The 86th Texas Legislative session kicked off on Tuesday, January 8th. The Senate gaveled in without Lt. Governor Patrick who was in Washington visiting with the Administration on border issues. Senator Jane Nelson stepped in to preside over the body on its first day, the first woman to do so, and Senator Watson was elected president pro tempore. As passed, Senate rules reflect a few changes to committees – increasing the size of some, decreasing others, and creating two new ones (Committee on Property Tax and the Committee on Water and Rural Affairs).
The real excitement was in the other Chamber where the Texas House elected a new speaker for the first time in a decade. Rep. Bonnen was unanimously elected House Speaker, and in his opening remarks, reiterated his vision for unity and cooperation. He indicated his first priorities being to fix the school finance system and reforming the property tax system. Speaker Bonnen mentioned other legislative priorities such as human trafficking, early education, mental health, school safety, CPS and foster care, and disaster response and recovery.
The House worked through Thursday to take care of a handful of housekeeping items such as passing House rules, which reflect some notable changes to committees:
- Committees Eliminated: Economic Development and Small Business; Government Transparency and Operation; Investments and Financial Services; and Special Purpose Districts.
- Committee Composition: A number of committees’ memberships were changed with respect to the number of members serving on each – such as shrinking the House Calendars Committee from 15 members to now 11.
Legislators also received the Biennial Revenue Estimate this week from Comptroller Glen Hegar, to tell lawmakers how much money they have to work with over the next two years. The state cannot spend more than it takes in, so the estimate sets a cap on how much can be appropriated. Texas is showing strong economic growth, giving the Legislature an estimated $119b in non-dedicated general revenue to appropriate compared to the previous biennium of $110b. In addition, Comptroller Hegar indicted that the state’s Economic Stabilization Fund reached $15b this week— a first for the “Rainy Day Fund.”
We anticipate the Lt. Governor making committee assignments and naming chairs this week. Speaker Bonnen distributed preference cards for committees, to be turned in by Tuesday – a good sign that the Speaker will be making assignments soon as well.