The Texas State Capitol is scheduled to open back up to the public Monday, after a months-long closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, there will be some newly implemented protocols.
A release from the State Preservation Board says the public will only be able to enter through the north door, masks worn over the nose and mouth will be required at all times while inside and guests will be required to social distance. There will be capacity limits. Also, there will be no public tours, groups or sponsored events and all deliveries will be left at the loading dock.
In addition, free COVID-19 testing will be accessible on the north plaza, and the entire building will be closed to the public on Saturdays and Sundays for deep cleaning. The building will be open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.
The 87th Texas Legislative Session convenes January 12 at 12 p.m. The House and Senate will manage public access to respective offices and assemblies once convened and rules are adopted. The state still does not have an official plan for how the session will open during the pandemic, but the Texas House of Representatives have outlined a framework for the opening ceremony.
Lawmakers will be offering a glimpse of how they plan to balance transparency with ongoing COVID-19 precautions. One thought is that virtual meetings and testimonies during session can help bridge the gap of access and all seem to agree that flexibility is key.
Already, certain issues are bound to be on the forefront including criminal justice, which has more than 800 bills filed pertaining to this topic.
The issue of cities using taxpayer money for funding lobbyists is predicted to become a bit contentious. The Texas Public Policy Foundation reported that more than $40 million of taxpayer funds were spent on lobbying in the 2017 legislative session.
The recent decision by the City of Austin to cut or reallocate up to $150 million from the city’s police budget has already caught the attention of Governor Abbott. Abbott has gone on record saying he wants this issue addressed this session, even vowing he will pursue punishing cities that “defund” police with legislation.
It is predicted that another push to legalize marijuana will be brought up again. Lawmakers in favor of the idea continue to address the fact that the state faces a $4.6 billion budget shortfall caused by oil prices plummeting during the pandemic and many anticipated cuts facing numerous statewide government agencies. Those in favor of legalizing marijuana feel that the economic benefits would be a positive for the state.
Other top issues that will have to be addressed will be balancing the state’s budget and the decennial process of redistricting. While the Texas Legislature has a fixed number of seats, the number of congressional districts can change every ten years relative to the state’s population.
The 87th Legislature’s regular session is expected to last 140 days ending on May 31. Prefiling began on November 3. As of November 9, a total of 541 bills and joint resolutions were filed in the House and Senate. In 2019, 820 bills passed during the 86th Legislature with an additional 25 bills being passed with provisions.