The state's 87th legislative session got underway on Jan. 4. TEXPERS, along with the association's Legislative Committee and legislative consultant, is monitoring the session, especially for any actions regarding public employee pensions. TEXPERS staff will regularly update this blog page with the latest happenings that may be of interest to trustees and administrators of public employee retirement systems.
UPDATED 02/23/2021 AT 6:12 P.M. CST - Trustees and administrators of public employee retirement plans in Texas have online resources to keep track of proposed legislation that could potentially impact their systems and membership.
The Texas Legislature Online is a one-stop source of information on legislation, committees, and the state House and Senate. You can use the site to determine which legislators represent your city, find video broadcasts of legislative activity you may have missed, access meeting calendars, and research legislation.
A useful tool for public pension plan trustees and administrators is the site's House and Senate committees' list. The Senate State Affairs Committee and the House Pensions, Investments & Financial Services Committee are two committees TEXPERS' staff track for activity related to pensions and investments. The two committees identify issues that require review and gather and evaluate information and make legislative recommendations to the full House or Senate.
During Texas' current legislative session, various House and Senate committees are looking for insights from the public on a wide range of topics. As trustees and administrators of retirement systems, it is essential that you are part of that public participation.
On the Texas Legislature Online site, dropdown menus allow visitors to select House, Senate, Joint, or Conference committees to access meetings by date and committee. The meeting schedules tell you when and where a committee will gather.
The public may download hearing notices from the site to find out what topics a committee will hear testimony on and if solicited testimony is public or invited only. The announcements also feature a web address where you can access a video broadcast if you cannot attend the hearing in person. A hearing notice also features a web address where you can submit comments related to a committee agenda electronically without having to testify in person.
That isn't the only way you can communicate your opinions on pension- and investment-related topics. Visit the Texas Legislature Online portal to look up the names and emails of committee members.
You can provide comments directly to each committee member, whose contact information is available on the state legislature's website. Click on the "Committee" dropdown menu for the House or Senate, select the committee you'd like to provide comments to, and select the member names to find their contact information.
TEXPERS' website is also an excellent resource for pension system trustees and administrators to keep up with legislative activity. Click on the Legislation link to access Texas Legislation and Government Affairs information. TEXPERS monitors pension and investment legislative issues that impact state and local pension plans. Our association's Legislative Committee also tracks proposed bills that could positively or negatively affect public employees' secure retirements and the plans that manage their benefits.
Visit our Legislation page to download a list of bills TEXPERS' Legislative Committee is tracking. The page will include any supplemental materials such as letters TEXPERS may submit related to proposed legislation.
TEXPERS' experts are often called on to provide testimony to the state agency mandated to oversee state and local public pension plans for their actuarial soundness, legislative committees, and other official groups. You can visit our Government Affairs page to access videos and written remarks made by our association's staff and board members.
Don't forget to regularly visit this blog page to find out the latest happenings at the Texas Capitol.
UPDATED 02/11/2021 AT 5:45 P.M. CST - As Texas lawmakers begin to draft the state budget this legislative session, the Texas Pension Review Board hopes to obtain $2.1 million to fund the agency's operations for the 2022-23 biennium.
The Pension Review Board oversees state and local public retirement systems regarding their actuarial soundness. The $2.1 million request is the same as the agency's 2020-21 base budget. If approved, the funding comes from the state's general revenue.
Legislators are currently reviewing state agency budget requests. The House and Senate alternate starting the budgeting process each session. This session, the budget bill begins in the Senate. The Texas Senate Committee on Finance examined the Pension Review Board's budget request this week.
Click here to access the PRB's full budget request.
