AUSTIN, Texas - The House State Affairs Committee Tuesday morning took up legislation to correct billing errors caused by ERCOT.
Addressing problems from the recent winter storm jumped to the top of the agenda for the session, but that’s not all lawmakers have been doing according to former Texas GOP Chairman James Dickey.
"As one legislator said publicly, they are more than capable of walking and chewing gum at the same time. They're used to having to juggle a lot of things during session," said Dickey.
There is a sense of urgency under the Texas State Capitol dome. The shutdown caused by the winter storm cost lawmakers about a week in the session.
"We are right now getting to the sweet spot of the Session, Bill filing deadline is gone, committee hearings are happening, people are getting the chance to have their voice be heard, and all of that is happening right now and we are seeing progress along all those fronts," said Dickey.
The clock is ticking on the governor's emergency items. During his State of the State address, Gov. Greg Abbott initially identified five other emergency items. They include:
- Expanding broadband internet
- Punishment for defunding police
- Bail reform
- Pandemic lawsuit protection for businesses
- Election reform
Restructuring ERCOT and mandating power plant winterization were added after the storm.
"Well, a full legislative process is going to slow things down, we now legislation even in a State as partisan as Texas does take a long time," said Brian Smith, political science professor and Associate Dean of the School of Behavioral and Social Sciences at St. Edward's University.
The Governor has a failsafe, according to Smith, if some items don’t make it during the 140-day session. "The great thing that Governor Abbott has in his back pocket is, only the Governor can call a Special Session, and Greg Abbott is the Governor," said Smith.
Lawmakers are already preparing for at least one special session due to redistricting. "The Census Bureau has already confirmed that there is no way that they can give them the numbers until September 30th, so obviously they can’t draw the lines if they don’t have the numbers, before the end of session," said Dickey.
The delay could give the governor time to mend a few political fences. The mask mandate and business restrictions were unpopular with some in the Republican base. That’s sparking questions about a possible challenge from Lt Governor Dan Patrick.
"This could be Patrick's opening," said Smith.
That opening may have closed Monday, though. During a briefing on power bills, the Lt. Governor brought up the issue himself. "I am not running against Greg Abbott. OK. I'm not going to run against Greg Abbott and I’m not going to be that politician that a year from now, that says, well I've changed my mind. I'm not changing my mind," said Patrick.
Dickey said he does not expect a flip. "In my experience when Lt. Gov. Patrick said something that plainly and that publicly he tends to stick to it," he said.
With no in-house challenge, Abbott can focus on political fence-mending. The legislature has already started work on several bills restricting access to abortion, with hearings held on Monday. It’s a controversial topic but one that plays well with the governor’s base.