WEEK IN REVIEW
SENATE PASSES PRIORITY BILLS
(AUSTIN) — The Senate this week passed several bills listed as major priorities by Lt. Governor Dan Patrick. Though most bills are numbered in the order in which they are filed, Patrick reserves the first thirty numbers for legislation he feels are top priorities for the state. A number of these marquee bills were sent to the House this week.
The Senate passed its comprehensive winter storm bill Monday, aimed at preventing another days-long power outage as happened during the February storm. SB 3, by Georgetown Senator Charles Schwertner, would require all energy companies in Texas to weatherize critical infrastructure to stand up to a storm like the one that hit the state on Valentine's Day. Those who don't, or don't make a good faith effort to, would face an escalating series of fines, all the way up to $1 million per day. It also creates a warning system similar to existing alert systems, to warn Texans when they might be facing significant power outages due to weather. "This puts in place a 'power outage alert' which will essentially do the same thing, regarding alerting citizens that they need to take precautions: water, food, fuel up, basic things that would've helped a lot of individuals out if they had known they were going to be without power for four days," said Schwertner. This bill received unanimous support on Monday.
Early on Thursday morning, following hours of debate, the Senate approved a bill that makes sweeping changes to the state's electoral code that proponents say would improve vote security, though opponents of the measure said it just makes it harder to vote. SB 7 by Senator Bryan Hughes of Mineola, would bar counties from sending vote-by-mail applications to voters not eligible to vote by mail. It would ban drive-thru voting and requires all central counting locations to be monitored by video. Poll watchers would be permitted to take recordings of election officials they have a reasonable belief are violating state election code, though that video could only be submitted to the Secretary of State and not otherwise released. This bill was approved on a vote of 18-13.
Other priority bills passed by the Senate this week include:
- SB 5, by Jacksonville Senator Robert Nichols, creates a statewide broadband program to extend high-speed internet access to every part of the state
- SB 8, by Hughes, a "heartbeat bill", which would ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, typically around six weeks gestation
- SB 9, by McKinney Senator Angela Paxton, criminalizes abortion in the event that federal courts give states full authority to regulate abortion
- SB 12, by Hughes, would allow those who believe they were banned from social media platforms for expressing protected political speech to seek court orders reinstating their accounts
- SB 24, by Houston Senator Joan Huffman, requires law enforcement agencies to conduct criminal background checks on all applicants, to prevent bad cops from bouncing from department to department
- SB 30, by Dallas Senator Royce West, would strike racist restrictions against non-white Texans that still exist in the deeds of thousands of properties in the state. Though no longer enforceable, West said they are a painful reminder of the segregationist policies of the pre-Civil Rights era.
Next week, the Senate is expected to take up Senate Bill 1, the chamber's budget proposal for the next biennium.
The Senate will reconvene Tuesday, April 6, at 11 a.m.