TEXPERS' legislative consultancy firm provided the following summary of the discussion:
John Posey, Legislative Budget Board (LBB) Staff
1. Recommendation for all funds total $2.1 million, same as the agency's 2021 base; all funding comes from general revenue
2. Item 1 legislation passed last session, which requires the majority of Texas Public Pension Systems to report information on their investment practices to the PRB
A. Board publishes a report summarizing this information to the legislature and governor; the last report was published in November
3. Item 2 exceptional item request; fill one full-time equivalent (FTE) left vacant as part of the 5% reduction, $112,875
Stephanie Liebe Chair of the Texas PRB
1. 91% of the budget is allocated for staff salaries; a 5% reduction would hinder growth
2. Senate Bills 322 and 2224 required new reports and information; the agency created 200 recommendations and best practices
3. Conducted a thorough review of all statutory requirements engaged with stakeholders to help improve responsible funding
4. Continued to enhance online data center
5. Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston – SB 322 and SB 2224, supporting the adoption of another FTE to be specialized for this work
6. Senate Finance Committee Chair Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound – All agencies had a 5% reduction, need to reanalyze
7. Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas – Are we having problems with the funding soundness for restoration plans?
A. Working to lower the amortization period below 40 years, though that is our current benchmark, to ensure that there are sufficient funds to pay the promised pension benefits
8. Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston – What other best practices do you have after two intensive reviews?
A. Retirement systems and sponsors to work together for a more proactive plan for policymaking
B. Evaluate investment program on a more comprehensive level; focus on investment manager performances, investment fees, etc.
9. Bettencourt – Who got those recommendations?
A. Invited retirement system and sponsor to either board or committee meetings to discuss in a public forum; broadcasted to be available to stakeholders
10. Bettencourt – Did you send those best practices to our board?
A. Yes, the Investment Performance Report was included in the biennial report to the legislature
11. Bettencourt – It doesn't seem like you made more progress on SB 322
A. We are a small state agency; the challenge is trying to implement all of our mandates simultaneously.
UPDATED 02/09/2021 AT 5:18 P.M. CST - Lawmakers in the Texas Senate's Committee on Finance met on Feb. 8 to review the first draft of the state's biennium budget, which includes an estimated $946 million shortfall. According to a report on kxan.com, some legislators are looking to make up that loss by legalizing gambling at casinos and gaming facilities. Rep. Joe Deshotel, D-Beaumont, and Sen. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio, have filed bills that would allow casinos to operate in Texas. Currently, all forms of casino gambling are illegal in the state. HJR 26, filed by Deshotel, would amend the state constitution to authorize the operation of casino gaming. Gaming would be allowed only "in state coastal areas to provide additional money for residual windstorm insurance coverage and catastrophic flooding assistance in those areas," according to the proposed legislation. Deshotel's bill also would authorize the Kickapoo Traditional Tribe of Texas to conduct casino gambling by executing a gaming compact with the state." Gutierrez's bill, SB 616, would allow the "operation of 12 casinos in the state by licensed persons in counties that have approved casino gaming, ... ," according to the text of the proposed legislation.
UPDATED 02/08/2021 AT 5:40 P.M. CST - The Texas legislature reconvenes at 2 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 9 and the Senate returns at 3 p.m. that day.
UPDATED 02/05/2021 AT 4:51 P.M CST - On Feb. 5, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott unveiled his budget for the next biennium, highlighting several crucial initiatives such as school finance, tax reform, public safety, the state economy, and education loss due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the introductory letter to the 34-page budget proposal posted to the governor's website, Abbott says the state will meet its needs and meet taxpayers' expectations into the 2022-2023 biennium.
"We must also look toward the future as our economy moves beyond the pandemic," he says in the letter. "We will take action so the state can remain a model for the rest of the nation by providing for a healthier, safer, freer, and more prosperous Texas."
According to a report from ArkLaTexHomepage.com, Abbott claims that his budget addresses the essential needs he's laid out without raising taxes on residents.
The governor says his budget proposal will:
- Ensure access to COVID-19 vaccines and monoclonal antibody therapeutics
- Ensure healthcare access for Texans with preexisting conditions
- Increases the availability of teleservices and expanding access to broadband
- Ensures compliance with the federal foster care lawsuit (background information on the suit is available here.)
- Provides law enforcement access to training
- Provides additional body cameras for law enforcement
- Enhances security at the state Capitol
- Reforms the state's bail program
- Ensures election integrity
- Addresses learning loss due to the COVID-19 pandemic
- Establishes a Foundation for Civics Knowledge
- Attracts jobs to Texas
TEXPERS’ legislative consulting firm provided the following category overview of the governor’s budget recommendations.
