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

Texas Senate Issues Interim Charges

During each interim period – the months between the conclusion of special sessions and the beginning of the regular session – each chamber issues a list of topics to be studied by each legislative committee to begin preparations for the next regular session that will begin in January.  Yesterday, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick issued a list of 57 topics for Senate committees to examine over the next few months.

Most of the topics reflect the priorities of the Republican party including stronger border enforcement laws, school choice, strengthening the electric power grid, and more property tax relief.  In addition, other high-profile issues will be considered such as housing affordability, bail reform, and workforce productivity.  The higher education community will also continue to see a great deal of scrutiny as the Lt. Governor charged the Education committee with the task of tenure review for college professors and to review policies regarding free speech on campus in response to anti-Israel sentiments that have been expressed due to the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas.

Hearings will likely begin very soon, and committees will turn in their recommendations in the fall so the legislation can be ready when the session begins in January.

Contract With Texas Targets Speaker

A group of current and incoming Republican House members along with several Republican candidates in runoffs against incumbents have signed a letter that is proposing a “Contract with Texas” to establish a set of reforms regarding how the Texas House elects the Speaker and how it conducts its legislative affairs.  The letter is signed by a total of 23 members and candidates.  The body of the letter discusses their desire to move towards a much more partisan way of operating the House due to their perception of the House’s current policy of “colluding with Democrats to advance progressive policies and stop Republican priorities.”

Most of the reforms are what has been discussed on the campaign trail in the contested Republican primaries such as only having Republican members involved in the selection of the Speaker; end the practice of appointing Democrats to chair House legislative committees; replacing the current House parliamentarians; requiring Republican legislative priorities to receive a floor vote before any bills authored by Democrats are considered; and revision of parliamentary procedures such as points of order to allow for a more general interpretation of the House rules.  (Points of order are generally used to kill legislation that has not strictly adhered to all House rules during floor debate).

Regarding the office of Speaker, the contract calls for the Speaker to be limited to two terms and prohibits the Speaker from distributing political funds.  Traditionally, the Speaker has used funds from his officeholder account to contribute generously to his political allies in the House.

Even though there are only 23 signatures now, the group is encouraging all Republican members and incoming members to sign the letter.

Solar Eclipse

Roughly 12 million Texans were in the path of the total eclipse on Monday, and estimates are that over 1 million people came to the state to view the event.  According to an economist at UTSA, the state could see an economic impact of over $600 million due to hotel, travel, and other expenses from visitors to our state.  The eclipse is now being referred to as the “most profitable 22 minutes in Texas history.”

However, not all went well with the activities surrounding the eclipse.  With many people visiting smaller areas in the Texas Hill Country, problems were inevitable.  No amount of preparation could prevent the issues that come along when rural areas have their infrastructure stressed like never before.  Multiple crashes were reported up and down I-35. Traffic along Highway 71 was clogged for hours as visitors from Houston and surrounding areas tried to make their way home after heading to central Texas to view the eclipse.  Many tourists reported a drive time of an hour and a half or more just to make it from areas west of Austin through the city.

And in Burnet, northwest of Austin, the city canceled their 5-day festival early Monday morning due to the threat of severe weather.  An estimated 30,000 people had descended on the small town of 6,500 residents to attend the festival that was scheduled to last through Tuesday.  Festival organizers and law enforcement began evacuating the park and campgrounds that housed the festival early Monday, which caused cell phones to jam, and caused traffic trying to leave the town to last for hours.  People were forced to go to neighboring communities to try and find a place to stay and watch the eclipse.  In the end, Burnet received no rain on Monday and even had a small break in the clouds during the time of the eclipse.

Maybe some lessons learned for the next generation, as the next solar eclipse with a coast-to-coast path spanning the continental US will occur on August 12, 2045.

Paxton Sues Harris County Over Guaranteed Income Program

AG Ken Paxton filed suit this week against Harris County over their Uplift Harris program that is a pilot program to administer $500 monthly payments to low-income residents.  Participants in the program have already been approved by the county, but Paxton claims the county illegally implemented the program.  There are 1,900 families or individuals that have been selected to receive the payments starting in late April and continuing for 18 months.  The program is funded by federal dollars received through the American Rescue Act, which was the $1.9 trillion economic stimulus package passed by Congress in 2021 in response to the COVID pandemic.

In January of this year, state Senator Paul Bettencourt – a Republican representing northwest Harris County – asked the state Attorney General’s office to rule the Harris County program unconstitutional, saying the state has not granted the county the authority to distribute funds and therefore the county does not have the authority to create this type of a program.  The lawsuit filed Tuesday makes the same arguments in the petition and says the state constitution prohibits local jurisdictions from making payments to individuals.  The state’s lawsuit asks the courts to eliminate the program before the first payments are distributed.

