With the start of the 87th Texas Legislative Session on Jan. 12, the COVID-19 pandemic has played a large role in the session’s outlook.
Safety measures, such as wearing a mask, are required at the session to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 among lawmakers. According to the Texas Tribune, these are not the only precautions added this year.
Political science professor Anthony Ives said there is also an increased security presence at the Texas Capitol due to civil unrest around the country.
“To my knowledge, the FBI believes that there are threats against every single state capital regardless of whether it is controlled by Democrats or Republicans or [is] shared, so there will be more security at the Capitol,” Ives said. “There are already less people being able to come in and out because of coronavirus, so people were already used to not having as much access to the building itself.”
A significant subject on the agenda for lawmakers this year is the budget, which is set every two years in Texas. Due to COVID-19, Texas has a $1 billion deficit, which will affect the upcoming budget this September. During a virtual event with the Texas A&M Advocacy Network on Jan. 5, Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts Glenn Hegar, Class of 1993, discussed the upcoming 87th Legislative Session with a focus on the budget.
“[The revenue estimate] sets the foundation for what the budget cycle is going to be,” Hegar said. “Every revenue estimate I give has clouds of uncertainty, but right now it has more clouds of uncertainty continuing than ever before.”
With 2020 being a federal census year, there is a possibility to increase the number of representatives for Texas in the House of Representatives based on population growth. Because the census is still incomplete due to COVID-19, it is unclear how many seats Texas will gain in the lo. Political science professor Dwight Roblyer said the number of seats will determine how much the state will have to redistrict for representatives — which is another line on the 87th Legislative Session’s agenda.
“It’s a highly political, highly power-infused process because of gerrymandering,” Roblyer said. “They are very strategic and tricky in how they draw those lines.”
The legislative session has a great influence on things most people do not think about, Ives said. Things such as tuition, taxes on imported goods and the coronavirus are topics people often forget this session will affect. With the large number of bills, there is sure to be something of interest to everyone, Ives said.
“Every single person in Texas is always interacting with our government whether they are thinking about it or not,” Ives said. “If the Texas Legislature takes away power from the counties to do coronavirus emergencies, that is going to have an immediate impact on day-to-day lives.”