NEWS

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Week Ending April 23, 2021

The highlight of this week was the full House marking up the biennial budget - House Committee Substitute to SB 1. There were 240 amendments filed ahead of the hearing. Those withdrawn or rejected included an attempt to expand the state’s Medicaid program, and an amendment to prohibit the Attorney General from using taxpayer dollars to contest election results in other states. Those adopted included an amendment requiring the Legislature to meet in a special session to appropriate incoming federal funds, an amendment prohibiting the use of state dollars on school vouchers, and an amendment liquidating the Texas Enterprise Fund and moving those dollars to the property tax relief fund. At this point, both chambers’ substitutes will go to a Conference Committee to work out the differences between the bills.

Other key House bills that moved this week included HB 2021 and HB 1525. HB 2021 would create a Board of Administration of Federal Funds, comprising the presiding officers of the House and Senate and the chairs and vice chairs of the House Appropriations and Senate Finance Committees. The Committee Substitute to HB 1525 is a $330M clean-up bill to HB 3, the sweeping school finance legislation passed in 2019. The bill would resolve outstanding issues related to local taxation and revenue, charter school funding, the fast growth allotment, and the teacher incentive allotment, among others. CSHB 1525 was received in the Senate on Friday.

On the Senate side, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick this week created a Special Committee on Constitutional Issues. The Committee is chaired by Republican Sens. Charles Schwertner and Brian Birdwell, and only one bill has been referred—HB 1927, the permitless carry bill passed out of the House on April 19th. The bill has not yet been set for a hearing. Additionally, Lt. Gov. Patrick issued a release commending the Senate on passing legislation for 25 of the 30 issues enumerated in his list of priorities for the 87th Session. Bills passed include the state budget, the power grid omnibus bill, and the Star Spangled Banner Protection Act, among others.

The Department of State Health Services announced this week that Texas will receive more than 1.7 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine for Week 20 of vaccine distribution. The federal government is expected to distribute an estimated 470,000 first and second doses to pharmacy locations, federally qualified health centers, and dialysis centers.

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Week Ending April 16, 2021

The Senate’s Committee Substitute to SB 1 was passed out of the House Appropriations Committee on Monday and the House has since released its substitute. While more compromises will be made moving forward, HAC Chair Rep. Greg Bonnen indicated that the bill will likely be taken up by the full House on April 22nd. An important spending item to watch will be Medicaid, as in a surprise development, the Biden administration on Friday rescinded approval for the roughly $100B 1115 Medicaid Waiver. Texas budget-writers will have to consider the implications to health and human services programs under the waiver for the 2022-23 biennium.

CSSB 10 was received in the House on Thursday after the Senate voted it out 17-13. The bill prohibits cities and counties from using taxpayer dollars to hire lobbyists. They would still be able to send city council members or full-time staff to advocate with the Legislature, but could no longer retain registered lobbyists. Pursuant to an amendment by Sen. Roland Gutierrez, an exception will be made for military issues.

CSSJR 45 passed the Senate 29-2, and has since been received in the House and referred to State Affairs. The legislation sets certain thresholds to trigger a special session in the event that a disaster or emergency lasts more than 30 days (or in a nuclear or radiological event, 90 days). If the crisis affects half of the state’s population in a disaster area, two-fifths of Texas counties, or two-thirds of the counties in Texas’ trauma service regions, the Legislature will be automatically convened to weigh in.

In other news, Gov. Greg Abbott’s latest appointment to the Public Utility Commission (PUC) of Texas is Peter Lake, currently serving on the Texas Water Development Board. Pending Senate confirmation, the Governor will designate him as Chairman of the PUC. The Senate Committee on Nominations recommended Monday that the full Senate confirm Will McAdams, Gov. Abbott’s previous appointment to the PUC.

The Department of State Health Services announced this week that Texas will receive nearly two million doses of COVID-19 vaccine for Week 19 of vaccine distribution. The federal government is expected to distribute an estimated 500,000 first and second doses to pharmacy locations, federally qualified health centers, and dialysis centers.

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Week Ending April 9, 2021

As part of an ongoing discussion regarding state administration of federal relief funds, Rep. Greg Bonnen’s CSHB 2021was debated at length in House Appropriations on Thursday, which creates a Board of Administration of Federal Funds to advise the Governor when the Legislature is not in session. The board would consist of 10 members, including House and Senate presiding officers, the Chairs and Vice Chairs of each chamber’s budget committee, and an additional two members from each chamber. The debate centers on the constitutionality and efficacy of this particular mechanism, as opposed to other collaborative solutions. Education stakeholders have expressed concern that the Legislature will not come to an agreement within this budget cycle and will instead punt the issue to an interim study, rejecting by default the billions of federal dollars currently available for Texas schools. Alternative solutions discussed by members included contingency riders for funding not-yet appropriated, and simply having a special session so that the budget-writers can officially convene to receive and appropriate the funds.

