Gov. Greg Abbott has said his priorities for the 87th Texas Legislature, which convenes in Austin on Jan. 12, include economic and workforce development, improving health care coverage and telemedicine access, addressing the state's rising homeless population and responding to cities that aim to reduce police funding. Redistricting is also expected to be a key focus of lawmakers through the session.
South Montgomery County-area legislators, including state Rep. Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands, and state Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, filed several bills and proposed constitutional amendments ahead of the 2021 session. Toth represents House District 15, which is bounded by Spring Creek and the West Fork San Jacinto River east of FM 2978, while Creighton represents Senate District 4, which reaches from Montgomery County through Kingwood and along the Gulf Coast to Port Arthur and Beaumont.
A December filing by Toth, who has criticized aspects of Abbott's response to the pandemic this year, was aimed at limiting the emergency powers of the Texas governor. Toth said his proposed constitutional amendment—House Joint Resolution 42—would eliminate a "catch-22" in state law preventing lawmakers from ending extended states of disasters and related executive orders by requiring special legislative sessions to be called for extensions to a state of emergency.
"Here’s the problem: If you don’t like the governor’s COVID-19 orders, I have to wait until January of the next odd-numbered year to stop them. The governor isn’t going to call a special session for me to stop his orders before then. And judges won’t give me standing to use the courts to stop the governor because, again, the Legislature is not in session. I know; I’ve tried," Toth said in a statement.
Other constitutional amendments proposed by Toth include HJR 7, which would limit state senators and representatives to serving in a maximum of six regular legislative sessions, and HJR 8, relating to property appraisals for residences when an owner qualifies for a homestead exemption.
Toth also filed 14 bills through November and December covering subjects such as abortion, child abuse, marijuana possession, high-speed rail projects and swimming pool-related covenants.
As of Dec. 23, Creighton had filed two bills coauthored by state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, along with several other Republican and Democratic state senators related to voting and public education.
The first, Republican-authored Senate Bill 208, would prohibit government entities from distributing any form of early voting ballot application. The bipartisan SB 215 would establish a new inspector general office at the Texas Education Agency "for the investigation, prevention, and detection of wrongdoing and of fraud, waste, and abuse in the administration of public education" by schools and agencies throughout the state.