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87th Texas Legislature convenes this week

TEXAS STATE CAPITOL, AUSTIN

New House speaker lays out challenges

The 87th session of the Texas Legislature opened Tuesday with COVID-19 encompassing every aspect of what the lawmakers do, according to new House Speaker Dade Phelan.

“COVID, obviously, it will be a blanket over the entire session,” Phelan told his hometown TV station, KFDM Channel 6, in Beaumont. “We will deal with it in every aspect of policy. It will be a huge determining factor in the budget.

Before the pandemic hit, Phelan said, legislators “were supposed to come into this budget cycle with a surplus, and now we’re coming into it with a deficit …” Money will be even tighter for the next two-year budget lawmakers write during the session, he said.

“The No. 1 goal is to get the economy back on track,” Phelan said.

For opening day, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and State Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth and chair of the administration committee, laid out safety protocols for lawmakers and visitors to follow at the Capitol, which recently reopened after closing in March because of the pandemic. The opening ceremony was scheduled to be shorter than usual to reduce time spent gathering.

“It’s always been difficult to be speaker. It’s never been easy, but going into this session, the 87th, given the budget deficit, redistricting, and the fact that we have the first pandemic in 102 years in which to operate, I’m exceptionally proud they’ve given me this honor,” Phelan said of the bipartisan coalition of lawmakers that voted for him to be the new speaker.

Phelan, a Republican, stressed the bipartisan spirit of Texas and cited how well former Gov. George W. Bush worked with Democratic Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock during their time serving together at the Capitol.

“That is the Texas model. We’ve always worked that way,” Phelan said. “If you’re sitting at the speaker’s dais and you’re looking at all the chairs in the House chamber, there is no left side or right side, red, blue, like there is in Washington, D.C. We all sit amongst each other.”

Lawmakers are scheduled to be in session until May 31.