Speaking of insufficient time, Rep. John Raney filed HJR 152 in mid-March, and has since been working to build support among his House colleagues. The constitutional amendment would allow for a two-day “organizational session” in the month prior to each legislative session, during which time the Legislature would elect the House Speaker, swear in new members, and vote on the House rules for the session. Committee assignments could then be made in the weeks leading up to the regular session. Rep. Raney argues that the change would save the Legislature critical days, leaving more room for policymaking. The bill has been referred to the House State Affairs Committee but not yet scheduled for a hearing.

Some big priority bills moved this week. Tuesday, the Texas Senate passed SB 1 out of the full chamber and it is scheduled for a hearing in House Appropriations on Monday; the Committee Substitute to SB 6, the COVID-19 liability bill was passed and reported engrossed on Thursday. Additionally, the Committee Substitute to HB 5, the statewide broadband bill, passed to engrossment on Friday.

At the federal level, U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D) and U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R) rolled out a bill, which, if passed, would authorize the federal government to offer grants to states to support weatherization efforts. The authors stated that this will be a complementary to the efforts currently being made at the State level, and U.S. Rep. Johnson suggested that states “will have some responsibility to match the grants.”

The Department of State Health Services announced this week that Texas will receive 1.9 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine for Week 18 of vaccine distribution. The federal government is expected to distribute 500,000 first and second doses to pharmacy locations, federally qualified health centers, and dialysis centers.

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Week Ending April 2, 2021

Both the House and Senate advanced legislative responses to Winter Storm Uri this week, with the Senate’s SB3, and a six-bill package in the House: HB10, HB11, HB12, HB13, HB16, and HB17. The cumulative total of the legislation from both chambers would provide for a new energy alert system, prohibit variable-rate plans, mandate weatherization, require Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) Board members to be based in Texas, create a Texas Energy Reliability Council to assist in fuel delivery during disasters, require mapping of the energy supply system, and more.

It’s important to note that none of these bills directly address the spike in wholesale electricity prices during the storm, as the chambers still diverge on the right solution for the market volatility created by that decision and subsequent debt incurred by many ERCOT participants. SB 2142, the Senate’s repricing bill, has not yet been set for a hearing in House State Affairs. Rather, the House appears to be seriously considering securitization. Securitization is a financing instrument that would allow entities or groups to issue debt over several decades through highly rated bonds without the debt expressing on the entities’ balance sheets and damaging their credit ratings. A key sticking point is allocating that debt as fairly as possible, while acknowledging that it’s impossible to find a perfect solution for everyone. Another issue is time—the Legislature only has so many days to intervene before the market settles and participants are fixed as either winners or (possibly fatally) losers.

Thursday, Governor Greg Abbott named Will McAdams as his nominee to the Public Utility Commission (PUC) of Texas. McAdams is currently President of the Associated Builders and Contractors of Texas and previously served as an aide to multiple state senators as well as former Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen. His appointment will require Senate confirmation. Additionally, the PUC announced this week that Davida Dwyer will serve as deputy director of the agency’s Legal Division and head of the agency’s enforcement efforts.

In other news, the Senate made progress on another one of Governor Greg Abbott’s Emergency Items through unanimous passage of SB 5, the statewide broadband bill. This legislation would create a State Broadband Development Office charged with identifying gaps in broadband access throughout the state, and incentivizing expanded access and affordability. Additionally, both the. House and Senate advanced their elections security bills, SB 7 and HB 6. HB 6 received its second attempt in a public hearing on Thursday after narrowly avoiding a fatal point of order last week. SB 7 was finally passed out of the Senate on a party-line vote after a debate that stretched into the early morning.

Tuesday, the Senate Finance Committee unanimously passed the Committee Substitute to Senate Bill 1, and it has been placed on the intent calendar. CSSB1 appropriates $250.7 billion in All Funds (AF) and $117.9 billion in General Revenue (GR) for FY 2022-23, representing a 2.6% growth in GR. Highlights include additional staff resources to enhance PUC oversight of ERCOT activities; $34.4 M to support Rape Crisis Centers to provide mental health counseling and to address waitlists; $30 M for new rural and urban community mental health beds; and $3.1 B to fund enrollment growth for public education. House Bill 1 has yet to leave the Appropriations Committee.

The House and Senate are adjourned until Tuesday, April 6th, due to the Easter holiday.

The Texas Department of State Health Services announced that the state will receive more than 2.5 million doses of COVID-19 for Week 17 of distribution. The federal government is expected to directly distribute 900,000 doses to pharmacy locations, dialysis centers, and federally qualified health centers. Additionally, DSHS launched the Texas Public Health Vaccine Scheduler, allowing people to sign up for a vaccine through multiple public health departments across the state.

