COVID-19, delays with the 2020 Census and the election of a new speaker made for a slower than normal start to the session. Now inclement weather, record breaking in some parts of the state, is forcing the Legislature to slow down even more than they already had – rolling blackouts and icy roads make any attempts to meet in Austin challenging and make even virtual meetings difficult. All of which made for another slow legislative week as many people focus on just getting through the arctic blast as best they can.
TAC on the Lege Postponed
Due to the hazardous weather conditions accompanying the artic blast and the resulting power outages, this week’s TAC on the Lege has been postponed. Look for our video series discussing the session’s events and issues to return next week. In the meantime, check out our previous video coversations on YouTube.
Governor Abbott Declares ERCOT Reform an Emergency Legislative Item
On Feb. 16, Gov. Abbott declared the reform of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) an emergency item for the 87th Legislative Session. More than 4 million Texans were without power. The Governor called on the Legislature to investigate ERCOT over the continuing power outages the state has experienced this week.
See this article for more on the Governor’s and the Legislature’s response to the power outages. The Governor and other state officials offered an update on the state’s continued recovery on Feb. 17 and directed Texans without power to a list of the state’s warming centers; information is also available by dialing 2-1-1.
The Governor and other state officials held a news conference on the state’s continued recovery on Feb. 17. Nim Kidd, chief of the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM), reported that there are more than 300 warming centers across the state run mostly by local governments. Texas residents living within city limits can call 3-1-1 for warming center locations and those living outside city limits can call 2-1-1. Chief Kidd directed Texans to the map of the state’s warming centers located on the TDEM website. Abbott also said he plans to waive licensing regulations for plumbers to meet the coming demand for repairing damaged water pipes due to the extreme weather.
Budget Hearings Cancelled
Due to inclement weather, the Senate Finance Committee (SFC) cancelled its hearings scheduled for the week of Feb. 15. SFC was scheduled to continue its hearings on SB 1, receiving testimony from the public safety and corrections, natural resource, business and economic development and regulatory agencies, the public and stakeholders this week. Instead, these hearings are delayed until the week of Feb. 22.
The House Appropriations Committee was scheduled to begin its hearings on Feb. 16, with overviews of the House budget recommendations for the 2022-23 biennium, the Biennial Revenue Estimate, Texas’ constitutional spending limits, the Economic Stabilization Fund and the state and federal responses to COVID-19. These overviews were to continue Feb. 17 with briefings on public and higher education, the Employee Retirement and Teacher Retirement systems and sunset recommendations affecting the budget, like the review of the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement. The HAC hearings were also delayed and rescheduled to next week.
House Appropriations Subcommittees Assigned
Rep. Greg Bonnen (R-Friendswood), chair of the House Appropriations Committee, unveiled subcommittee assignments on Feb. 18.
Foreclosure Moratorium Extended to June
The White House announced on Feb. 16 that the foreclosure moratorium and mortgage forbearance will be extended to the end of June. These actions further extend an order by President Trump, that President Biden, on his first day of office, extended through the end of March.
The departments of Housing and Urban Development, Veterans Affairs and Agriculture will work together to enact the actions, according to Tuesday’s announcement. Resources for homeowners will be consolidated on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's website. The website also has resources for renters although the announcement does not include an extension of the eviction moratorium that President Biden extended through the end of March.
TCEQ Issues Notices Regarding Water and Wastewater Systems
On Feb. 18, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) issued a notice regarding water systems “to ensure safe drinking water for this severe weather storm.” The notice includes needed information and links to resources for emergency managers.
On the same day, TCEQ issued a second notice regarding wastewater systems. In addition to important information on reporting system failures and outages, the notice provides links to resources for wastewater system officials.