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In Short Order, New Texas House Speaker Emerges

- 2021 Legislative Process Has Begun

As expected, members of the Texas House of Representatives quickly coalesced around a leader just days after it became clear that the partisan makeup in the lower chamber will remain unchanged after a furious election season. Rep. Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, broke out of the pack of announced candidates with a bipartisan and diverse majority of 83 supporters to stake his claim, with subsequent additions bringing the total to more than two-thirds of the 150-member body.

While the appointment doesn’t become official until the Legislature convenes Jan. 12, the early decision gives the presumptive speaker ample opportunity to begin building out the House’s leadership structure with staff, a team of committee chairs and vice-chairs, as well as general committee assignments.

Phelan, who served as a legislative staffer before joining the House as an elected member in 2015, served last session as chairman of the powerful House Committee on State Affairs.

There he oversaw passage of TAB’s successful efforts to restore more openness to government contracting transparency and quickly moved to provide a legislative correction to a state supreme court ruling jeopardizing the Texas Open Meetings Act.

Phelan will succeed Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, who was forced last summer to cancel his re-election plans and eventually relinquish his speakership following a political scandal. Bonnen was caught offering Empower Texans, a far-right extremist political group, House floor passes reserved for journalists in exchange for help in dispatching some fellow Republican members of the House.  

2021 Legislative Session Has Begun

As usual, lawmakers began pre-filing legislation on Monday, the first day they’re permitted to do so, but it’s clear that the overriding policy challenge of the session is the state’s two-year budget.

Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake, who co-authored TAB’s Open Government legislation in 2019, has been working on the budget as chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations for weeks. He’s joined in that effort by Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Plano, who chairs the Senate Committee on Finance.

Just how the legislature’s deliberations will play out remains uncertain, as they continue to grapple with the failure to control the COVID-19 pandemic. Public hearings and meetings, as well as constituent visits, may be forced to virtual settings.

TAB’s Legislative Day Conference Canceled

TAB’s biennial Legislative Day Conference – including the much-lauded Lawmaker-Broadcaster Luncheon – has been canceled as have most other similar events.

With the pandemic raging, health officials urging supreme caution as flu season arrives, many lawmakers and staff in physically vulnerable cohorts, a possibly still-shuttered Capitol, and an economic crisis that has sapped business travel budgets, TAB and similar groups have rejiggered advocacy plans accordingly.

Members can anticipate more TAB video calls with lawmakers in the coming weeks and early days of the session, with potentially small in-person gatherings as circumstances dictate and permit, and rest assured that nothing will be missed in our continuing efforts to protect and advance broadcasters’ interests.

Questions? Contact TAB’s Oscar Rodriguez or call (512) 322-9944.

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