At noon on January 12, the Texas House and the Texas Senate gaveled in the start of the 87th Texas Legislature. Lt. Governor Dan Patrick opened the Senate and Secretary of State Ruth Ruggero Hughs opened the House.
The first order of business in the House was the election of a new Speaker of the House made necessary because the previous Speaker did not run for reelection. As expected, the House almost unanimously elected Chairman Dade Phelan of Beaumont as the new Speaker. The Speaker is the leader of the House and will be responsible for selecting committee chairs and assigning members to committees. Only two representatives voted against Speaker Phelan and one was newly elected District 92 Representative Jeff Cason who represents HEB and far north Arlington.
Speaker Phelan pledged to be open to the ideas of the House members and encouraged them to represent their districts and vote in the best interests of their constituents. He will appoint Democrats as Chairs of some committees. In a live stream earlier in the week with the Texas Tribune, he said “I shut down discussion on nothing. My goal is to empower the members to be the best they can be and frame legislation important to their districts.” He then allowed that it was up to the members to get the votes to get their priorities out of committee, into the calendars committee and on the floor.
Speaker Phelan also pledged “to do the best we can” to fund HB3 (the bill from last session that added additional funding for education including universal Pre-K), but stopped short of guaranteeing that outcome. He said there were not enough votes to expand Medicaid, but thought there would be exploration of a revenue-neutral way to get more federal funding for healthcare in Texas.
The House is expected to vote on new rules, including the rules for coping with Corona Virus in the Capitol, on Thursday and then adjourn until January 26.
On the Senate side of the Capitol, Chairman Brian Birdwell was elected President pro tempore. He will lead the Senate in the absence of the Lt. Governor. Chairman Birdwell, Republican of Granbury, represents a portion of Southeast Arlington.