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Week Ending March 26, 2021

Legislative focus shifted this week to the other priorities enumerated in Governor Greg Abbott’s list of emergency items. Logistical scuffles resulted in the delay of House Bill 6 and Senate Bill 7, two controversial elections bills filed in accordance with Gov. Abbott’s emergency item regarding “elections integrity.” Monday, Democrats pushed back against SB 7 by “tagging” the bill, meaning they delayed the hearing for 48 hours. However, the bill has since passed out of the Senate State Affairs Committee and is headed to the full Senate. HB 6 was caught up in a procedural error when Rep. Briscoe Cain, Chair of the House Elections Committee, recessed for lunch without officially declaring that they were doing so or setting a certain time for them to return. This could generate a “point of order” or violation of the chamber rules, requiring him to cancel the hearing and start the process for this bill over. Currently, the bill is scheduled for a hearing in the House Elections Committee on April 1st.

The Committee Substitute for Senate Bill 6, the COVID-19 liability bill, was heard in a meeting of the Senate Committee on Business & Commerce on Tuesday, generating extensive stakeholder input before it was left pending. Author Sen. Kelly Hancock’s expressed intent “… is to protect the well-meaning health care providers, first responders, large and small businesses, religious institutions and non-profit entities and education institutes from frivolous lawsuits related to COVID-19.” The bill protects individuals and entities unless they knowingly or maliciously acted in a manner that would compromise health and safety. Support for the bill is extensive and diverse, including entities such as the Texas Assisted Living Association, the Texas Hotel and Lodging Association, the Texas Oil and Gas Association, and more. Given its scope, this is a bill to watch.

Thursday, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) released its final Seasonal Assessment of Resource Adequacy (SARA) for the spring season and its preliminary assessment for the summer season. The preliminary summer SARA holds that they are well prepared for the summer. However, “with continued economic growth across the state, ERCOT anticipates… a new system-wide peak demand record.” After Uri, ERCOT has developed additional steps to ensure the protection of the system during the summer’s extreme heat. These include: coordination with transmission companies to limit planned outages, requesting generators to contact gas suppliers to identify any pipeline activities that would affect gas availability, and communications coordination with market participants.

The U.S. House Committee on Energy & Commerce this week conducted a hearing on Texas’ energy grid failure. Witnesses included Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, ERCOT’s Bill Magness, and Railroad Commissioner Christi Craddick. Find their written testimony to the Committee here.

The Texas Department of State Health Services announced that on Monday, March 29th, Texas will expand COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to all adults in Texas. Additionally, the state will receive more than 1 million first doses of COVID-19 for Week 16 of distribution. The federal government is expected to directly distribute more than 200,000 first doses to pharmacy locations and federally qualified health centers.

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Week Ending March 19, 2021

Following last week’s testimony from then-Public Utility Commission (PUC) Chair Arthur D’Andrea that any action to retroactively change the price of wholesale electricity must come from the Legislature, the Texas State Senate filed and passed SB 2142 within a day. As introduced, the bill would reset electricity prices to pre-storm market levels for the period beginning 11:55 p.m. on February 17th and ending 9 a.m. on February 19th. SB 2142 has been sent to the House and referred to the Committee on State Affairs, but no companion legislation has been filed.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has urged the House to move the bill as quickly as possible, referencing an opinion from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton that the PUC has the jurisdiction and authority to reprice, as well as the closing window for settling or contesting ERCOT contracts.

Both legislative chambers have indicated that any action on their part will have unintended consequences. However, they appear to diverge on which strategic approach will yield the most whole-making results for the state relative to the damage caused by the storm. The House has relied on a more deliberative process from the beginning, and their reluctance to quickly advance SB 2142 seems influenced in part by testimony from Chris Edmonds, global head of Intercontinental Exchange (ICE)—the clearinghouse that manages futures and options on the ERCOT wholesale electric market.

During a meeting of the House State Affairs Committee, Edmonds stated that “Retroactively modifying prices is not the way to resolve the issues from February… Making a decision to reset the rules after the fact with have profound and detrimental consequences for economic activity within Texas.” Members floated alternative solutions such as securitizing debts incurred by the storm or utilizing a windfall tax to tax entities that generated excess profits through the emergency price hikes. The Lt. Governor has again sought direct intervention from the Governor, stating during a press conference that he should use his emergency powers to reprice the electricity charges. Gov. Greg Abbott has yet to respond.

On Tuesday, Gov. Abbott requested and received the resignation of Comm. Arthur D’Andrea. The Governor has statedthat he will appoint a replacement “within the coming days” but we have no more specifics at this time.

In other news, the Department of State Health Services (DSHS) announced Texas will receive more than 900,000 first doses of COVID-19 vaccine for Week 15 of vaccine distribution. DSHS will allocate 685,470 doses to at least 481 providers in 183 counties. The federal government is expected to distribute more than 230,000 additional first doses to pharmacy locations and federally qualified health centers.

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Week Ending March 12, 2021

Following Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to lift the statewide mask mandate, the State Preservation Board (SPB) this week amended the Capitol guidelines for visitors to say that masks are “strongly encouraged” rather than “required.” This recommendation applies to public areas of the building; visitors must adhere to House and Senate COVID-19 rules when in the chambers. Neither the House nor the Senate have taken any official steps towards revising their rules, so previously established COVID-19 restrictions still stand.

