It’s no secret that this session of the Texas Legislature has looked quite different than sessions past.
Restrictions put in place in response to the Chinese coronavirus have severely limited the amount of time lawmakers are spending in session on the House and Senate floors.
Meanwhile, many legislators’ offices are either closed or only open by appointment. Hours spent recognizing visiting groups on the floor of the House and Senate have been stripped away. And this weeks’ subfreezing weather has canceled plans for this week, with lawmakers unable to make the commute to the capital city.
So with just over 100 days left in the Legislature’s 140-day session, how long has each chamber spent on the floor so far?
The Texas House has met for 7 hours and 48 minutes. The Texas Senate for 4 hours and 32 minutes.
Some context is required to understand these numbers.
The Texas Constitution prohibits the Legislature from passing bills for the first 60 days. An exception is made, however, for the governor’s emergency items, which Gov. Greg Abbott announced during his State of the State address on February 1. Those items include expanding rural broadband access, preventing cities from defunding police departments, bail reform, election integrity, and liability protection from COVID-related lawsuits.
This week, Abbott added reform of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) to his list as the sixth emergency priority.
Little time spent so far on the floor is not to say there has been no work performed in the building.
In the Senate, for example, the committees on redistricting and finance have held meetings to discuss the two bills the Legislature is obligated to pass—the budget and redrawing congressional maps.
The latter is likely to extend into a special session, as lawmakers will not receive data from the 2020 U.S. Census until September 30—well after the session’s constitutionally mandated adjournment.
House committees have not started as quickly. With new Speaker of the House Dade Phelan taking power, new committee assignments were not released until February 4.
While the House Appropriations Committee—the chamber’s budget-writing committee—was scheduled to begin hearings this week, the weather events across the state have caused them to be canceled, along with the already limited floor activity.
When the skies clear and the temperatures rise again, the members of the Legislature will have their work cut out for them.
This time, the runway will be shorter than ever for the business Texans elected lawmakers to address.