Here’s a quick recap of what happened over the last week:

I wasn’t planning to do an update this week, thinking it was going to be a slow holiday week.  But there were enough relevant developments, so here’s a quick recap for everyone before the holiday weekend:

Hurricane Beryl Headed to Texas?

As of tonight, Hurricane Beryl remains a category 4 hurricane as it passes over Jamaica and heads towards the Yucatan Peninsula.  Most projections have the storm headed over the Gulf and then making final landfall in northern Mexico sometime on Sunday as a strong tropical storm or a category 1 hurricane.  However, there is still a great deal of uncertainty.  As the storm enters the Gulf sometime on Friday, it should be severely weakened.  Where the uncertainty lies is how much it will strengthen over the very warm Gulf waters that have temperatures in the high 80’s, and an area of high pressure that is currently hanging out east of Texas that is pushing the storm to the south.  As of now, the National Weather Service is predicting the storm to make landfall roughly 100 miles south of Brownsville.  If so, the storm will dump several inches of rain as far north as the San Antonio area and could pack winds as high as 70 MPH.  But the uncertainty of how the storm will behave once it hit the Gulf and the location of the high-pressure area could change and possibly send the storm farther north.  Keep an eye out and make adequate preparations if you are anywhere near the Gulf Coast.

State to Finance Grid Infrastructure

Last November, voters approved a proposal passed by the legislature to establish a $5 billion fund to incentivize the building of new infrastructure for the state’s troubled electric grid.  State regulators have estimated that demand for electricity in the state could double in the next 6 years, and the state is nowhere near having the capability to meet the growing demands.  Last week, Gov. Abbott and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick released a statement calling for the new fund to be increased to $10 billion.  The new Texas Energy Fund is designed to support low interest loans for construction of “on demand” power generating plants that can be utilized in times of extreme weather conditions that create high demand for power.

After the disastrous winter storm of 2021 when the state had to institute rolling blackouts to avoid total collapse of the grid, the grid has been able to meet the demands of energy consumption.  With the new energy fund, the state is hoping to nearly double the current record of 85.5 gigawatts to 152 gigawatts of power that would be available to the grid.  Since the fund was approved, companies and developers have submitted proposals that would finance an additional 56 gigawatts of power.

Texas Supreme Court Upholds Ban on Transgender Care

One of the most controversial and emotional debates during the last regular session was during the consideration and eventual passage of legislation that banned transgender teens from accessing puberty blockers and hormone therapy.  Several parents of transgender teens along with doctors and advocacy groups filed suit to challenge the constitutionality of the new law saying that the state should not be able to intervene in decisions regarding the medical care for a minor.  In the majority opinion, the justices ruled that “fit parents” have the right to raise their children, but the right is not absolute.  The court went on to say that certain “developments in our society” create questions between appropriate autonomy and the legislature’s right to intervene, and the state constitution gives the legislature the power to provide answers.  Thus, the justices are concluding that the legislature can regulate how medicine is practiced, even when parental rights are involved.

Major US Supreme Court Decisions

As the US Supreme Court finished its term for the summer, the court handed down a number of key decisions.  Two of which will directly affect Texans.

First, the Court sent a challenge to how Texas regulates social media back to the lower courts.  In 2021, Texas passed a law prohibiting social media platforms from censoring or banning a user based on his or her political views.  The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals recently upheld the constitutionality of the Texas law.  But the Supreme Court ruled the 5th Circuit had not “fully analyzed the full scope of the legal challenge” and ordered the case back to the lower courts, putting the Texas law on hold until all legal challenges are exhausted.  The challenge to the law was brought by the social media platforms who argued they have the right under the First Amendment to manage the content on their sites as they see appropriate, which would be consistent with how newspapers are allowed to regulate the content they place in their publications.  The state of Texas has argued the law is necessary to ensure the social media platforms do not misuse their influence by presenting a bias to a given subject matter.  Now the case is expected to return to district court where both sides will basically start over with the case.

Another ruling by the high court ratifies the ban on homeless encampments that has been passed by several cities in the state.  Many cities such as Austin and Houston have passed ordinances that allow fines to be assessed on people sleeping in public places.  This particular case considered by the Court originated in Oregon where officials passed similar ordinances and began issuing large fines to homeless individuals for sleeping in public.  An appeals court had ruled that fining someone because they are homeless amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.  But the high court disagreed, saying that judges do not have authority to “dictate the nation’s homeless policy.”

One more bit of news from the US Supreme Court.  The Court has agreed to hear a challenge to a recently passed Texas law that mandates age verification on pornographic websites.  The bill passed last year requires users to upload a government issued ID to access adult websites.  The law also requires the site operators to display a warning regarding the impact of pornography on brain development.  The Free Speech Coalition – comprised of entities involved in the adult entertainment industry – filed the challenge and was partially successful at the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in having the health warning requirement ruled unconstitutional by the appeals court.  The appeals court let stand the age verification requirement in the law.  The high court will hear arguments in the fall regarding the constitutionality of both provisions in the bill.