Over 82,000 applicants were submitted for the program, and 1,900 were eventually selected for the payments.

Border News

Gov. Abbott was in New York over the weekend to speak at a Republican party event and he stayed over to make an appearance on Fox News to further criticize President Biden’s mishandling of the border crisis.  While in New York, the ongoing feud between the Governor and NYC Mayor Eric Adams was renewed when Adams invited Abbott to stay at a migrant shelter while he was visiting the city.  Texas has bused over 40,000 migrants from the Texas border to NYC since April of 2022.  Abbott answered the invitation by challenging Adams to stop aiding President Biden in the ongoing crisis and to pay more attention to the rampant crime problem in the city.  Adams has also accused Abbott of targeting cities run by Black mayors.  This feud is nothing new, and undoubtedly will continue throughout this election cycle.

Back in Texas, the state has now installed additional “anti-climb” razor wire fences near El Paso in response to the March 21st incident when a surge of over 200 migrants breached a border wall and rushed National Guard soldiers on duty.  The state has also deployed an additional 700 guardsmen to the area to enhance enforcement activities.  The state also plans to construct an additional 6,000 feet of the anti-climb fencing near Brownsville.

Political Notes

The Texas House Republican Caucus released a list of endorsements of members facing runoff opponents this week, and those members will be supported by their PAC during the campaign leading up to the May 28th runoff date.  Even though the new head of the caucus – Rep. Tom Oliverson of Houston – is challenging the incumbent Speaker Dade Phelan for the House’s top job, the caucus endorsed all eight House incumbents that are facing Republican challengers in the primary runoff, including Speaker Phelan.  The executive committee of the caucus – comprised mainly of Phelan allies – recommended that all incumbents receive the caucus endorsement, but Rep. Oliverson still must give final approval before the PAC money can be distributed.  The caucus has faced internal strife over the issue of giving endorsements to the current incumbents, and more intra-party fighting could ensue if Oliverson questions any of the endorsements.

President Biden continues to grow his cash advantage over rival Donald Trump in the 2024 campaign.  Biden reported raising more than $90 million in the month of March, and reports having a war chest of $192 million.  That figure is the most ever for a Democratic candidate at this point in the Presidential election.  The Trump campaign reports having $93 million cash on hand at the end of March.

And speaking of the Presidential race, one of Trump’s rumored running mates has established residency in the Austin area.  Tulsi Gabbard – a former Democratic Congresswoman from Hawaii – has bought a house with her husband in Leander, a suburb north of Austin.  Gabbard was first elected to the US House in 2012 and served until 2020, the same year she made a brief run for the Democratic nomination for President.  Gabbard then made headlines by publicly denouncing her membership in the Democratic Party in 2022 and has said she would be open to being Trump’s running mate.

We mentioned last week that Senator Ted Cruz is the subject of criticism and controversy regarding campaign contributions from the company that broadcasts his podcast given to a Super PAC supporting his reelection bid.  iHeart media has contributed over $630,000 during this election cycle to the Truth and Courage PAC.  Several campaign watchdog groups are questioning if Cruz has actively solicited the contributions in exchange for his duties surrounding the podcast.  Office holders are not allowed to solicit more than $5,000 for a Super PAC.  Now, End Citizens United and Campaign Legal Center have filed formal complaints with the Federal Elections Commission and are seeking a formal investigation into the legality of the contributions to the PAC.  Campaign Legal Center also filed a complaint in 2022 with the Senate Ethics Committee on the same grounds.  That complaint was dismissed.  The FEC has not and will not comment on the latest complaints that have been filed.

And speaking of Cruz, he and his Democratic opponent – Congressman Colin Allred – both raised over $9 million in the first quarter of 2024.  Cruz reported raising $9.7 million while Allred reported a haul of $9.5 million.  Cruz reported having over $15 million cash on hand.  While Allred did not report a number for total cash on hand, his announcement did highlight that he has raised over $30 million since his campaign launched in 2023.  Even with the success Allred has experienced in raising funds for his challenge to Cruz, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is providing little help to Allred.  The committee still considers the Texas seat a “likely Republican” win and will continue to focus on protecting more vulnerable Democratic incumbent Senators.

What’s Next??

Hard to say what’s next for the House.  Interim study issues may not be released until after the runoff – if at all.  With interim studies issued in the Senate, look for hearings to begin in the next couple of weeks.

With 8 incumbents being forced into runoffs, the fundraising for the May 28th election is in full swing.  Eight candidates held fundraisers in Austin this week, and others are sure to follow.