In the latest round of Texas vs Winter Storm Uri, a second Public Utility Commission (PUC) of Texas Commissioner, Shelly Botkin, resigned on Tuesday, leaving the newly appointed Chairman Arthur D’Andrea as the sole remaining Commissioner of the PUC. Additionally, the PUC announced that Adrianne Brandt will be the new Director of Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) Accountability, working to enhance PUC oversight of ERCOT. Brandt will be assisted by former ERCOT COO, Brad Jones.

In response to the PUC’s announcement last week that they would not reverse ERCOT’s $16 billion overcharge, state leadership and the House and Senate committees with jurisdiction have made it clear that will not be the end of the discussion. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick issued a release to that effect; a bipartisan group of Senators authored a letter to Comm. D’Andrea urging him, “in the strongest possible terms” to reprice the market; and Gov. Greg Abbott revised his initial list of Emergency Items yet again to include the desired modification. Meanwhile, House Speaker Phelan urged caution, stating that “the pricing structure ERCOT employed during Winter Storm Uri requires a meticulous audit and data analysis.”

Thursday, in ongoing hearings on the subject, House State Affairs and Senate Jurisprudence heard testimony from Comm. D’Andrea. He informed the two bodies that the Independent Market Monitor (IMM) had revised its previous estimate down to $3.2 billion, and he would have more information on that soon. He believes the formula dictating storm pricing does not legally constitute an “error,” and therefore reversing it would be both illegal and unethical. Further, given the complexities and various entities involved, clawing back those funds would more likely financially destabilize the state than it would address the damage to consumers. He indicated that any official action in this area should come from the Legislature. Following Comm. D’Andrea’s testimony in Senate Jurisprudence, Lt. Gov. Patrick issued a release arguing that the Commissioner abdicated his responsibility and authority on this issue, and called on Gov. Abbott to intercede and replace Comm. D’Andrea when the other PUC vacancies are filled. Gov. Abbott has since refused suggesting that solutions to these issues are squarely in the purview of the courts and the Legislature.

House State Affairs also held a lengthy discussion on Thursday regarding the Committee Substitute for House Bill 3, or, the “Texas Pandemic Response Act” by Rep. Dustin Burrows. The author indicated that the intent of the bill is to streamline pandemic responses and clarify the Governor’s executive authority. CSHB 3 would therefore establish the Pandemic Disaster Legislative Oversight Committee, which would have the power to review proclamations, orders, or rules issued or adopted by the Governor and terminate them in whole or in part. The Committee would comprise the Governor, Lt. Governor, and Speaker of the House, as well as the chairs of select House and Senate Committees.

In other news, the bill filing deadline was Friday, March 12th; more than 900 bills were filed by the end of the day. In the House, budget rider amendments may be submitted from 9:00 a.m. Monday through Friday at 5:00 p.m.

The Department of State Health Services (DSHS) announced that beginning March 15th, Texas will expand vaccinationsto individuals 50-64 years of age. Texas will receive more than 800,000 first doses of COVID-19 vaccine for Week 14 of vaccine distribution. DSHS will allocate 656,810 doses to at least 445 providers in 178 counties. The federal government will distribute an additional 200,000 first doses to pharmacy locations and federally qualified health centers.

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Week Ending March 5, 2021

Tuesday, Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order rescinding his statewide mask mandate and permitting all businesses and facilities to open at 100% capacity. The Lieutenant Governor and Speaker of the House have both issued statements in support of the order. Speaker Dade Phelan also indicated that COVID-19 rules may be relaxed in the Texas House, pending a vote of the full body. It is unclear exactly what this will mean for legislative activities, as we have not yet seen updated Capitol guidelines from the State Preservation Board, nor can we be certain of the outcome should the House and Senate hold votes to revise the rules.

Leadership of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) and the Public Utility Commission (PUC) stepped down this week, following widespread criticism after Texas’ winter storm, (recently given the name “Winter Storm Uri”). PUC Commissioner DeAnn Walker resigned, and has since been replaced as chair by Comm. Arthur D’Andrea. On Wednesday, the ERCOT board convened in a private session that culminated in the termination of Bill Magness, ERCOT President and CEO. He is the most recent departure after seven other board members resigned last month.

The financial machinations of the energy grid were upended during the storm, creating more than a few knots to be untangled in its wake. Potomac Economics, the PUC’s independent market monitor, found that ERCOT erroneously overcharged power companies to the tune of $16 billion. The PUC raised energy prices to $9,000 per megawatt-hour in order to incentivize power generation and balance the volatile relationship between supply and demand that was caused by the storm. ERCOT maintained emergency alert status until the morning of Friday, February 19th, consequently maintaining the higher prices. However, the monitor found that ERCOT should have dropped the prices when widespread outages ended on the 17th. The PUC has announced that they will not reverse the charges, stating that such a move would have unintended consequences.

