State Reps. Harless, Swanson reflect on 87th legislative session bills, events from pandemic to Winter Storm Uri

The Houston Northwest Chamber of Commerce hosted the State of the State luncheon June 10. (Kim Giannetti/Community Impact Newspaper)
The Houston Northwest Chamber of Commerce hosted the State of the State luncheon June 10. (Kim Giannetti/Community Impact Newspaper)

The Houston Northwest Chamber of Commerce hosted the State of the State luncheon June 10. (Kim Giannetti/Community Impact Newspaper)

Two Spring state representatives reflected on Texas’ unprecedented 87th legislative session amid the coronavirus pandemic and Winter Storm Uri at the Houston Northwest Chamber of Commerce State of the State luncheon June 10.

State Rep. Sam Harless, R-Spring, and State Rep. Valoree Swanson, R-Spring, spoke on the 7,184 bills passed in the 87th Legislature touching on topics such as Electric Reliability Council of Texas and criminal justice reform, gun safety and protecting senior living facilities from flooding.

At the beginning of the session, Winter Storm Uri hit Texas, leaving many without power for days, Harless said. There were about 150 confirmed deaths as a result of the storm and power outages.

“In 2011, we had Senate Bill 1133, and [ERCOT was] supposed to do reports yearly to make sure that we were winterized in our infrastructure, and they didn't even map critical infrastructure,” Harless said. “When we asked for the reports, we got one another for 2012 ... and we found 26 different areas that needed to be addressed."

Gov. Greg Abbott signed SB 2 and 3 into law June 8, which penalize ERCOT $1 million for noncompliance and ensure board members live in Texas. Harless said this follows public criticism of several former ERCOT board members who did not reside within the state.

“I've never met an individual more arrogant in my entire life,” Harless said. “When he said we were four minutes and 37 seconds from ... 90% of Texans not having electricity for three to six months. We were that close to the grave crash."

As crime rates continue to rise in Harris County, Harless also authored a bill that will not allow those arrested for violent crimes to be released on bond until authorities notify the victim and their bond release information is put in a statewide database to be available for police. HB 766 goes into effect Sept. 1.

“Murders in Harris County are up 35% this year,” Harless said. “That’s totally unacceptable. See us go back for a special session coming up pretty quick, and bail reform has got to be one, and it needs to be.”

Harless then touched on his bill that would prohibit senior living development to take place within flood plains. According to the bill analysis, recent flood events have necessitated evacuations, sometimes requiring high-water rescue vehicles.

“That was a promise I made to the people when we were evacuated,” Harless said. “That would not happen in the future.”

Pandemic-related effects have likewise had a sweeping effect over the legislative processes. Due to the U.S. Census Bureau being slow to release population information, redistricting and primaries will be held later in the year, Swanson said.

Swanson also expressed concerns for individual rights in the pandemic. She sponsored bill HB 1500, which blocked the state’s ability to prohibit firearm sales during emergencies and will go into effect Sept. 1.

“Right when you need to protect your family, that could be when somebody is trying to shut all that down, and we don't want that to happen again,” Swanson said.

Swanson also talked about the constitutional and permitless carry for those over the age of 21.

“It makes me just as big as that 350-pound linebacker and women wanting to be able to protect their families, their children, and I really like that,” Swanson said.


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