The 87th Legislative Session kicked off on Tuesday at the Texas Capitol, as lawmakers in both chambers gaveled in to begin their 140-day session.

The first act of the newly sworn-in Texas House of Representatives? To officially elect State Rep. Dade Phelan (R–Beaumont) to serve as speaker of the House by a vote of 143-2.

Only freshmen State Reps. Bryan Slaton (R–Royse City) and Jeff Cason (R–Bedford) voted no.

Slaton said he did so because Phelan refused to tell him whether he believed there was a culture problem in the Texas House, and what his plan was to help advance Republican priorities this session.

State Rep. Will Metcalf (R–Montgomery) offered the first nominating speech for Phelan, followed by State Reps. Nicole Collier (D–Fort Worth) and J.M. Lozano (R–Kingsville).

In his first address to the House as speaker, Phelan gave a short glimpse into his agenda for the session, one of the first he’s given since securing the votes.

Educators and children, Phelan said, would remain at the “forefront” of the agenda. He added that the budget shortfall facing the state would be addressed without shifting the burden onto Texas families.

Phelan also focused on reducing burdensome regulations, especially in light of some regulations that were waived as part of the Chinese coronavirus emergency declaration, such as alcohol to-go.

Gov. Greg Abbott also addressed the members of the Texas House, saying he expected the Legislature to do more to address the healthcare needs of the people of Texas, pass legislation to support law enforcement, and to “get Texans to work as quickly as possible.”

In the coming weeks, Abbott is expected to address both chambers to give a more detailed account of his priorities for the session.

Phelan’s rise to the speakership was rapid. First elected to the Texas House in 2015, Phelan’s candidacy for speaker was announced after a secret meeting of a faction of Republican lawmakers was held shortly before the election. Phelan was quickly able to secure support from Republicans and Democrats, eventually gaining a majority of support from members. 

The environment inside the opening day ceremony looked a little different this session: COVID-19 testing tents marked the entrance to the building, face masks were required for those attending the events, and social distancing limited seating in the galleries.

Later this week, the House and Senate will vote on their respective rules that will, in part, determine whether these practices continue into the session.

Both chambers have indicated they do not intend to meet next week.