- Fully utilize federal funds available for administering COVID-19 therapeutics and vaccine doses.
- Support DSHS’ Infectious Disease Infrastructure request and strategically allocate federal funds to improve public health IT and laboratory infrastructure.
- Address the critical storage need to ensure the future availability of PPE.
- Support and expand foster care initiatives, including Community-Based Care and utilizing federal dollars available for preventative services.
- Continue to make investments in the state’s behavioral health programs, including the Texas Child Mental Health Care Consortium. Continue efforts to improve the state’s mental health infrastructure.
- Fund 1115 waiver initiatives continuing through the 10-year extension. The Delivery System Reform Incentive Payments and Charity Care Pool will provide financial stability to our publicly owned and operated health departments and districts.
- Find opportunities to increase the use of telehealth services.
- Invest in high-speed broadband to expand access in unserved areas of the state.
- Appropriate a total of $150 million to the Disaster Fund for state disaster response.
- Support and fund law enforcement, including IT, training, and public safety equipment purchasing.
- Demonstrate the state’s commitment to border security by maintaining the assets provided by the Legislature.
- Fund Capitol security, authorize the Capitol Complex Safety Zone, and fund DPS enhancements for threat detection and investigation.
- Continue to invest in innovative cybersecurity solutions that help protect the state and its residents from cybersecurity threats.
State Operations/Fees, Taxes, and Elections
- Examine the fees associated with professional licenses and prevent any increased cost.
- Authority to exceed the voter-approval rate should only be available to cities, counties, and special districts that have suffered physical damage due to a disaster.
- Continue and expand the use of county election security trainers. Provide additional funding to the SOS to expand the election day inspector program to the early voting period.
- Invest in high-speed broadband to expand access in unserved areas of the state.
- Build upon the initiatives included SB 11 and SB 500 to continue to provide a safe environment for our students
- Fully fund the initiatives from last session’s school finance bill, HB 3, and continue the progress that began last session.
- Strategically utilize federal funds to approve programs and initiatives that will help fill the gaps in learning experienced by students due to COVID-19, provide opportunities for parents to advocate for their student’s educational needs, and further invest in our Texas teachers.
- Approve the creation of instructional resources to ensure our schools teach students the civics knowledge they need to be engaged, productive citizens.
- Preserve the progress made by SB 12, the TRS bill, and not take any action that will increase the pensions system’s unfunded liability.
- For higher education; prioritize need-based financial aid.
- Strategically utilize federal funding to engage individuals with some college and no degree to complete a high-quality credential or degree.
- Strategically utilize federal funding to create industry-recognized, registered apprenticeship programs through public institutions of higher education.
- Work to put the strategies outlined in the most recent Tri-Agency Workforce Initiative into action to support our students and working Texans, and to continue building strong links between industry and education
- Fund the Texas Enterprise Fund at $150 million including unexpended balance authority.
- Appropriate the dedicated state hotel occupancy tax revenues to Economic Development & Tourism in the Office of the Governor.
- Maintain funding for Film and Music Marketing to continue attracting businesses and lucrative job opportunities.
Click here to view the report in its entirety.
The governor's budget proposal is not the House and Senate base budgets that have already been filed. The governor's budget serves as a guiding policy statement.
UPDATED 02/04/2021 AT 7:46 P.M. CST - Speaker of the Texas House, Rep. Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, announced on Feb. 4 the committee assignments for the 87th legislative session, including those serving on the Pensions, Investments and Financial Services Committee.
The announcement was made via a news release posted to the speaker's webpage.
“The State of Texas has arrived at a pivotal moment in its history – one that requires us as lawmakers to work with one another, build consensus, and leverage the diverse strengths and backgrounds of those within our chamber to confront the unique challenges ahead,” Phelan said in the news release. “I have dedicated my speakership to creating a member-driven process that affords each of my colleagues a seat at the decision-making table, and have made these committee assignments to reflect their preferences, talents, and where I believe they will have the greatest impact on the issues to come before this body.”
Among the 34 committees, trustees and administrators of public pension plans at the state and local level will monitor the Pensions, Investments and Financial Services Committee. Nine members serve on the committee.
Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, is chair of the committee, which considers bills and issues and oversee agencies, programs and activities within their jurisdictions. Anchia is serving his eighth term as a legislator. He also serves on the Energy Resources, House Administration, and Redistricting committees.
The Pensions, Investments and Financial Services Committee's jurisdictions include matters pertaining to pensions and investments. Among the state agencies the committee oversees are the Texas Public Finance Authority, the Bond Review Board, the Texas Emergency Services Retirement System, the Board of Trustees of the Teacher Retirement System of Texas, the Board of Trustees of the Employees Retirement System of Texas, the Board of Trustees of the Texas County and District Retirement System, the Board of Trustees of the Texas Municipal Retirement System, the State Pension Review Board, and the State Securities Board.
The other committee members include:
- (Vice Chair) Rep. Tan Parker, R-Flower Mound
- Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake
- Rep. Sergio Munoz Jr., D-Palmview
- Rep. Mary Ann Perez, D-Houston
- Rep. Glenn Rogers, R-Graford
- Rep. Shelby Slawson, R-Stephenville
- Rep. Phil Stephenson, R-Wharton
- Rep. Hubert Vo, D-Houston
Insights into the House and its committees:
- The current makeup of the Texas House is 82 Republicans and 67 Democrats (with one vacant seat)
- Including the Speaker Pro Tempore, a leadership position equivalent to a chair, 21 chairs are Republicans and 14 are Democrats
- Twelve members are chair committees for the first time
- Each legislative session, standing committees are established consistent with House Rules, which are adopted by members during the first week of the session
- Of this session's named committees, 5 chairs and 14 vice chairs are women; 14 chairs and 21 vice chairs are Black, Hispanic, or Asian-American; 11 chairs and 7 vice chairs represent rural areas of the state; and 24 chairs and 27 vice chairs represent urban areas of the state
- Speaker Phelan elected not to form Select Committees, committees created for a limited time period to perform a particular study or investigation, thereby giving deference to the committee structure approved by members in the House Rules
- The speaker didn't appoint chairs of other committees to simultaneously serve on the House Calendars.
UPDATED 02/03/2021 AT 1:27 P.M. CST - Gov. Greg Abbott outlined his priorities during a State of the State speech on Feb 1, during which he said "normalcy is returning to Texas."
The governor spoke from Visionary Fiber Technologies in Lockhart. It is the first time Abbott has delivered the address outside of the Texas State Capitol.
Abbott listed five “emergency items," which means lawmakers can take up this issue in the first 60 days of the session. Those items for the 87th Session are:
UPDATED 01/28/2021 AT 3:36 P.M. CST - The 87th legislature's base budgets are out and already are being compared to previous spending limits.
The Texas Senate and House filed base budgets for the 2022-23 biennium. State governments use a base budget to develop spending limits for future years. Current spending levels are used as a baseline to establish future funding requirements.
To determine appropriations for the upcoming biennium, the legislature adheres to Article VIII of the state constitution, which requires a spending limit, or cap. Lawmakers also must adhere to Article III, the so-called "pay-as-you-go" provision. The Biennial Revenue Estimate and the Legislative Budget Board spending limits have been provided. The House and the Senate base budgets also have been published. Senate Bill 1, the chamber's budget bill, has already been referred to the Senate Finance Committee, which is to start meeting on Feb. 8.
Key budget comparisons with the 86th and 85th legislative sessions:
UPDATED 01/28/2021 AT 3:24 P.M. CST - The state Senate Committee on Finance has posted notices for upcoming hearings. Click the links below to access the agendas:
UPDATED 01/22/2021 AT 3:31 P.M. CST - TEXPERS' Legislative Committee met Jan. 22 to discuss a variety of state legislation filed so far during the 87th legislative session, which began Jan. 12.
The TEXPERS' committee tracks state Senate and House bills that have some connection to defined benefits, public pensions, or retirement. The committee currently is tracking nearly 30 bills, the majority of which are simply being watched to see if they progress through the session.
Click here to access the bill tracker.
UPDATED 01/21/2021 AT 6:11 p.m. CST - The Texas Senate and House filed base budgets for the 2022-23 biennium.