Additionally, in response to recommendations from the Independent Market Monitor (IMM), the PUC voted to claw backpayments ERCOT made to generators for ancillary services which were not actually provided during the storm. Ancillary services are electricity reserves contracted in advance and designed to help ERCOT maintain energy transmission and reliable operation. The IMM identified instances during the storm where ancillary services were paid for but not ultimately provided due to forced outages or diminished capacity. The PUC therefore ruled that payments made to electric generators that failed to provide must be returned.

The House Committee on Insurance heard invited testimony from insurance industry leaders on the financial consequences of the storm. While the full scope is still uncertain, early estimates from the industry project billion-dollar losses. Albert Betts, Executive Director for the Insurance Council of Texas, stated that in terms of losses, this will be the most significant winter storm event in Texas history. Further, he said that at least 150,000 claims had been filed as of March 2nd, most of which are expected to be homeowner claims. Doug Slape, Deputy Commissioner for the Texas Department of Insurance (TDI) told legislators that they can expect top-sheet loss estimates on March 12, and the information will continue to be updated weekly.

In other news, House Speaker Phelan has appointed Rep. Armando Walle to the Legislative Budget Board, replacing Rep. Oscar Longoria. Rep. Mary Gonzalez has also been reappointed.

This week, the Department of State Health Services (DSHS) notified vaccine providers that they should include school and child care workers in vaccine administration. Additionally, the DSHS announced that more than one million first doses of COVID-19 vaccine will be shipped to providers throughout the state for week 13 of vaccine distribution.

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Week Ending February 26, 2021

The chaos caused by Texas’ winter storm didn’t die down this week so much as it shifted its focus and expanded its reach. Legislative activity resumed and intensified in the midst of the ongoing fallout of Texas’ winter storm, and committees of both the House and Senate held marathon meetings to determine root causes and assign accountability for the crisis. Legislators pressed for answers regarding what went wrong and who was at fault, but largely confronted the reality of systemwide failures and more than enough blame to go around. Testimony was lengthy and exhaustive, but did reveal common themes for the failures from which the state is trying to recover:

  1. Delegation of Authority. Grid actors from the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUC) to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) to industry leaders throughout the state trusted the design and mechanics of the system and shared in our collective surprise when it failed. Through their testimony, the PUC, ERCOT, and the Texas Railroad Commission all expressed uncertainty regarding the outer limits of their authority in this crisis.
  2. Communication. Testimony consistently revealed inadequate communication not only between state agencies, state leadership, and industry heads, but between those entities and the public. Panelists and legislators repeatedly discussed the possibility of an Amber Alert-style warning system or designation of an outside entity responsible for crisis communications.
  3. Energy Integration. From collection to distribution, the natural gas industry and its infrastructure have not been fully integrated with the wholesale electricity market, and there is no central authority that oversees and understands both fields. Natural gas production and distribution was impacted by a lack of electricity, but electricity production was likewise limited by a dearth of natural gas.
  4. Weatherization. While this was acknowledged as a key contributing factor, witnesses suggested it was not the primary factor. Additionally, it will be a complex and expensive process to winterize systems without undermining their resiliency to Texas’ more consistently hot summer temperatures.
  5. Data. Those testifying were unanimous in their assertion that while they knew a severe weather event was coming, they had no idea that it would be as bad as it was. The forecast remained comparatively optimistic until the final hours and minutes when ERCOT realized that the state was in danger of losing the entire grid.

It remains unclear how the Legislature will mitigate the added financial impacts to consumers. Wholesale electric prices escalated more than 7,400% during the storm, responding by design in an attempt to get generators to push more power to the grid. Consumers with fixed-rate billing arrangements may be shielded from the price hike, but those with variable-rate arrangements that are tied to the wholesale price may be on the hook for higher bills—in some cases for thousands of dollars. We will continue to provide updates on this issue as the investigations evolve.

In other news, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick released his list of 31 priorities for the 87th Legislature, found here. Unsurprisingly, top billing went to the state budget and reforms to the state’s energy system, followed immediately by the “Star Spangled Banner Protection Act.” Other priorities include pandemic response legislation, a bill banning state agencies from selling personal data, and statewide broadband access.

Bill referrals have finally begun in the House of Representatives, and a slate of hearings are scheduled for next week. Additionally, Republican David Spiller swept the runoff election in House District 68 with more than 60 percent of the vote. He will serve the remainder of former State Representative (now-Senator) Drew Springer’s term.

The Department of State Health Services (DSHS) announced that not only will Texas be receiving 676,280 first doses of COVID-19 vaccine for the week of March 1, but that the state has now administered more than 5 million doses. Almost 1.7 million individuals are fully vaccinated and more than 3.3 million have received at least one dose. Additionally, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot COVID-19 vaccine for adults over the age of 18.

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Week Ending February 19, 2021

This week was dominated by the severe weather that swept through Texas, nearly overwhelming the state’s energy grid. Millions of Texans went days without power and/or water and only Friday did the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) announce an end to the emergency blackouts. Water, however, continues to be an issue. Cities across Texas have warned of dangerously low water levels and millions of Texans have received boil water notices. The infrastructural aftermath of the storm will take weeks or more to sort through, and Gov. Greg Abbott has called on the state legislature to prioritize preventing similar catastrophes in the future this session.

