The Texas Senate convened for the 86th Texas Legislature with a few noticeable differences Tuesday afternoon. Among them, six new members on the floor and State Sen. Jane Nelson at the dais. Republicans maintain the bare minimum of votes necessary to bring legislation to the floor without support from Democrats.

Nelson is the first woman to gavel the Senate in, doing so in place of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who she announced had been called to Washington to meet with White House officials regarding “issues that are critical to Texas.”

Gov. Greg Abbott addressed the body, detailing the important work laid out before them. Among the topics he said must be addressed, he stated, “We will solve school finance reform and property tax reform this session.”

Of the new members being sworn in, two Republican senators are being replaced by Democrats, one Democrat senator is being replaced by a Republican, and three Senate seats are being retained by the incumbent party, but with new faces at the desk.

Three Taxpayer Champions are now former state senators; Konni Burton (R–Colleyville), Don Huffines (R–Dallas), and Van Taylor (R–Plano) will not be returning.

In November, Democrats rode the Beto-wave in North Texas, picking up Senate Districts 10 and 16, electing Beverly Powell (D–Fort Worth) and Nathan Johnson (D–Dallas) to the body.

Van Taylor vacated his post to head to the nation’s capital, being elected to the U.S. House of Representatives to replace retiring Rep. Sam Johnson in Texas’ 3rd Congressional District. Angela Paxton, the wife of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, will take his seat in the Texas Senate after receiving the endorsement of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick during a fierce election.

Also earning the endorsement of Lt. Gov. Patrick was Taxpayer Champion State Sen. Bob Hall (R–Edgewood) — who is the only one of the four senators atop the Fiscal Responsibility Index to return — and former State Rep. Pat Fallon in Senate District 30. Hall successfully fended off a challenge from now-former State Rep. Cindy Burkett of Sunnyvale, a close ally to the retired House Speaker Joe Straus, while Fallon was victorious over incumbent Craig Estes of Wichita Falls.

Thanks to a surprising special election victory in Senate District 19, the Senate managed a net loss of just one Republican lawmaker. San Antonio Republican State Sen. Pete Flores stepped into the seat vacated by Democrat Carlos Uresti, who resigned after being convicted of 11 felony counts in February of 2018.

The upset victory of Flores provides for the Republican Caucus to retain its hold on the three-fifths majority of the chamber, down from 20 members to 19. The makeup should allow Republicans to maintain complete control of what legislation they bring to the floor for consideration, provided they are able to keep each Republican member on board. Under the leadership of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the caucus seems to have been able to do exactly that, at least relative to their counterparts across the Capitol.

Patrick returns to the helm to oversee his third session — having defeated Houston Accountant and failed candidate for Comptroller, Mike Collier. In previous sessions, he maintained a brisk pace for the Senate and is expected to honor that precedent again. They will need to if they are to successfully address the complex, priority items previous legislatures neglected to tackle.

As alluded to by the governor, affording Texans with tangible relief from skyrocketing property taxes and restructuring the state’s convoluted school finance formula top the list of priorities.

Both issues are expected to see heated debate in the newly sworn-in 86th Texas Legislature.

To receive legislative updates throughout the session, text TXLEGE to 52886.

Read about the first day in the Texas House here.

Destin Sensky

Destin Sensky serves as a Capitol Correspondent for Texas Scorecard covering the Texas Legislature, working to bring Texans the honest and accurate coverage they need to hold their elected officials in Austin accountable.