After nearly 10 months of being in Austin for session (through May) and 3 different 30-day special sessions, I am thrilled to finally be back home. The 3rd–and hopefully final–special session ended a little after 1am Tuesday morning. After dealing with topics like election integrity and a 13th check for retired teachers in the previous special session, Governor Abbott put ten items on the call for this third special session:
- Appropriating federal relief and recovery funds,
- Prohibition on COVID vaccine mandates from government entities,
- Transgender athlete participation in UIL sports,
- Dog tethering,
- Property tax relief (added with 28 days remaining in the special),
- Bail reform constitutional amendment (added with 28 days remaining in the special),
- Increases in penalties for illegally voting (added with 20 days remaining in the special),
- Prohibition on COVID vaccine mandates from all entities (added with 8 days remaining in the special),
- Higher education improvements (added with 4 days remaining in the special)
As a reminder, when we are in a special session, we cannot pass bills that are not on the Governor’s agenda.
The biggest and absolute MUST-PASS item was redistricting and we were able to pass all of the necessary maps on time. Every ten years, the Texas Legislature is tasked with drawing the districts for the Texas House, Texas Senate, State Board of Education, and Texas’ Congressional seats. Our state’s growth over the past ten years resulted in Texas gaining two seats in the US House of Representatives, which means two additional congressional districts had to be drawn into the state.
Closer to home, our Texas House district (HD-69) needed to grow by about 30,000 people. To gain that population, the district is growing from 6 counties (Archer, Baylor, Clay, Foard, Knox, and Wichita) to 14 counties (by adding Cottle, Fisher, Hardeman, Haskell, King, Motley, Stonewall, and Wilbarger).
Of those 9 items listed above, there were a couple of topics that did not make it across the finish line. The most notable issue that did not make it to the Governor’s desk was the prohibition on COVID vaccine mandates. I supported legislation that would have protected individuals from mandated vaccination by either the government or business owners, but in the end the votes were not there to get something passed out of either the House or Senate. The Governor did issue an executive order that accomplishes the same thing and that is effectively law until his emergency declaration on COVID expires.
Below, we have provided a brief breakdown of each of the bills passed this special session. If you have any questions about what passed (or did not pass) over the past ten months, please reach out to me or my office.
The Cost of a Thankless Heart, The Importance of Being Grateful, and Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation November 26, 2021
“Never in the history of man have so many had so much, and thought they had so little.”
This in my estimation is American life in 2021. By just about any measure of material well-being, Americans are fantastically wealthy compared to the vast majority of people alive in the world today and certainly at any point in world history. Yet, if our suicide rates, drug usage and reported mental health problems are any indication we are an increasingly unhappy people despite our abundant wealth. While many will point to increased income inequality as the culprit, today’s poor in this country are fabulously wealthy compared to most other countries and, again, any earlier time.
It’s almost as if there is more to life than material possessions. While there are many issues at the heart of our collective unhappiness as a country, I believe one of the root causes is that as a culture and as individuals, we have lost our sense of gratitude and have forgotten the source of our blessings. We live in a world with dueling ideologies where the worst of one side has made the pursuit of money (greed is good) a god that will somehow satisfy, while the worst of the other extreme has made an idol out of envy and jealously of anyone who has more than they do (regardless of their own blessings). Regardless of whether envy or greed, the result is feeling that you never have enough.
I am certainly not immune to this thankless attitude that seems to permeate our society. It is why I think having a national day of Thanksgiving as a country is such a potentially important day. Imagine if everyone focused on what they as individuals have for which to be thankful. Imagine if we actually acknowledged the source of these blessings as a country, instead of looking at what we don’t yet have or what someone else has that we don’t.
I realize that many of you may be going through trials that make you feel as if Thankfulness is unattainable for you or somehow you don’t need to be grateful. This is why every year I reread the Thanksgiving Proclamation of Abraham Lincoln, who did not allow the bloodiest war in American history from deterring him from giving thanks. In fact, I would guess that his willingness to recognize his (and this country’s) many blessings and their source, was likely the only thing that sustained him during some of the darkest hours in our county’s history.
For many of us, the best thing we could do for our mental health and for the well-being of those around us would be to cultivate gratitude and be the kind of people who are focused on the gifts we have received rather than the things we do not have. We compare our wealth to the titans of industry, our looks to the most beautiful in Hollywood and our athletic prowess to professional athletes. Meanwhile in the real world, we could simply spend any amount of time with real people in our own cities to realize just how blessed most of us are.
It is my hope that you have a happy and truly thankful Thanksgiving with family and friends.
It is difficult to get the necessary votes to get an amendment on the ballot. As such, most (but certainly not all) amendments are fairly non-controversial and easily approved by voters. While they are all important, Proposition 6 has a special place for me as it is the result of a ton of hard work by my staff and individuals across the state to ensure that nursing home residents are never again denied their right to in-person visitation by a loved one. In addition to Prop 6, I will be voting in support of 7 of the 8 amendments.
The proposed amendments are as follows:
Proposition 1: Allows charitable foundations linked to professional rodeo associations to conduct raffles.
Proposition 2: Provides municipalities the authority to finance infrastructure in underdeveloped areas.
Proposition 3: Prohibits the state from limiting religious services.
Proposition 4: Raises the qualifications to serve as a judge or justice on certain courts.
Proposition 5: Allows the State Commission on Judicial Conduct to investigate and take action against judicial candidates in the same manner as they do for sitting judges.
Proposition 6: Establishes the right of individuals in long-term care facilities to designate an individual as an essential caregiver for in-person visitation.
Proposition 7: Places a tax freeze on school district taxes on the homesteads of eligible surviving spouses of disabled individuals.
Proposition 8: Creates a property tax exemption for the surviving spouse of a servicemember killed in the line of duty.
We’ve included a more in-depth explainer on each proposition below. The Texas House Research Organization also has produced a good non-partisan briefing on the amendments that you can read here. As always, feel free to reach out with any questions you may have.
Finally, I want to say thank you to you-the people who work and live in Archer, Baylor, Clay, Foard, Knox, and Wichita Counties. This was the 5th regular session that I have had the honor of representing you in Austin. Even though sessions are full of hard work, long hours, and a long time away from home, I know what a privilege it is to do this and continue to appreciate the support and faith shown in me.