Texans sound off on the 87th session


Dylan Ebs

A state representative reads out a bill during a Texas House floor session, trying to get her bill passed before key legislative deadlines. Every other year, the Texas legislature meets for up to 140 days to write new laws and debate bills.

This year’s Texas legislative session has come to a close. May 31 marked the last day of the legislative session and Governor Greg Abbott has until Sunday, June 20 to sign or veto bills passed during the session.  

In a session that the New York Times described as “the most staunchly conservative” in recent Texas history, bills regarding abortion, elections, and other issues have generated criticism from liberal organizations.

“I think the state government trying to restrict voting is a terrible idea,” junior Alika Kelly said. “It’s hurting the idea that people can use their votes to make a change as they can’t do it as easily.”

Jackie Schlegel, the executive director for Texans for Vaccine Choice, a group that lobbies the legislature on various vaccine-related legislation, said that this session has been a good one and applauded the passage of House Bill (HB) 2536.

“Our number one priority was HB 2536,” Schlegel said. “The state of Texas currently outlines certain conditions in which the state may not remove a child from its home or terminate parental rights. We added a line in there that says if you seek a second opinion from a medical doctor or you transfer your child’s medical care, that those are now protected by law.”

On May 19, Abbott signed Senate Bill 8, which bans abortions as early as six weeks during pregnancy. The bill does not allow exceptions for pregnancies that resulted from rape or incest, but does make an exception for medical emergencies. According to the Austin American-Statesman, the law is one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country.

“I don’t like Greg Abbott as a governor,” Kelly said. “He and the legislature are trying to pass or successfully passed laws that are irrational or hurting people’s rights or their safety.”

One conservative priority this session was limiting the governor’s power during a pandemic. House Bill 3, which has been sent to a conference committee, would give the legislature more power during a pandemic.

“[HB 3] has gone in through the House into the Senate, so both chambers have agreed we need to have a better cohesive approach to what happens during a pandemic,” Schlegel said. “This includes giving the legislature the right to act during a pandemic and not just leaving it into the governors hands, and we still have some bills that hopefully get through in the next 11 days. Also, it has been a much more respectful session than we have seen in previous years and thats been incredibly refreshing that legislators can disagree, but do so tactfully and respectfully.”

The COVID-19 pandemic affected the way that the legislature operated this session. Both the House and Senate required the wearing of masks, although those measures were recently removed. While some other state capitol buildings have been closed, the Texas State Capitol has remained open for the entire legislative  session.

“It just seems like the morale between all legislators is a lot higher which is very interesting because of COVID-19, you would think it would be more stressful, but the House and the Senate both worked through it,” Schlegel said. “They put protocols in place that they each felt were best. They were different protocols, but everybody was really respectful.”

The 87th legislative session is the first session for Representative Dade Phelan to serve as Speaker of the House. Phelan was elected speaker in January after the previous speaker, Dennis Bonnen, declined to seek reelection following the release of a tape where Bonnen disparaged other lawmakers and offered a conservative group media access on the House floor.

“I think [Phelan’s] done a really good job,” Schlegel said. “2019 was really difficult and I think part of that was there was just so much discourse with the speaker and there was just a lot of contention there, but Speaker Phelan has Democratic committee chairs, he has Republican committee chairs, and they have good balanced committees for the most part, and it seems like the legislators in general have come together to pass some really good things. I think it’s been a good session and I think we will see more of Dade Phelan.”

According to Texas Legislature Online, the House has passed 1,525 bills as of May 23. State Representative Sheryl Cole applauded the House for passing seven of her bills before a key midnight deadline.

“It’s important for progressives at the legislature to keep playing offense, even when we have to spend so much of our time on defense,” Cole said in a statement. “I’m proud that I was able to reach across the aisle and earn the votes needed to support our first responders, survivors of harassment, and small businesses. I am especially proud to have earned unanimous support of the House in naming a new state building the Barbara Jordan Building, honoring a noteworthy and towering figure of Texas history.”

High school students have the opportunity to get involved in the legislative process at the Capitol. Many legislators welcome high school students to be interns, and people of all ages can contact their legislators to get involved during legislative sessions. Schlegel encourages young people to get involved when the Texas legislature is in session. 

“The [Capitol] seems overwhelming and intimidating, but it’s actually really exciting and really fun and a lot of good things happen there too,” Schlegel said. “I would encourage anybody who has any interest, even if you’re not entirely interested to go and visit the state house and meet with your legislators. You can read about [the Capitol] in a book, but when you go witness and you go participate in the legislative process, it’s a whole new perspective.”