House Speaker Phelan called for a joint meeting of the Committees on State Affairs and Energy Resources to consider the factors that led to the statewide electrical blackouts. That meeting has been scheduled for Thursday, February 25. Senator Joan Huffman, Chairwoman of the Senate Jurisprudence Committee, also announced that the Committee will gather to investigate the legal responsibilities of ERCOT and the Public Utility Commission (PUC) of Texas. Sen. Kelly Hancock has also called a meeting of his Senate Business and Commerce Committee on February 25th. Additionally, Gov. Abbott provided an update Thursday wherein he announced that he will be requesting a Major Disaster Declaration from the White House and that he has added the mandatory winterization of Texas’ power system and the requisite funding to his list of Emergency Items for this session. President Joe Biden has since said that he will be signing the disaster declaration and will visit Texas soon.

Reacting to the extreme weather conditions and responding to the suffering of millions of Texans is rightly the top priority of state government at the moment. However, the crisis has also dramatically affected the ability of the Legislature to conduct the public’s business in the near term. The session is only twenty weeks long, and this week was essentially lost, as members and staff grappled with the crisis. To date, no bills have been referred to committee and no bill hearings are scheduled, which is considerably behind the typical timeline. Between COVID-19 and the weather disaster, not to mention the budget shortfall, the ability for the Legislature to conduct meaningful business is markedly compromised. Securing the passage of legislation – a daunting exercise under the best of circumstances – may prove to be beyond the feasibility of lawmakers for all but the most critical bills.

The Texas Legislative Council has extended the submission deadline for language drafting requests. Executive Director Jeff Archer asked that legislators submit their requests by 6:00 P.M. on Wednesday, February 24.

In other news, the Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee Greg Bonnen released Appropriations Subcommittee Assignments for the 87th Legislative Session. Remember also that the special election in House District 68 is on Tuesday, February 23. It is unclear whether the Governor will reschedule given that the early voting period was enveloped by the blackouts.

The COVID-19 vaccination process has been severely impacted by the storm, and last week’s planned vaccine distribution to Texas was postponed due to the weather. The Department of State Health Services (DSHS) has announcedthat the state will receive 591,920 first doses of COVID-19 vaccine for the week of Feb. 22, to be distributed to 563 providers in 230 counties across Texas.

Texas Power Lobby Ranking 2021

Each session, Mike Hailey, publisher of Capitol Inside magazine, prepares his “Texas Lobby Power Rankings” of the lobbyists that most influence the legislative process. Eric has been listed each of the past five sessions, including this year. Thank you, Mike, for your coverage of the Texas Legislature and your recognition of the important role that lobbyists play in the legislative process.

Click on the image below for full coverage

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Week Ending February 12, 2021

Senate Finance Committee meetings commenced this week with updates from the Comptroller of Public Accounts (CPA) and the Legislative Budget Board (LBB) on the financial condition of the state. The Comptroller’s presentation was largely a reiteration of his Biennial Revenue Estimate, but he did give us several important points to chew on:

  • $271 million that is constitutionally required to be dedicated to the state’s Guaranteed College Tuition Plan, can be added back to his estimates of available spending as long as they are appropriated through the state budget.
  • While the CPA has a record of emergency federal funds flowing into the Texas through the State Treasury, estimates for funds going to smaller entities can only be extrapolations or “back of the envelope” calculations. He will be working to ascertain which entities receiving indeterminate federal funds may also be seeking state appropriations.

The Legislative Budget Board’s presentation also revealed several key pieces of data for state budget-writers:

  • Due to the influx of COVID-19 funds, the Medicaid program may not require supplemental appropriations—the first time that’s happened in years.
  • The LBB estimates that federal COVID-19 funds may also completely erase the CPA’s projected $946 M deficit for 2020-21.

During the LBB’s presentation, lawmakers expressed concerns about state agencies selling client data and that the resulting profits are not included in budget figures. Finance Chair Sen. Nelson requested that the LBB conduct a survey to ascertain which—if any—state agencies are involved.

More budget-related news: Lt. Governor Dan Patrick told the Texas Business Leadership Council that he wants to direct“the first $6 billion that we get from the federal government” to cover a shortfall in the Texas Unemployment Compensation Trust Fund, to hopefully avoid an unemployment insurance tax hike for businesses already stretched to their limits by COVID-19. He also threw cold water on proposed expansions of gambling in Texas, saying possible increases in state revenue were not sufficiently persuasive for him to support the effort.

In other news: The first House Appropriations Committee meeting will be held on Wednesday, February 17th. Some bittersweet clarity on the redistricting process, as the U.S. Census Bureau announced Friday that redistricting data will be delivered to all states by September 30, 2021—guaranteeing at least one special session. And remember that early votingfor the special election runoff in House District 68 begins on the 16th.