A base, or baseline, budget is used by the state government to develop a budget for future years. Current spending levels are used as a baseline to establish future funding requirements. The documents generally assume future estimates will equal the current budget multiplied by the inflation rate and population growth. Consider it a proposal that prioritizes the allocation of funds for the next two years.
Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, filed Senate Bill 1, the Senate's version of the base budget, on Jan. 21. The bill appropriates $251.2 billion in all funds and $119.7 billion in general revenue. The legislation reflects a 4 percent growth in general revenue, is within population and inflation, and includes the 5 percent reductions legislators asked agencies to make in the current biennium. The legislation is just the beginning of the legislative process for developing the state's 2022-23 biennial budget, Nelson says in a press release.
"Texas' economic strength — and the work we did to scrutinize agency budgets — puts us in a better than anticipated position to keep our commitment to education, defeat the coronavirus and invest in our economic recovery," Nelson says. "SB 1 funds essential services, keeps up with growth, and meets our obligations to vulnerable citizens. It is a starting point. We have many tools available to balance this budget, which will require us to re-establish our priorities, stretch every dollar and find more efficient ways to deliver services."
On Jan. 21, the Texas House also published its base budget on the Legislative Budget Board website. The House's base budget recommends allocating $119.7 billion in general revenue, a 3 percent decrease adjusted for population and inflation. The estimate is $3.2 billion below the spending limit of 7.06 percent adopted by the Legislative Budget Board in November 2020 and maintains a majority of the 5 percent reductions identified by state agencies that year.
In a news release, Speaker of the House Dade Phelan, says the budget proposal "prioritizes the needs of Texans" and "advances the legislature's commitment to the historic public education and school finance and property tax reforms passed" during the 86th legislative session in 2019.
"The decisions we make during the 87th legislative session will have lasting effects on the future of our state, which is why the House will work to improve our business climate, foster economic prosperity, and do what's right for our students," Phelan says. "I am grateful to the members of the House Appropriations Committee and the hardworking committee staff for their efforts throughout this process."
Senate Base Budget Highlights
SB 1 highlights include:
- Funding for the full Foundation School Program entitlement, reflecting changes made the last session to the school finance formula; including $3.1 billion to fund enrollment growth for public education, based on an estimated 36,000 additional students per year; and $1 billion in other state aid related to property tax compression in the 2022-23 biennium;
- $5 billion, an increase of $452.8 million, for payroll growth and continued reforms to the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) passed the last session through Senate Bill 12;
- $897.6 million, an increase of $39.5 million, for statutorily required contributions to TRS-Care to maintain current health insurance premiums and benefits for our retired teachers;
- $8.1 billion to fund higher education institution formulas;
- Maintained funding for Graduate Medical Education formulas;
- Funding to cover projected caseloads for the Medicaid program;
- Combined projected funding of $8 billion for mental health across 24 state agencies, including an increase of $19.5 million to maintain operations for the Texas Child Mental Health Care Consortium; over $1 million in new funding for Senator Nelson's Senate Bill 64, to create a peer-to-peer counseling network and increase access to licensed mental health providers for Texas Law Enforcement Officers; and $145 million to continue community mental health grant programs;
- $352.6 million, an increase of $10.2 million, for women's health programs, including the continuation of the Healthy Texas Women program's enhanced post-partum care services implemented by the legislature last session;
- Lower target caseloads for conservatorship workers at Child Protective Services;
- $589 million to continue funding for Community Based Care catchment areas authorized by the legislature;
- $7 million to maintain funding for Maternal Mortality and Morbidity safety initiatives as well as public awareness and prevention activities;
- Funding for priority victims assistance programs, including $29.7 million for Rape Crisis Centers and $1.8 million for the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners program;
- $57.6 million across all articles to continue fighting human trafficking through prevention, detection, victim services and the justice system;
- $1.3 million to perform necessary maintenance on the Texas Election Administration Management System, which manages voter registrations in Texas;
- $271.2 million to meet the contractual obligations of the Guaranteed Tuition Plan for Texas college students, providing a more affordable college experience for Texas families;
- $128.5 million to fund Department of Public Safety Crime Lab services, including maintaining prioritization and timely testing of sexual assault kits;
- $39.1 million in new appropriations to fortify security at the Texas Capitol, including additional troopers and enhanced safety measures;
- $30.4 billion to the Texas Department of Transportation to address the state's transportation needs, including $26.4 billion dedicated for highway planning, design, construction, and maintenance;
- 100 percent appropriation of estimated available sporting goods sales tax, totaling $332.3 million to support state parks and historical sites;
- $10.2 million for the Surplus Agricultural Products Grant Program at the Texas Department of Agriculture, a continuation of 2020-21 appropriated levels to support Texas food banks;
- Maintained $36.9 million to address structural repair, operation, and maintenance of earthen flood control dams;
- Increase of $19.2 million for air quality and monitoring, water quality and monitoring, and operations at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality; and
- $21.5 million in capital budget authority for Phase II of the Texas Railroad Commission's Mainframe Transformation IT Project, which will replace aging technology to allow for a more efficient and secure application process.
