Tuesday marks the start of the 2021 Texas Legislature, under much different circumstances than when the last session gaveled out in May 2019. For starters, strict coronavirus protocols are in place. All lawmakers will have to be tested for COVID-19, masks are required in the House, and attendance by family, the public, and media members is limited in the Senate.
Bill Miller, Texas political consultant with HillCo Partners, says everyone will have to get used to the new way of doing things at the Capitol this year. "It's basically a legislative session on high alert...on high alert about interactions and the type of people who get in," he tells KTRH. "They're doing the right thing...I think it's fair to say you can get into the Capitol, but there are steps you have to take, and you are going to have to be careful."
Republicans still control both chambers, despite Democrat efforts to flip the House last fall. That means Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick still runs the Senate, but the House will have a new number one, as Rep. Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) is set to become House speaker. "He has the votes, and it's not a question of whether he will or he won't...he will become the new speaker, everyone expects that," says Miller.
With the protocols in place and new leadership elected, there will be plenty of important business for lawmakers to address, starting with the pandemic's impact on the state budget. "When you have a budget shortfall in the billions of dollars, that's what's on everyone's mind, that's the one thing they have to do," says Miller. "And then later, they've got to get into redistricting, which is going to be huge."
That redistricting issue could be the thorniest of all. "Redistricting is really a life or death sentence for a member, if their home district is carved up or not," says Miller. "So you look at budgeting and you look at redistricting---which will probably be a special session item---those are the things people are looking at this year."