The Department of State Health Services (DSHS) announced that Texas will receive 407,650 first doses of COVID-19 next week, which will be distributed to 302 providers in 158 counties, including 85 large hub providers. Through the State Mobile Vaccine Pilot Program, Governor Greg Abbott and the Texas Department of Emergency Management (TDEM) announced the deployment of mobile vaccine teams to underserved counties. Additionally, the Governor stated that three FEMA-run mass vaccination sites are expected to open in underserved communities in Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth before the end of the month.

TEXAS HEADLINES

A sense of relief as Senate Finance begins to dig into Texas budget

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick says upcoming bill would defend Texas energy sector from boycotts

Texas launches multimillion dollar campaign to combat vaccine hesitancy

Austin-area farmers, fearing 'grim' freeze, scramble to harvest, protect crops

Gov. Greg Abbott plans to relax business restrictions soon if COVID-19 numbers continue to drop from record highs

Online students won't have to take STAAR test, Texas Education Commissioner Morath says

Texas reports fewer than 9,000 people hospitalized for COVID-19 for the first time since December

Texas lawmakers push to switch immunization registry to opt-out after COVID-19 complications

Election Results and Summary: Primary Run-Off and Special Election in SD-14 July 14, 2020

Election Summary

TOP STORIES: Among the key races that received the most scrutiny, MJ Hegar narrowly prevailed in the closely-watched U.S. Senate Democratic Primary to take on longtime Republican U.S. Senator John Cornyn. Hegar was the front runner for much of the primary, and benefitted from her support from the traditional Democratic Party infrastructure and her fundraising prowess.

Meanwhile, former Travis Co. Judge Sarah Eckhardt and current State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (both Democrats from Austin) appear to be headed to a runoff in the special election in State Senate District 14. The pair easily outdistanced their four other challengers to replace the retired Sen. Kirk Watson, whose term ends in 2022.

And although it would have been considered heresy a few short years ago, a recently released Dallas Morning News poll suggests that Texas is up for grabs. The poll indicates that former Vice President Joe Biden actually leads President Donald Trump by a five-point margin (48-43) among likely voters. The same poll suggests that Cornyn leads Hegar by a thirteen-point margin, but that’s not a complete picture – Hegar should see a meaningful bump as Democrats coalesce around one candidate, meaning Cornyn could have a real race on his hands.

OTHER KEY RACES

Texas Senate

In the Democratic primary in Senate District 19, State Rep. Roland Gutierrez prevailed over Xochil Pena Rodriguez for the opportunity to challenge State Sen. Pete Flores in the general election. Sen. Flores, a Republican from Pleasanton, won the historically Democratic seat in a special election in 2018 with a great deal of support from Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, but if the Democrats have a big year, one could expect this seat to flip back.

In the Rio Grande Valley, in Senate District 27, State Senator Eddie Lucio was victorious in the runoff for the Democratic primary against newcomer Sarah Stapleton Barrera. The longtime state senator was forced into a runoff by a crowded field.

Despite his being a Democrat, Senator Lucio’s victory is a significant win for the Senate’s Republican governing majority led by Lt. Gov Patrick. Should Sen. Flores fail to retain Senate District 19, the partisan split in the Senate will drop to 18 Republicans and 13 Democrats. However, Sen. Lucio can frequently be counted on by the Republican leadership to support certain GOP priorities, and presumably Barrera would have been a more reliable Democratic vote. Typically, 19 votes are required in the Senate to pass legislation, and with the periodic defection of Senator Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo) on some issues, Gov. Patrick could find himself counting on Sen. Lucio more than ever to advance certain conservative causes.

Texas House of Representatives

Several closely watched races will affect the partisan balance of the Texas House. Among them:

House District 2 – Republican Primary: Incumbent Dan Flynn was ousted by conservative Bryan Slaton in this East Texas seat. Rep. Flynn was a chairman and a key ally of the GOP leadership. Slaton will likely promote a more conservative agenda.

House District 59 – Republican Primary: Incumbent J.D. Sheffield, a physician from Stephenville, was defeated by Shelby Slawson in one of the more high-profile contests. Rep. Sheffield was an avid supporter of the House of Medicine, particularly on immunization and vaccine issues, and has been targeted by the far right in recent years.

House District 60 – Republican Primary: In somewhat of a surprise, veterinarian Glenn Rogers of Graford defeated Jon Francis of Cisco in a bid to replace the retiring Rep. Mike Lang (R – Granbury). There is no Democratic opponent in the race. Both candidates have solid conservative credentials, but Francis is related by marriage to the Wilks Brothers, patriarchs of a billionaire family of staunch conservatives who dole out millions in financial support for far-right candidates and causes.

House District 138 – Democratic Primary: Houston area attorney Akilah Bacy topped Jennifer Rene Pool in the race to fill the seat left by retiring State Rep. Dwayne Bohac (R-Houston). Bacy will take on business owner Lacey Hull in the general election in November. This Houston-area seat could flip to the Democrats in the fall with a strong showing.

