reserved for the highest priority bills set by the House speaker and lieutenant governor — and sometimes, those pieces of legislation won’t be filed until session is well underway.
A list of notable bills filed from the day, which will be updated regularly:
- House Bill 25 by state Rep. Valoree Swanson, R-Spring, would prohibit the state or elections officials from distributing mail-in ballot applications to voters who had not requested them. The bill comes after months of battle between Texas Republicans and nearby Harris County over a plan, ultimately blocked, to send unrequested applications to some 1.9 million registered voters younger than 65.
- House Bills 36 and 219 by Houston Democratic state Reps. Jarvis Johnson and Shawn Thierry, respectively, would abolish Confederate Heroes Day in Texas. The Jan. 19 state holiday is meant to honor Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and “other Confederate heroes,” according to Texas’ Government Code. Meanwhile, House Bill 311 by Springer, the Muenster Republican, would aim to protect historical monuments by limiting Texans’ options for removing, relocating or altering them.
- House Bill 54 by state Rep. James Talarico, D-Round Rock, would prohibit law enforcement departments from working with reality television shows. The bill comes after a grand jury in September indicted Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody on a felony evidence tampering charge in the case of Javier Ambler, a Black man who died in 2019 after being stunned with a Taser multiple times by deputies. The incident was caught on camera for an episode of the since-canceled police reality show “Live PD,” that never aired.
- House Bill 59 by state Rep. Andrew Murr, R-Junction, would abolish school district maintenance and operations taxes in the state. During the last legislative session in 2019, Murr tried to pass a proposal that would have eliminated such taxes in 2022 and directed a committee to find a new funding source before 2021. Those property taxes, paid by local residents of each public school district, plus state funding make up the bulk of a district’s budget.
- House Bill 69 by state Rep. Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands, would ban abortions at or after the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Current state law prohibits prohibits abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. If passed, the bill would go into effect Sept. 1, 2021.
- House Bill 88 by state Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, known as the George Floyd Act, is named after George Floyd, a Black man killed over the summer in Minneapolis police custody, and would make a number of policing and criminal justice reforms.
- Senate Bill 90 by state Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, and House Bill 94 by state Rep. Ron Reynolds, D-Missouri City, would expand the state’s medical marijuana program to make more patients eligible and lower fees associated with operating a dispensary, among other things.
- House Bill 103 by state Rep. Brooks Landgraf, R-Odessa, would establish the "Texas Active Shooter Alert System" to notify Texans if there is an active shooter in the area. The legislation would require the Texas Department of Public Safety to develop the system and the Texas Department of Transportation to create a plan for releasing information to people who are within 50 miles of an active shooter. Landgraf's legislation comes after a gunman fatally shot seven people and injured 22 others in Midland and Odessa last year.
- House Bill 171 by state Rep. Diego Bernal, D-San Antonio, would expand Medicaid eligibility to certain people under the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Texas is currently in the minority of states that have declined to expand Medicaid coverage to people with incomes near or below the poverty line. If passed, the bill would also establish an annual report on the effects of expanding eligibility for medical assistance, including the effects on uninsured Texans and on state and local health care costs.
- House Bill 371 by state Rep. Art Fierro, D-El Paso, would designate the day after the Super Bowl a state holiday.
Karen Brooks Harper and Aliyya Swaby contributed to this report.
Copyright 2020 KUT 90.5