The 87th Texas Legislature will meet for 140 days beginning Jan. 12, and local lawmakers are concentrating on supporting the proposed coastal barrier and passing a challenging budget.

During a University of Houston-Clear Lake Pearland Campus event Dec. 9, Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood; Rep. Greg Bonnen, R-Friendswood; and Rep. Dennis Paul, R-Houston, gave a preview of the upcoming legislative session, which occurs at the beginning of every odd-numbered year.

Paul, the only engineer on the Legislature, said addressing flooding is his No. 1 concern. When storm surge comes in from the Gulf of Mexico, water rises like a wall over the land, and as it drains, it rakes debris over flooded areas, making it devastating, he said.

“I don’t wanna leave the Legislature without trying to address some of these things,” Paul said.

Last session, a Taylor bill helped fund three coastal barrier projects in the state. Now lawmakers will have to concentrate on the Coastal Texas Study, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers study of how to protect the coast and its communities from storm surge and major storms, he said. The study calls for various projects, including building thousands of feet of gates between Galveston Island and Bolivar Peninsula.

“That’s gonna have to be our No. 1 priority,” he said.

Bonnen agreed the coastal barrier is important.

“The coastal spine’s a huge priority not just for our region, but it has a huge national economic impact and import, so we’re all certainly supportive of that,” he said.

Taylor said the barrier is not just important for coastal communities but the largest petrochemical complex in the world that resides unprotected along the coast.

Additionally, lawmakers will be concentrating on passing the fiscal year 2021-23 budget for the state.

Before COVID-19, Texas had a booming economy. In May, the state comptroller predicted a state budget shortfall of $4.6 billion due to the pandemic. While the outlook is not as drastic today, it still is not as good as was pre-coronavirus, Taylor said.

Due to budget constraints, legislators will not raise taxes and will try to be as efficient as possible with every dollar, he said.

“It’s difficult, but it’s difficult [only] during the short term,” Taylor said.

COVID-19 has affected the U.S. census, which impacts how district boundary lines are drawn. If the Legislature gets the census data it needs during the session, it will not be until near the end, meaning lawmakers may have to reconvene for a special session in the summer to hash that out, Taylor said.

Additionally, with COVID-19 and social distancing, the Legislature will not be able to pass as many bills as normal. The pandemic affects how the lawmaking process works and slows it down, Taylor said.

“We’re not gonna be able to do as many bills,” he said.

Other priorities include segments B and C of the Grand Parkway, which run through the Pearland, Friendswood and League City areas; lowering health care costs; and making sure the commitment to funding public education through House Bill 3, passed last session, continues, the politicians said.