Traffic Lawyers of Texas Final 87th Legislature Bill Report and Session Wrap Up
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:
- HJR 4 (bail) – died in House
- HB 20 (bail) – died in House
- HB 492 (no-knock warrants) – died in House
- HB 2309 (disabled parking) – died in Senate – authors did agree to our amendments
- HB 2593 (THC edibles) – died in Senate
- HB 3413 (Occupational Driver’s Licenses) – died in the Senate-no hearing
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.
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:
- HB 54 by Talarico/Whitmire banning law enforcement participation in reality TV policing shows (effective May 26, 2021)
- HB 1024 by Geren/Hancock authorizing alcohol-to-go for off-premises consumption (eff. May 12)
- HB 2536 by Krause/Buckingham narrowing “neglect” circumstances in CPS cases (eff. May 15)
- SB 315 by Huffman/Hunter applying the Employment Harmful to Children offense to anyone under 21 years of age (eff. May 24)
- SB 1093 by Creighton/Metcalf relating to regional veterans treatment court programs (eff. May 28)
Bills on their way to the governor’s desk after successfully running the legislative gauntlet before sine die include:
- HB 385 by Pacheco/Hughes (probation reforms)
- HB 686 by Moody/Lucio (early parole for violent youthful offenders)
- HB 1925 by Capriglione/Buckingham (public camping ban)
- HB 3774 by Leach/Huffman (omnibus court creation bill)
- SB 69 by Miles/White (choke holds and excessive force)
- SB 111 by West/Collier (law enforcement discovery duties)
- SB 112 by West/Harless (mobile tracking devices and location data)
- SB 281 by Hinojosa/Lucio III (forensic hypnosis)
- SB 321 by Huffman/Bonnen (ERS cash benefit plans)
- SB 1827 by Huffman/Holland (opioid abatement account and settlements)
- SB 2212 by West/Thompson (officer’s duty to render aid to injured person)
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:
- “Democrats’ defeat of Texas voting bill adds an asterisk to Republicans’ ‘most conservative’ legislative session” (Texas Tribune)
- “Gun rights in Texas see major expansion as Legislature rejects bills to address gun violence” (Dallas Morning News)
- “GOP priority bail bill dies in Texas House after Democrats walk out on voting bill” (Texas Tribune)
- With feelings raw over voting bill’s demise, Texas Legislature wraps up—for now” (Texas Tribune)