- Maintains the legislature's commitment to House Bill 3, the school finance reform legislation passed last session, by funding the Foundation School Program at $53 billion in all funds and $41.2 billion in general revenue, an increase of $3.8 billion; adds $3.1 billion in general revenue to fund enrollment growth, an additional $992 million in general revenue for tax compression; and $1.1 billion in general revenue to replace one-time CARES Act funding provided in 2020.
- Provides $5.9 billion in general revenue at the Teachers Retirement System with an increase of $838 million to fund the increased state contribution rate adopted last legislative session.
- Appropriates $74.2 billion in all funds for the Texas Medicaid program, including $27.4 billion in general revenue with an additional $920 million to address projected caseload growth.
- Appropriates $3.3 billion in general revenue for behavioral and mental health services, an increase of $26 million from the last session.
- Maintains border security funding across multiple agencies at $800 million in general revenue.
- Does not tap into the state's Economic Stabilization Fund, more commonly known as the "Rainy Day Fund."
House Base Budget Highlights
Significant provisions of the House base budget include:
- Maintenance of the legislature's commitment to House Bill 3, the school finance reform legislation passed last session, by funding the Foundation School Program at $53 billion in all funds and $41.2 billion in general revenue, an increase of $3.8 billion; adds $3.1 billion in general revenue to fund enrollment growth, an additional $992 million in general revenue for tax compression; and $1.1 billion in general revenue to replace one-time CARES Act funding provided in 2020.
- The provision of $5.9 billion in general revenue at the Teachers Retirement System with an increase of $838 million to fund the increased state contribution rate adopted last legislative session.
- Appropriation of $74.2 billion in all funds for the Texas Medicaid program, including $27.4 billion in general revenue with an additional $920 million to address projected caseload growth.
- Appropriation of $3.3 billion in general revenue for behavioral and mental health services, an increase of $26 million from the last session.
- Maintenance of border security funding across multiple agencies at $800 million in general revenue.
Also significant, the House base budget does not tap into the state's Economic Stabilization Fund, more commonly known as the "Rainy Day Fund."
A summary of the House's base budget is available here.
UPDATED 01/18/2021 at 4:54 p.m. CST - On Sunday, armed protestors gathered at the Texas State Capitol despite the building and grounds being closed through Wednesday, Jan. 20 due to public safety concerns.
The Texas Capitol and its grounds are closed due to online threats of armed protests and claims of "violent extremists," according to a Texas Department of Public Safety news release. State Capitols in all 50 states have been on high-alert due to various online postings urging armed protests inspired after insurrectionists stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 in an attempt to prevent Congress from courting electoral college votes.
"The Texas Department of Public Safety is aware of armed protests planned at the Texas State Capitol this week and violent extremists who may seek to exploit constitutionally protected events to conduct criminal acts," commented DPS Director Steven McCraw in a news release issued before Sunday's protests. "As a result, DPS has deployed additional personnel and resources to the Capitol and are working closely with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Austin Police Department to monitor the vents and enforce the rule of law."
