The gavel doesn’t drop to open the 2021 Texas legislative session until Jan. 12, but state lawmakers are already giving us an indication of what they will be working on next year.
Monday marked the first day bills could be prefiled. By midafternoon, more than 500 bills had already been filed in the Texas House and Senate.
The decennial redistricting process, COVID-19 and closing a multibillion dollar budget gap caused by the pandemic will dominate lawmakers’ attention in the upcoming session, but there is a laundry list of other issues that will be part of the legislative debate in 2021.
Among the bills prefiled on Monday there are measures to both expand or further restrict voting by mail, allow online voter registration, address racial injustice, expand access to health care, ban abortions after the first trimester, rein in Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive powers, expand availability of medical marijuana and improve public education.
State Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston) filed the George Floyd Act to limit use of force by police and ban chokeholds.
State Rep. James Talrico (D-Round Rock) wants to limit class sizes and student-teacher ratios for pre- kindergarten classes.
Lawmakers are also going to try again to expand access to Medicaid to an additional 1 million Texans. Texas is one of just a dozen states that has not taken advantage of the additional federal dollars offered for Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.
“We know this is going to be a legislative session focused on COVID, and clearly health coverage should be front and center,” said Dr. Laura Guerra-Cardus, deputy director of Children’s Defense Fund-Texas, a member of the Cover Texas Now coalition. “We’re excited about the progress we can make this session to ensure more Texans can go to the doctor, get testing and treatment for COVID, catch cancer before it spreads, or get other medical treatment they need.”
On the election front, State Rep. Fiero (D-El Paso) is proposing an entire package of bills, including a return to straight-ticket voting, expanded access to curbside voting and another bill to make certain Election Days state holidays.
On the Republican side of the aisle, State Rep. Valoree Swanson’s (R-Spring) bill would prohibit the distribution of mail ballot applications to voters who have not requested them, an issue that was fought in the courts during the just-completed election cycle.
As for Abbott’s powers during disasters, State Rep. Drew Springer, (R-Muenster), wants to create an “Emergency Powers Board” to handle the decision making. The board’s members would consist of Abbott, Lt. Gov Dan Patrick, the speaker of the Texas House and the chairs of the House and Senate Affairs Committees. Many members of Abbott’s own party have complained that he has gone too far in enacting restrictions to curtail the spread of COVID-19.
Earlier this year, Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody was indicted on a felony charge in connection with the death of Javier Ambler, a Black man who died in police custody. The incident was caught on camera during a taping of the reality show “Live PD.”
The other bill is in response to this story.
There will be thousands of more bills filed before the filing deadline on March 12. Most won’t live to see the light of day, dying in committee or falling victim to partisan politics. With Republicans in the majority in both chambers, Democrats wanting to get any of their pet measures passed are going to have to reach across the aisle for support.