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The 87th Legislature Begins Today, Here’s What to Watch

School Finance

Back in 2019 HB 3 was one of the most transformative and relevant pieces of reform in recent history. The bill was set to provide funding for Texas classrooms, increase teacher compensation, reduce recapture, and cut local property taxes for Texas taxpayers. Things are looking a bit grimmer for 2021, with budget cuts due to the pandemic bound to have a negative impact on most of these issues. 

The pandemic has also highlighted the need for comprehensive internet access for students, as well as protecting pre-K for school districts across the state. 

Medicaid Expansion

Texas is just one of 12 states that have not expanded Medicaid since the ACA was passed in 2010. While Texas has at different times been closer to passing an expansion of the program aimed at assisting the poor and most vulnerable Texans, at no time in recent history has the availability of quality health care been more needed. How the Legislature will handle the steep rise in COVID-19 cases across Texas while debating access to care will be interesting. 

Budget

One of the largest items on the agenda will be Texas’ two-year budget. Despite news from Texas Comptroller Glen Hegar on Monday projecting a deficit far smaller than previously feared by Texas lawmakers, the $1 billion deficit still presents a concerning picture.

Senate Rules

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has declared his intention to adjust the current three-fifths rule and lower the number of seats necessary to bring bills to the floor to align with the current number of GOP members.

Redistricting

The once a decade process for determining both congressional and state legislative districts begins this year. With the federal Census mired in delays, and the shifting demographics of Texas making traditional gerrymandered lines harder to remake, the impacts of the 87th legislature will determine the makeup of Texas for the next ten years. Here’s a helpful breakdown of its impact on the Texas Senate.

Unemployment 

2020 saw the steepest rise in unemployment in the last century. While the federal government voted to extend unemployment benefits for another 11 weeks, Texas has seen an increase in unemployment applications in recent months. Legislators may choose to tap the Rainy Day Fund to offset impacts, however the Legislature has been reluctant to dip into the fund. 

New Speaker

2021 will also see Rep. Dade Phelan as the presumptive Speaker of the House. Phelan has said among his priorities are addressing the pandemic and the spread, vaccine distribution, the budget deficit, getting the economy back on track, and school funding. Phelan has also drawn criticism from the Texas GOP most notably back in November, Allen West, the state’s GOP head called Phelan a “traitor” for getting Democratic backing for this bid for Speaker. 

Marijuana

Finally, with the budget deficit new debates on whether Texas should legalize marijuana have resurfaced. Legislators have filed bills addressing different aspects of the drug from comprehensive legalization to altering the criminality of smaller pieces. Sen.-elect  Roland Gutierrez’s bill estimates that legalizing and taxing marijuana would bring in $3.2 billion in revenue for Texas. 

Staff
Staff
Written by RA News staff.

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