AUSTIN - Hobbled by pandemic, but highlighted by the election of a new House Speaker, Texas lawmakers gathered in regular session at the State Capitol in Austin for the 87th time.
Bolstered by a Texas Comptroller estimate of a less-than-expected, COVID-19-driven, $1 billion dent in the state budget, Beaumont Republican Dade Phelan laid out a priority and called for unity of purpose in the lower chamber he will lead.
"In order to unleash our full potential and emerge from this challenge, Texas children must continue to be at the forefront of our legislative agenda for this legislative session. We cannot fail them when they need us the most," said Phelan.
With Lt. Governor Dan Patrick simultaneously calling the Texas Senate into action, Governor Greg Abbott delivered a message long on economic recovery, but short on the sweeping police reform Democratic legislators are fiercely pushing.
"That means doing things like tackling the challenges posed by COVID-19 as well as making sure we do more to address the healthcare needs of the people of our state. It means supporting our law enforcement officers in keeping our communities safe," said Abbott.
With the extreme health and logistical challenges of legislating during a pandemic, Rice political analyst Mark Jones anticipates that most controversial proposals will be pushed to the back-burner, measures like marijuana legalization, casino gambling and Medicaid expansion.
"The pandemic is going to reduce the effectiveness of the legislature and their ability to get things done and therefore it’s only going to be able to focus on the high priority items such as the budget, redistricting and perhaps a few other issues like the George Floyd Act," said Jones
Everyone who entered the Capitol on opening day had to first take and pass a rapid test for Coronavirus.
Even with that considerable pre-caution, two Democratic House Members boycotted, calling the gathering a potential "super spreader event".