House District 142 – Democratic Primary: Longtime State Rep. Harold Dutton survived against Houston City Councilman Jerry Davis in one of the most bitterly contested races of the year. Rep. Dutton received a great deal of local criticism for his sponsorship of an education-related bill from several sessions ago, and was forced into a runoff by a “phantom” candidate, who finished third in the initial primary without mounting a campaign, and actually may be a truck driver in Colorado who never filed for the seat.

ANALYSIS

With the ballots now set for the fall general election contest, the question becomes: Will the Democrats capitalize on the historic circumstances facing the nation leading up to the 2020 elections? The challenges are well-documented – a global pandemic leaving more than 130,000 Americans dead, a COVID-ravaged economic landscape, and profound social unrest coupled to the “Black Lives Matter” movement. Meanwhile, Pres. Trump’s disconnected response to all three tribulations leaves the Democrats well-positioned to build upon the historic “Blue Wave” they enjoyed in the 2018 midterm elections.

If the 2020 general election were held today, it is likely that Pres. Trump would face a momentous defeat at the hand of the presumptive Democratic nominee Biden. The U.S. House would probably become more Democratic as well, potentially adding to the 40-seat gain in 2018. And while most observers speculated early in the election cycle that the U.S. Senate would remain safely Republican, that would be a considerably more dangerous bet today. Even the Texas House could flip, assuming several key races fall the Democrats’ way. All in all, Pres. Trump’s declining approval rating, and a Democratic lead over Republicans in generic congressional and Texas State House polling, collectively spell big problems for the GOP in the fall.

With that said, the election is obviously NOT being held today. There are nearly four months ahead before the November general election – a lifetime in politics – and it is reasonable to predict that Pres. Trump can regain his footing, and assist his party down the ballot. If COVID-19 infections begin to slow and the U.S. economy meaningfully improves, and if Pres. Trump can develop a consistent and reassuring message to the American people, there is still plenty of time for the GOP ship to be righted.

We will be watching this final sprint to November closely, and will continue to report on developments as they occur.

Click here to view all the up to date results in more detail. As always, please let us know if you have any questions or comments.

January 28, 2020 Special Election Run-offs in House Districts 28, 100, and 148

The results are in for the special election run-offs in House Districts 28, 100, and 148.

A special election was held in three districts in Texas on Tuesday night. Most of the attention was concentrated on District 28 due to the impact that election could have on the majority in the Texas House.

Gary Gates (R-Rosenberg) won the District 28 seat vacated by Rep. John Zerwas (R) who retired after the 86thLegislative session. This win will most likely give Republicans confidence going into November with hopes of keeping their majority. The race drew national attention, with Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren endorsing Democrat Eliz Markowitz, and significant resources being invested by both parties.

District 148 and District 100 have historically voted Democrat and last night that remained true, with results showing Anna Eastman (D-Houston) the winner in District 148 and Lorrain Birabil (D-Dallas) the winner of District 100.

RESULTS

House District 28

Vacated by John Zerwas (R-Richmond) who served 14 years in the House and was Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

  • Winner: Gary Gates (R-Rosenberg) – 17,457 votes (58.05%)
  • Elizabeth “Eliz” Markowitz (D-Katy) – 12,617 votes (41.95%)

House District 100

Vacated by Eric Johnson(D-Dallas) who became Mayor of Dallas.

  • Winner: Lorraine Birabil (D-Dallas) – 1,643 votes (66.28%)
  • James Armstrong III (D-Dallas) – 836 votes (33.72%)

House District 148

Vacated by Jessica Farrar (D-Houston) who served for 25 years in the House retired.

  • Winner: Anna Eastman (D-Houston) – 4,527 votes (65.47%)
  • Luis La Rotta (R-Houston) – 2,388 votes (34.53%)

With GOP Supermajority at Risk in 2020, Dan Patrick Says Texas Senate May Lower Threshold to Bring Bills to the Floor

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said he may seek to decrease the threshold required to move legislation in the Texas State Senate to a simple majority if Republicans lose one or two seats in November. Currently, 19 votes are required to put legislation on the floor for passage, but if Republicans lose Sen. Pete Flores, (R-Pleasanton) who is running for reelection in a historically Democratic district, Patrick said they may have to go to a simple majority of 16. He expressed confidence that Republicans will succeed in November, and that the party will keep the majority in the Senate. Democrats were very critical of this approach, believing it to erode the bi-partisan tradition of the Texas Senate. Changing the threshold requires a simple majority when senators vote to approve their rules at the start of every session. Read the full article here.

Texas Physicians Propose Mass Violence Prevention Strategies

Texas physicians laid out medicine’s priorities before a special committee of the Texas House of Representatives late last week. The hearing was held in El Paso and featured testimony from Alan Tyroch, MD, Chair of Surgery at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso who coordinated trauma care after the mass shooting in El Paso last year, and outlined TMA’s eight recommendations for addressing mass violence. Dr. Joseph Penn, clinical professor of psychiatry at The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston (UTMB) and representing the Texas Society of Psychiatric Physicians also testified. Dr. Penn mentioned how mental health is not a predictor of and not the major factor in mass violence, and that the overall best predictor of future violence is past violence. Read the full article here.