Traffic Lawyers of Texas Final 87th Legislature Bill Report and Session Wrap Up

Jun 06, 2021

Summary

Whatever you thought the 87th Session of the Texas Legislature might be, the odds are, you were wrong.  Predictions of an uneventful session dominated by reactions to executive overreach during the pandemic and response to the crisis created when snowmagedon crippled the Texas power grid were wildly inaccurate.  Despite an anemic start, due in large part to the unseasonable winter storm, the legislature eventually reached full operating levels and advanced a higher percentage of bills to the Governor’s desk than in the previous two legislative sessions. 

Despite significant policy work on priorities set by leadership and both parties, what had been widely anticipated to be the “session of criminal justice reform,” saw very little accomplished in the way of addressing pressing concerns in all areas of criminal justice. From law enforcement accountability to bail reform, many “must address” issues were left unaddressed at the end of session. 

The 87th Regular Session adjourned sine die last week without much fanfare because of the pall cast over the proceedings by the prospects of a special session being called—perhaps as quickly as later this month. That unpopular decision was brought about by the House Democrats’ quorum-busting defeat of SB 7 by Hughes/Cain (election reforms). The story made national news, so you don’t need us to tell you what happened, but let’s just say “it didn’t have to go down like that” and leave it at that. What’s done is done.

After sine die, all the cards remaining to be played are in the governor’s hand. Only a governor can call the legislature back into session, and then only to address specific issues selected by the governor. While we await word on the scheduling of any special session, let’s break down what did and didn’t pass before the final meltdown.

Several bills we were tracking failed to receive final approval due to the fight over SB 7. Those included:

Of particular importance are the bail reform measures that were among Governor Abbott’s five “emergency issues” for this session, along with expanding broadband internet access, cracking down on “defunding police,” limiting civil liability for businesses open during the pandemic, and “election integrity” legislation. It’s that last one that got all the attention for failing on the final night of the session, but the governor also highlighted the defeat of HJR 4 by Kacal/Huffman and HB 20 by Murr/Huffman as reasons for calling an upcoming special session. The big questions now are, When will it be called? And what else will be on the call?

Everyone already expected a special session over redistricting to be called in October after the federal government’s release in late September of the required census data. Other issues are also likely to be added to that list, but if the legislature is to pass election reforms in time to be effective for the November 2 election—as well as a constitutional proposition on bail (such as HJR 4) to be placed on that ballot—those matters must be addressed sooner rather than later. As a result, we expect the governor to call the 87th Legislature into a special session later this month.

New Laws

As the dust settles, it appears that roughly 215 of the bills we tracked this session made it to the governor’s desk. That’s only 40 (15%) fewer than last session, despite all the additional headwinds faced by the Lege this year. We don’t know whether that’s impressive or depressing.

It will take us about a month to summarize all of the relevant new laws for our Legislative Update, but while most new laws don’t take effect until September 1, 2021, a few take effect immediately upon being signed. Here are some of the “immediate effect” bills that have already been signed into law:

Bills on their way to the governor’s desk after successfully running the legislative gauntlet before sine die include:

The governor has 20 days after sine die to consider whether to sign or veto bills passed in the final 10 days of a session—which is the vast majority of them. This session, that veto deadline falls on Sunday, June 20 (Father’s Day). To date, Governor Abbott has vetoed just one bill sent to him this session, but more are sure to follow.

Some articles that you might find interesting:

Posted by: Pat Monks