February 2021 Month-End Update - Winter Storm Uri Impacts Legislative Session Priorities

The impact of winter storm Uri on Texas was devasting to say the least. The Texas House and Senate held committee meetings the week of February 22nd to ask agency and company officials about what went wrong and what can be improved. The hearings ran over 12 hours and included testimony from ERCOT’s CEO, the Chair of the Public Utility Commission, CEOs from Vistra Corp. and NRG, and the Executive Vice-President of CenterPoint Energy.

Regulation and management of the energy industry is now one of the largest priorities for this legislative session. Some lawmakers have already filed bills regarding the energy market in Texas and how it’s managed. A few of the subjects expected to be addressed through legislation are:

  • Requiring ERCOT governing members to be residents of Texas
  • Creating extreme weather preparedness plans at state and local levels
  • Extremely high, variable energy rates for some Texas customers
  • Development of energy storage technologies
  • Energy efficiency across the state

Given the substantial amount of work that the Legislature faced even before this storm a Special Session to extend the legislative process past May seems likely. We will continue to provide updates as this session progresses, but please feel free to reach out to us at 87legislature@nicholsfirm.com with any questions or concerns.

For those interested, recordings of the week of Feb. 22nd's hearings can be found at https://house.texas.gov/video-audio/committee-broadcasts/ (House State Affairs and Energy Resources Joint-Hearing) and https://senate.texas.gov/av-archive.php (Senate Business & Commerce Committee).

February 2, 2021 Update - Gov. Abbott's State of the State Address

Governor Abbott delivered the State of the State on February 1st to outline his emergency items for this legislative session. His five emergency items this year include expanding broadband internet access, punishing local governments that defund the police, changing the bail system, promoting election integrity, and providing civil liability protections for businesses that were open during the pandemic.

Governor Abbott also expressed an interest in permanently expanding telemedicine services and preventing government entities from closing religious institutions, two areas that generated heavy discussion during the pandemic.   

The legislature can vote on bills related to these five emergency items within the first sixty-days of session and there are already a number of related bills filed. The Governor’s priorities typically have a strong influence on the bills that are ultimately passed and should be closely watched.

Please reach out with any legislative questions at 87legislature@nicholsfirm.com.

January 2021 Update - Session Begins

The 87th Legislative Session officially began on Tuesday, January 12, 2021. As expected, legislators voted on what COVID precautions will be in place and the results will impact visitors and those who hope to testify in committee hearings. The House and Senate have adopted a different set of COVID procedures:

  • House: All visitors, committee witnesses, and committee attendees will be required to wear a mask but will not be required to have a COVID test. The public will be allowed to testify at hearing in person, virtually, or through written comment without in-person testimony.
  • Senate: All visitors, committee witnesses, and committee attendees in the Senate will be required to wear a mask and have a COVID rapid test taken outside the Capitol’s North entrance. Those with a negative test will be given a wristband that must be presented to enter certain Senate areas and offices. These procedures will be in place for the first sixty-days of session and reviewed again at that time.

If you hope to submit comment or testimony on a particular bill, we are happy to discuss the best way to submit those items in light of these new restrictions. As always, please do not hesitate to reach out at 87legislature@nicholsfirm.com if we can be of assistance. We look forward to serving you this session.

November 2020 Update - Bill Pre-Filing Begins

Monday, November 9, 2020 marked the beginning of pre-filing for the 87th Texas Legislative Session. This session there are a number of topics in the spotlight including healthcare, voting policies, and law enforcement reform. In the first week alone, over 600 bills were filed and The Nichols Firm is working diligently to identify those that may have an impact on our municipal and economic development clients.

A preview of some legislative topics that may be of interest include:
• Tax appraisal procedures
• Issuance of bonds and taxes
• Expanding voter access in Texas
• COVID-19 health coverage for public safety officers
• Expanding Medicaid coverage and eligibility
• Law enforcement and peace officer reform

The legislative session will officially begin on January 12, 2021. It is still not clear exactly what safety measures and COVID-19 procedures will be in place, but we will share that information as it becomes available. In any case, it’s expected that in-person activity at the Capitol will be impacted, so it’s more important than ever that we stay engaged with proposed legislation even remotely.

To better connect with you we have established an email address dedicated to issues related to the 87th Legislative Session at 87legislature@nicholsfirm.com. If you have not yet shared your legislative priorities with us, now is the time! As we come closer to the official start of session this information will help us keep you in the loop on the issues that matter to you. As always, feel free to reach out with any questions or concerns. We look forward to working with you through the new changes that will come this session.