Demonstrators at the Texas Capitol Sunday were advocating for the second amendment rights and were largely libertarian, according to a FOX 29 report. The news station reports that most of the protestors were self-proclaimed members of the "boogaloo" movement. Adherents are loosely organized far-right political extremists, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups in the U.S. Adherents are often referred to as "boogaloo boys" or "boogaloo bois" and are largely white nationalists and have antigovernment views.
Various online groups have encouraged gathering at U.S. Capitols to protest the upcoming inauguration of president-elect Joe Biden and vice president-elect Kamala Harris on Jan. 20. The election has stoked passions in those who feel the millions of illegal ballots were cast for the democrats, despite a lack of evidence indicating wide-spread fraudulent ballots were cast during the election.
UPDATED 01/14/2021 at 8:10 p.m. CST - Lawmakers in both chambers on Jan. 13 and 14 passed resolutions, established and modified committees, as well as adopted rules and health protocols, among other action.
The Senate adopted a resolution changing its voting threshold to five-ninths. On Jan. 13, the Senate adopted Senate Resolution 2, which lowers the voting threshold in the Senate from three-fifths to five-ninths. This means that if 31 senators are present, 18 senators' votes are needed to bring legislation to the floor, make special orders, and suspend business/rules. SR 2 contains additional rule changes, but the change to the voting threshold was voted on separately from the rest of the resolution with a vote of 18 ayes and 13 nays.
SR 2 didn't just focus on changing the voting threshold. The resolution also modifies the operating rules for the chamber and its committees for the legislative session.
- Stipulates that committee reports for local and general bills will be printed and made available to the Senate for at least 24 hours before consideration in the full Senate
- Alters media access rules a designated an area for press news media
- Modifies committees by rolling Senate Agriculture into Senate, Water, Agriculture, and Rural Affairs; establishes Senate Jurisprudence with five members; creates Senate Local Government with nine members; decreases number of members on the Senate Natural Resources and Economic Development from 11 to 9; increases the numbers of members on Senate Nominations to 9, from 7; strikes Senate Property Tax
- Public seating in the gallery will be limited to ensure social distancing in accordance with COVID-19 guidelines.
- A wristband demonstrating a negative COVID-19 test is required for entry to the gallery or a committee hearing.
- No personal data will be collected from persons who are tested to enter the Capitol. However, aggregate data indicating the number of persons tested each day and the number of positive tests shall be available to the members of the senate.
- Each senator may have one staff member on the floor at a time while the senate is in session. No additional staff for committees will be allowed, except that the chair of the Administration Committee may allow additional staff for members handling extraordinary matters.
- To enter the senate floor or attend a committee hearing, a member must have had a negative COVID-19 test result that day.
- Members' staff must be tested the first day of the week they enter the Capitol. All senate staff must be tested before accessing the Senate Chamber or attending a committee hearing.
- All central staff must be tested twice each week and a record must be kept to ensure that the testing schedule is being followed.
- A person who demonstrates proof of vaccination against COVID-19 shall be treated for all purposes the same as a person who has tested negative for COVID-19 and shall be entitled to a wristband. Its up to each member’s office to determine whether to require a wristband for entry into their office.
- Members and employees of the senate shall wear masks in common areas
- Members are not required to wear masks while seated at the dais
- The Senate may take appropriate measures to address if the House approves a different standard of COVID-19 procedures
The resolution also:
- Clarifies duties of the Speaker Pro Tempore and allows Speaker to designate a priority list of members who may call the House to order in the Speaker’s absence
- Directs House Appropriations to hold at least one interim hearing on Legislative Appropriations Requests for state agencies with greater than $40 million in appropriations
- Revises media access procedures and credentialing operations through House Administration
- Modifies committees by:
- Establishing that the Chair of House Ways an Means may not serve on any other substantive committee
- Placing restrictions on the number of substantive committees the Speaker Pro Tempore may serve
- Creates special rule provisions that:
- Require special rules to be activated or deactivated by the House (special rules were initially activated upon adoption of HR 4)
- Establish masking and distancing requirements for the House floor and committee chambers
- Establish where members may vote -- the floor, the House gallery, and adjoining rooms
- Require committee members to be present to vote on bills, but only two members are required in the committee room to fulfill quorum requirements and take testimony
- Specify several methods for the public to participate in committee hearings digitally in addition to in-person participation