Week in Review: A Digest of What Happened This Week at the Capitol

The 88th Legislature has begun as have our weekly newsletters that will keep you up to date on the activities at the Capitol, especially those that relate to county government.

January 13, 2023

Legislative News

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On the 10th day of this odd-numbered year, lawmakers made their way from all corners of the state to commence the 140-day run of the 88th Legislature. Both the timing and the term are dictated by the Texas Constitution, objectively the second-longest and arguably the most prescriptive in the nation. The Capitol teemed with activity as lawmakers and their families jockeyed for space with hundreds of politicos and staffers, as well as tourists left to decide whether they were lucky or unlucky enough to have chosen that day for a visit to the nation's largest capital building.

House Elects Speaker
The lower chamber of our bicameral legislature was center stage Tuesday as it took up the business of electing its presiding officer. Two candidates vied for the top spot. There was little tension, though, as the votes were tallied — Rep. Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) had garnered support from all but six of his fellow House Republicans at a December organizational meeting. He bettered that total when his opponent, Rep. Tony Tinderholt (R-Arlington), won support Tuesday from just two: Rep. Bryan Slaton (R-Royse City) and Rep. Nate Schatzline (R-Fort Worth).

Jefferson County Judge Jeff Branick had the privilege of swearing in Phelan on Tuesday. Congratulations to the Speaker for securing the gavel for a second term.

Jefferson County Judge Jeff Branick swears in Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont)
on Jan. 10, in this image from the Texas House livestream.

Priorities Come Into Focus
Upon winning election as Speaker, Phelan addressed the chamber, offering the first public glimpse of his priorities for the session. Property tax relief was at the top of the agenda, followed by a call to improve health care, fortify the power grid, invest in infrastructure, expand high-speed internet and continue work on human trafficking and border security, among other priorities.

Several of those priorities overlap with those outlined earlier by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. Notable for counties is Patrick's support for construction of a state mental health hospital in the Panhandle and additional mental health beds elsewhere in rural Texas. Also notable is his call for the creation of a rural law enforcement enhancement fund, on which Patrick has stated that he looks forward to working with the Texas Association of Counties.

Gov. Greg Abbott will soon detail his priorities for the session, including the designation of some as emergency items, which allows the Legislature to begin work on those items before the session's 60th day.

Prestigious Title Awarded
The upper chamber had some business of its own to conduct. The Senate bestowed an honorary title called for by the Texas Constitution, President Pro Tempore. Each session, the body appoints its longest-tenured senator yet to fill that role. Serving his sixth term, Sen. Kelly Hancock (R-North Richland Hills) assumes the mostly ceremonial role, though Hancock will serve as Governor should Abbott and Patrick both be out of state.

Congratulations to Sen. Hancock on reaching this milestone.

Historic Firsts
Caroline Harris (R-Round Rock) became the youngest woman elected to the House when she won office last year at 28. Fellow freshmen Reps. Salman Bhojani (D-Euless) and Suleman Lalani (D-Houston) also made history, becoming the chamber's first Muslim lawmakers.

For more information about this article, please contact Pete Winckler.