Audio recordings of The Texas Tribune's live events series. Our events feature in-depth discussions with prominent elected officials and newsmakers moderated by Evan Smith and other expert journalists from The Texas Tribune.
For more info on Trib event, visit https://www.texastribune.org/events/ .
The Texas Tribune discusses how voting and elections could change in Texas
Heider Garcia, the Tarrant County elections administrator, and Isabel Longoria, the Harris County elections administrator, discussed the future of voting in Texas, a state with some of the nation’s most restrictive voting rules.
A Preview of the 2021 Legislative Session - Reporters' Roundtable
A month before the 2021 legislative session, much remains unclear, including how a session will work during a pandemic and what the priorities of the governor, lieutenant governor and House speaker will be, Texas Tribune reporters said.
The conversation, moderated by Tribune CEO Evan Smith, included Tribune political reporters Cassi Pollock, Alex Samuels, Patrick Svitek and Alexa Ura.
Following an election that largely maintained the status quo within the Texas Legislature, Pollock said Democrats’ inability to gain any seats in the House means they’ll have limited input on the state’s redistricting process. Ura said their level of input will depend on how early Texas receives census information, and that overall, she’d be surprised if the process was complete by the end of the session.
Other than redistricting, setting the budget and addressing the impacts of the coronavirus, the governor, lieutenant governor and presumptive House speaker, Dade Phelan, haven’t made their legislative priorities clear, Svitek said.
Conversations on how people will testify during the session are underway, Pollock said, and lawmakers are considering options such as limiting the number of people in the Capitol and requiring a negative COVID-19 test before entering.
“A lot of this is just really kind of up in the air and I think folks are … getting antsy on just having some answers and some clarity on what all this ends up looking like come January,” Pollock said.
A Preview of the 2021 Legislative Session - Meet The New Members
The state’s budget and redistricting, along with access to education, will be some of the top priorities for new members of the Texas Legislature as the state wrestles with soaring COVID-19 cases and a projected shortfall of nearly $5 billion.
“The more things change, the more things stay the same,” said Rep.-elect Shelby Slawson, R-Stephenville, adding that supporting law enforcement is also one of her top concerns.
The conversation, moderated by Tribune political reporter Cassi Pollock, also included Rep.-elect Eddie Morales Jr., D-Eagle Pass, and Rep.-elect Jacey Jetton, R-Sugar Land. Falling along party lines, the new members had different views for addressing the budget and managing COVID-19 during session, though all three said they supported Dade Phelan, the presumptive Texas House speaker.
The Republicans, Jetton and Slawson, said they wanted to reopen the economy to address shortfalls. While they supported safety precautions like wearing masks in their offices — members can make their own office guidelines — both said they didn’t want rapid testing to prohibit constituents from accessing members.
“This is the people’s house, and we need to make sure the people have access to us,” Jetton said.
Morales, the Democrat, said he wants to consider pulling money from the state’s “rainy day fund” to address the budget and would like to increase access to broadband and healthcare in the many rural counties in his district, the largest in the state. He also supports rapid testing in the Capitol and will require masks in his office.
A Preview of the 2021 Legislative Session - What The Women's Bloc Wants
Last legislative session, the Texas House had a “shocking underrepresentation” of women on its most powerful committees, said state Rep. Gina Hinojosa, D-Austin, in a conversation about what a group of women lawmakers wants to see in the upcoming legislative session.
“I think just the fact that we only had one woman on the Calendars Committee — the committee that sets the agenda for the entire House — was a hard pill to swallow.”
This time around, a group of Democratic lawmakers are hoping to change that, having formed an “Equity Caucus” to advocate for women’s equity in House leadership and pledging to vote as a bloc for the House speaker, going public with its pick of Dade Phelan.
State Reps. Hinojosa and Julie Johnson, D-Carrollton, spoke about what the women’s bloc is hoping for in the upcoming legislative session during a conversation with Emily Ramshaw, the co-founder and CEO of the 19th, a nonprofit newsroom focused on gender equity. Ramshaw is also a former editor-in-chief of The Texas Tribune.
Johnson said some Democrats and Republicans weren’t aware of women’s lack of opportunity in the House until the group of women lawmakers brought it up.
Now, Johnson said she’s hopeful the presumptive speaker, Phelan, will empower women in his administration, “giving women an opportunity to work hard, use the intelligence that God gave us and be smart leaders and participate in a high level in the Texas House.”
The representatives also spoke about the importance of health care, education, child care access and LGBTQ+ protections in the upcoming session. Johnson said the caucus will bring the perspective of women who have children and care for their families.
“Women are the glue of most households and women have to make tough choices,” Johnson said. “And we have to pick and choose what bills get paid when times are tough, and how to manage feeding our family, and how to manage educating our kids, and all the things that women and mothers have to do across the state.”
A Preview of the 2021 Legislative Session - What The Black Caucus Wanta
During the 2021 legislative session, the Texas Legislative Black Caucus will focus on continuing efforts to reform the state’s criminal justice system, said state Rep. Nicole Collier, the caucus’ first vice chair.
“We have different police departments with different policies,” Collier, D-Fort Worth, said. “We want to aim to provide uniformity, some type of consistent system, that people in Texas can look to and say, ‘This is what is expected of our law enforcement officers all across the state.”’
The conversation, moderated by Tribune political reporter Alex Samuels, also included state Rep. Harold Dutton, chair of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus. While Dutton said the caucus has long advocated for increased police training and oversight, widespread outrage following the death of George Floyd in police custody has heightened visibility of Black Americans’ treatment by law enforcement.
Still, Dutton acknowledged the challenges of reimagining policing in a Legislature where only a fraction of bills become law and in a state where some Republican officials, including Gov. Greg Abbott, have pledged to “back the blue.”
“All the good members of the Legislature will at least entertain the discussion about this, and let’s see if we can’t agree to do something that changes the outcome of policing in Texas,” Dutton, D-Houston, said.
Collier said the caucus also plans to address disparities in health care, which have been exposed with greater clarity by the coronavirus pandemic.
“For years we've had Texas Legislative Black Caucus members attempting to break down the barriers to access to health care and health services,” Collier said. “What this pandemic tells us is that we have a problem … in Texas, and now all the people are seeing it.”
A Preview of the 2021 Legislative Session - Writing The Budget
Editor's note: This session was recorded Dec. 4, when Sen. Chuy Hinojosa was vice chair of the Senate Finance Committee. On Dec. 9, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick appointed Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. as vice chair of the panel, replacing Hinojosa.
Two Texas lawmakers said despite an expected shortfall of almost $5 billion for the current two-year budget, they hope to increase funding for health care and broadband services in the next budget, without increasing taxes.
“In these times of economic uncertainty and high unemployment, tax increases are completely off the table,” said Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake.
State Sen. Chuy Hinojosa, D-McAllen, also joined the conversation moderated by the Tribune’s executive editor, Ross Ramsey.
Capriglione and Hinojosa said the state has an obligation to continue funding public education to keep the commitment made in the 2019 session.
As more people are relying on the internet for education and telehealth during the pandemic, Hinojosa said lawmakers also hope to create a plan to increase access to broadband services.
“Broadband speed, internet was not a priority, it was just a normal one of the key issues that we needed to address, but because of the pandemic, now it’s become a priority,” Hinojosa said.
Both acknowledged the challenges of navigating a session with a significantly decreased budget, but Hinojosa said it’s nothing the state hasn’t worked through before.
“We have so many tools in our toolbox that we’ll be able to work through it. It will be nothing compared to 2011,” Hinojosa said. “It will be some pain, yes, but nothing compared to 2011.”