 Speaker’s Race Update

State Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, a Republican from Southlake in Tarrant County, has received a letter from 90 grassroots activists in his district urging him to only support a Speaker that pledges to end the tradition of appointing Democrats to chair House committees.  This is probably the start of a trend that will take place in the coming months as Republican party activists get engaged against incumbent House Speaker Dade Phelan.  Phelan appointed 8 Democrats to chair committees last session, as has been the tradition of all previous House Speakers – to appoint members from the opposing party to chair committees in an effort to encourage and enhance a bipartisan and more cooperative environment.  In addition, the group also requests that Capriglione only support a Speaker that is first nominated by the House Republican Caucus.  This in theory would discourage any Speaker candidate from courting the support of the Democrats and ensure the Republican members control the numbers when choosing a Speaker.

While Phelan is not specifically named in the letter, the letter is a clear endorsement for a new Speaker.  Phelan has defended his practice of appointing Democratic chairs and is on record saying he will continue the practice if reelected to lead the chamber in 2025.  As stated earlier, this type of exercise is most likely the beginning of an effort that will continue with other members throughout the state as the battle for the Speaker’s gavel heats up.

Border News

Attorney General Ken Paxton has accused the Annunciation House in El Paso of operating as a stash house and being involved in human trafficking.  The organization calls itself a Catholic faith-based nonprofit that houses asylum seekers that have crossed into the country and are seeking refuge while awaiting their asylum hearing.  In February, Paxton requested records from the organization detailing how it works with migrants and how it is funded.  When the organization refused to provide the records in a timely manner, Paxton sued to revoke the license for Annunciation House to operate in Texas, saying they were in violation of state law by refusing to turn over its records.  Last week, an El Paso district judge threw out the state’s case, saying that Paxton’s efforts amount to “harassment of the Annunciation House employees and the persons seeking refuge.”

This is part of an ongoing battle caused by state leaders that are critical of groups and organizations that receive federal funding and/or assist migrants in their process of seeking asylum in the US after entering the country.  No word yet from Paxton’s office on an appeal to the decision.

Political Notes

Gov. Abbott announced that Robert Black will be his new chief of staff effective July 22nd.  Black comes to the Governor’s office from ERCOT, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas.  He has also worked in governmental affairs for American Electric Power and served on the staffs of two different members of the state Senate.  Current chief of staff Gardner Pate will leave the Governor’s office on July 26th.

In a surprising move, Austin Congressman Lloyd Doggett has called on President Joe Biden to withdraw from the race for President.  Doggett represents a solidly Democratic seat in the Austin area and is considered one of the most partisan members of Congress.  His voting record proves him to be a reliable vote for the Democrats on most if not all issues.  Doggett said he is making the call for Biden to withdraw because “the President failed to effectively defend his many accomplishments and expose Trump’s many lies.”  Doggett was the first Democrat in Congress to call for Biden to withdraw.  He was first elected to Congress in 1994 after serving in the state Senate and on the Texas Supreme Court.

Texas A&M System Chancellor John Sharp has announced that this academic year will be his last.  Sharp will retire in June of 2025 after 14 years leading the state’s 2nd largest higher education system.  At 73, Sharp says he will move to Austin to spend more time with his children and grandchildren.  Sharp was first elected to the state House in 1978 and then to the Senate in 1982.  He then served one term on the Railroad Commission and two terms as state Comptroller.  Sharp then ran unsuccessfully twice for Lt. Governor in 1998 and again in 2002.  The system said they will begin a national search for his replacement.

And, in the irony of ironies department – Attorney General Ken Paxton owes over $11,000 in fines to the state due to filing late campaign finance committee reports.  Each candidate and officeholder is required by law to file periodic reports that detail contributions received and expenditures made by their campaign accounts. The late reports date back to 2022 when Paxton faced three challengers in the Republican primary. He was fined as late as January of this year for not filing his report that was due in January covering the last 6 months of 2023.  Each incident of a late filing carries a $500 fine.  What is ironic is that the Texas Ethics Commission – the entity with whom officeholders file their reports – levies the fine, but state law dictates the Attorney General’s office is charged with collecting the money through the filing of a lawsuit against the individual who owes the fines.  To date, the AG’s office has not yet filed collections litigation against the Paxton campaign.

What’s Next??

Several House hearings will convene immediately after the holiday weekend.  State Affairs will get an update on the electric grid.  The Youth and Safety Committee will look at ways to improve behavioral services for at-risk youth.  And the Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee will look at ways to improve communication regarding first responders between state and local agencies.

Here is a link to the full list of hearings later this summer and fall, and the agenda for each hearing

Everyone have a safe and Happy 4th of July!!