What passed — and didn't — during Texas' third special legislative session
Lawmakers adjourned sine die in the early hours of Tuesday morning, securing changes to the state’s political maps and other conservative goals.
The fourth legislative session overall of 2021 looks to be the last. Leaders of both the state House and Senate gave no indication they expect to be back for more, and a Tuesday statement from Gov. Greg Abbott had an air of finality.
“The Legislature went above and beyond to solve other critical issues to ensure an even brighter future for the Lone Star State,” the statement said.
The major result of the third special session was creating new boundaries for U.S. Congressional and state legislative districts, which will determine who represents Texans in federal and state government for the next 10 years.
Despite Latinos and non-Hispanic whites having about equal numbers in the population overall, Republicans drew a large majority of districts to favor white, conservative voters.
Democrats objected to the passing of the new congressional maps overnight, but because they do not have a majority of the seats in either chamber, they were powerless to stop their colleagues in the GOP.
“It’s shameful,” said Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas. “And I’d love to be able to say it [is] a stain on the legacy of voting rights but that seems to be the playbook decade after decade after decade in this state.”
Abbott is expected to sign the redrawn maps into law. The civil rights group Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund has already sued.
“In all four of these redistricting maps additional Latino majority districts should have been created to reflect the growth of the Latino community over the past decade,” said Nina Perales of MALDEF in a Tuesday press conference. “None of them did."
Over 90% of new residents in Texas since 2010 are people of color.
Here’s a roundup of the rest of the major laws passed in the third special legislative session:
Trans youth athletes
Under a bill passed last week, public school athletes must play on sports teams that correspond with the sex assigned to them at birth. Abbott is all but certain to sign it, saying the bill protects “the integrity of Texas high school sports.” Opponents are worried it will increase the number of youth who consider suicide, and point to data from the LGBTQ advocacy group The Trevor Project that says this is already happening.
Zoe Nemerever, a political science professor at Texas Tech University, said there are very few trans youth athletes in Texas, so lawmakers are willing to look past their concerns to “[signal] social conservatism on issues of gender and sexuality to socially conservative constituents.”
Lawmakers decided how to dole out about $13.3 billion in federal funding from the American Rescue Plan Act. According to a joint statement from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a Republican, and House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, $7.2 billion will go to the state’s unemployment system, $2 billion to help hospitals hire more nurses during the pandemic, and “hundreds of millions of dollars for new hospitals and mental health services across Texas,” among other items.
The leaders said they are leaving $3 billion unspent for “future tax relief.” Congress banned using the money for tax cuts, but some states have challenged the ban in court.
Lawmakers agreed to send a constitutional amendment to the voters that would bump the state’s homestead exemption for school taxes to $40,000. It’s currently $25,000. Members of both parties agreed to the change, which if passed by voters in May, would reduce state income by over $600 million a year. Homeowners would save about $175 per year, according to Patrick and Phelan.
The “no-vaccine mandate” mandate
Gov. Abbott has already issued an executive order banning any entity in the state from requiring employees or customers to be vaccinated against COVID-19. But lawmakers did not follow his lead — neither chamber passed a bill to do the same thing.
A wide spectrum of business groups have pushed back publicly against Abbott’s order.
Nemerever said lawmakers' split with the governor on this shows they are worried about the potential harm it might cause.
“I think lawmakers are more attuned and closer to their districts about how the policies they pass will have real effects on the lives of their constituents,” she said. “They don’t want to go back to their district and have made things worse.”
House lawmakers did not take up a bill that passed in the Senate allowing a county chair of a political party to request an “audit” of the 2020 election. This was something former President Trump had wanted, despite having won Texas decisively last year.