Eliminates and Adds Committees, Shuffles Rosters
A statewide elected official, the lieutenant governor presides over the Texas Senate for a four-year term and is chiefly responsible for its operations. Former state Sen. Dan Patrick (R-Houston), midway through his second term as lieutenant governor, has sole discretion on whether to continue, modify, or abolish standing committees. This function is among the most impactful of his powers and serves as one of the earliest indicators of the priority issues for a given session. An even earlier glimpse was Patrick’s successful push for a rule change reducing the threshold minimum of senators necessary to bring up a bill for consideration in the chamber. The fraction was reduced from three-fifths to five-ninths, or from 19 to 18 of the 31 total senators. In keeping with the staunch conservatism that ascended him to the second highest position in state government, Patrick then issued committee assignments that reduced the minority party’s influence.
The Senate makeup stands at 18 Republicans and 13 Democrats after Sen. Pete Flores (R-Pleasanton) lost his reelection bid to then-Rep. Roland Gutierrez (D-San Antonio). While Democrats gained that seat, their influence has nonetheless been diminished under the new rules and committee assignments. The number of committee chairs they hold dropped from two to one, and the Senate Committee on Intergovernmental Relations has been replaced with the newly-formed Senate Committee on Local Government. Where Intergovernmental Relations was a Democrat-helmed committee whose subject matter was heavy on local control matters, Local Government will be chaired by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) and is viewed by many as the likely landing spot for legislation that would further erode local interests.
Chairman Bettencourt served as Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector and authored last session’s SB 2, which made sweeping changes to Texas’ property tax laws. Newly-elected Sen. Drew Springer (R-Muenster) brings familiarity with county issues from his past experience as vice chair of the House County Affairs Committee, and fellow freshman Sen. Sarah Eckhardt (D-Austin) is fresh off two terms as Travis County Judge. Sen. Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio) will serve as vice chair. The nine-member committee is rounded out with Sens. Gutierrez, Bob Hall (R-Edgewood), Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville), Angela Paxton (R-McKinney), and the Senate’s second longest serving member, Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo).
Another new, or more accurately, returning, committee is the Senate Special Committee on Redistricting. Though 2020 U.S. Census results are not yet in-hand, they are forthcoming and will necessitate the redrawing of Senate, House and Congressional districts. With 15 members, the Redistricting Committee sits alongside Finance as the largest of the Senate committees. At the helm is Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston). Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa (D-McAllen) will serve as vice chair.
Further committee assignment highlights include the reconsolidation of the Senate Committees on Agriculture and Water & Rural Affairs into the Senate Committee on Water, Agriculture & Rural Affairs, the reformation of the Senate Committee on Jurisprudence, a return to chairmanship for Sen. Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown), appointment of Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) as chair of the Senate Committee on State Affairs, and the replacement of longtime Senate Committee on Finance Vice Chair Hinojosa with fellow Democratic Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. of Brownsville.
The full list of Senate committees and their membership may be viewed or downloaded at https://www.ltgov.texas.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/2021-Senate-Committees.pdf.
For more information about this article, contact Pete Winckler.