The legislative session has completed its 18th week. 4 days to go. Here’s what’s happening:
House Speaker, Attorney General in Vicious Feud
It all seemed to start when a video of House Speaker Dade Phelan began circulating around the Capitol on Tuesday afternoon that appeared to show the Speaker slurring his words with accompanying text that was very critical of the Speaker’s behavior. Shortly after, those of us running through the Capitol started getting the same type of notifications that Attorney General Ken Paxton is calling on House Speaker Dade Phelan to resign, due to – in Paxton’s words – “Phelan’s failure to live up to his duty to the public”, among other critical statements.
But in reality, it had started several months earlier when the House General Investigating Committee began investigating Paxton in March over Paxton’s push for the legislature to pay a $3.3 million settlement for a lawsuit that had been brought forth by former employees that had accused Paxton of misconduct. Phelan’s office claimed the actions and statements about Phelan by Paxton were nothing more than retaliation for the activities of the House committee.
Paxton Likely Committed Impeachable Crimes
Lawyers investigating the Attorney General testified Wednesday in front of the House General Investigating Committee claiming to have evidence that Paxton is guilty of abusing his office to retaliate against political foes, giving access to confidential documents to political allies, and using his position to help campaign donors. Abuse of official capacity and misuse of official information are both felony offenses. Paxton has so far survived several accusations and investigations, including a felony indictment for securities fraud and abuse of office allegations brought forth by his former employees for allegedly using his position to intervene in a lawsuit on behalf of a large donor and insisting the same donor hire a young Senate staffer with whom he was having an extra marital affair. Incidentally, Paxton’s wife Angela is a member of the Senate, representing District 8 from Colin County.
After the hearing, the committee chairman said the allegations were “alarming” and “something the House will definitely have to deal with”. This committee can recommend impeachment to the full House. With the regular session ending Monday, time is short to complete the process. Rumors circulating this morning indicate the committee could have its recommendation ready for consideration by the full House as early as Saturday. However, if the committee sends articles of impeachment to the full House after the regular session has concluded, the Speaker can convene the House specifically to address the issue.
Four Days Remain in Session – Several Issues Still Pending
As the session winds down, there are several issues that are still not resolved. Yesterday was the deadline for both Houses to pass bills on the floor, so from here on out, all they can do is consider amendments placed on bills by the opposite chamber, or adopt conference committee reports. Several issues are yet to be finally resolved, including the state budget. The conference committee report on the budget bill was filed late last night, so both Houses now have the final $300 billion product to consider at some point this weekend. Conference committee reports must be adopted by both Houses for any piece of legislation to become law. Property tax relief is also yet to be resolved. The full state budget will account for roughly $15 billion in property tax relief. The money is needed to replace the revenue lost from local property taxes since that makes up 60% of school district revenues. The state will have to increase its funding if they come up with a property tax plan. Again, a deal is imminent and will likely also be considered over the weekend.
Other major issues still pending – with only four days left in the session — include how to shore up the reliability and security of the state’s electric grid; whether or not to give tax breaks to companies choosing to start up or relocate in Texas; diversity, equality, and inclusion policies at public universities; the process of tenure at public universities; state enforcement of immigration laws and increasing border security funding; addressing school safety measures; expansion of broadband access for rural and underserved communities; the regulation of drag shows and other sexually based public performances; water infrastructure funding; and vouchers for public school students.
Several Issues Dead
There are numerous issues that received a great deal of attention this session that did not make it through the process including bail reform, which was an attempt to address the different policies from local authorities regarding standards for granting bail for criminal defendants. Raising the age to buy assault rifles also died this session, in spite of a long and hard push by the families of the victims of the Uvalde school shooting. Other issues that died this session include the legalization of casino gaming and sports betting, adopting permanent daylight savings time, restricting the purchase and ownership of land by individuals from certain foreign countries such as China and Iran, placing the 10 Commandments in public schools, and raising the minimum sentence for gun related crimes.
Issues Passed and Sent to Governor
One bill that everyone can get excited about will eliminate the annual inspection for your automobile. No more annual inspections for your car, but those in urban counties will still have to participate in the emissions testing, as required by the federal government for air quality reasons. Lawmakers have also passed a bill eliminating the sales tax for menstrual products and diapers, ending a sessions long battle that finally garnered the necessary support this session. Both Houses have also passed a bill to prohibit the teaching of sexual preference in public schools, modeled after the “Don’t Say Gay” bill established in Florida last year. And both Houses have agreed to extend Medicaid benefits to qualifying moms for one year after giving birth. Other leadership priorities that have passed and are on their way to the Governor’s desk are the banning of transgender medical care and treatments for minors, allowing prosecutors to seek murder charges for certain fentanyl related deaths, and preempting local laws and ordinances passed by cities that are more stringent than state laws.
It was impossible to miss the news yesterday that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis officially announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination for President. And it didn’t take long for the first poll to be released. The Hispanic Policy Foundation released the results of their recent survey showing former President Trump with a 57% to 36% lead over DeSantis in Texas. The poll may not be that solid. The survey was among registered voters who “might” vote in the Republican primary next year. More reliable polls survey “likely” primary voters.
And speaking of polls, US Senator Ted Cruz is shown to be in a tougher race than anticipated according to a poll released yesterday by the University of Texas-Tyler. The poll showed Cruz was the favorite of 42% of those polled, compared to 37% for Democratic US Congressman Colin Allred, who entered the race earlier this month. Again, don’t read too much into these early polls. This poll also surveyed only registered, not likely voters. And in the end, Allred may not even be the nominee. State Senator Roland Gutierrez will likely announce his plans to seek the Democratic nomination after the regular session of the legislature concludes next week. Gutierrez has gained named ID and notoriety over the past year with his fierce representation of the families of the children killed in the Uvalde school shooting. However, anytime a poll shows an incumbent of any kind below the 50% range, there could be reason for the challengers to be optimistic.
Sulphur Springs attorney Heath Hyde has joined the race for the seat recently vacated when Rep. Bryan Slaton was expelled from the House. Hyde joins other declared candidates David Van Trease of Wills Point and Douglas Rozshart of Greenville. Gov. Abbott will have to call a special election to fill the seat.
Former UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited the Capitol yesterday, meeting with Gov. Abbott to discuss economic development opportunities. He also met with Secretary of State Jane Nelson, and finished his tour with a short address to the Senate. Johnson left Austin and headed to Dallas to meet with political donors there in an effort to shore up grassroots support among Republicans to continue giving assistance to Ukraine for their war efforts.
Activity this Week
With the end of session deadlines this week, both Houses met very late into the night all week, and passed hundreds of bills, which is not unusual for this time of the session. They will meet all weekend in an attempt to finalize the pending priorities before adjourning “Sine Die” on Monday.
Have a great and safe Memorial Day weekend!! I will send a preliminary report of the major issues and their status after the dust settles on Monday.