The 2021 Texas legislative session was a substantial success for conservatives but more remains to be accomplished, according to a panel of political observers who say a special session is needed.
Kevin Roberts, CEO of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, hosted a discussion on the regular session June 1, with Derek Cohen, vice president of policy at the Texas Public Policy Foundation; Russ Vought, former director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Donald Trump, and currently president of the Center for Renewing America; and political consultant Tyler Norris.
The weekly TPPF livestream focused on the bills passed, the impact they will have and the work that needs to be done.
“This panel’s called More Texan Than Ever. And I think that was the animating principle of this legislative session, whether it was a civics bill, whether it was making Texas a sanctuary state for some of the more gun-grabbing impulses of the administration,” Cohen said. “All these things were accomplished alongside omnibus CPS (Child Protective Services) reform. All this was accomplished coming in under population growth plus inflation, $4.3 billion under population growth plus inflation, to be specific.
“That being said, is we are finding new ways to do what it is that makes Texas, Texas. We’re finding new ways of offering health care coverage,” he added. “One of the things that we’ve worked on this session was getting all these alternative forms of healthcare coverage through and getting those to a place where it’s workable for families. Again, the top-level analysis is Texas carved out its own solution in problems that plague many states.”
Roberts said the TPPF, which has existed for 32 years, closely follows the actions in Austin “not just for the priorities that our organization has, but the priorities of the conservative movement in Texas.”
He said this was “an extremely productive session. The Legislature got a lot done.”
But there was a low point too.
“That was, to be candid, largely overshadowed by what happened late [May 30] when a group of Democrats decided to show their backsides and abandon their posts, ignore the outcome of elections, which delivered a majority of people who supported election reform in Texas, and threw a real wrench in what we believe was the top priority for the legislature,” Roberts said.
That’s one reason why a special session is needed, he said. Texas Republican leaders are still debating the details of the extra session.
Vought said Texas is an important state for the conservative movement and he was impressed that legislation was passed to ban “state-sanctioned racism in the form of critical race theory.”
“Also, I would say the importance of where we are nationally, we have a left administration,” Vought said. “You have Congress that’s very tightly controlled by the left. And so the way that I would look at this session of Texas is progress. You know, we’re certainly not moving backward. We’re moving in the right direction.”
Roberts said some bills favored by conservatives didn’t pass this session. A bill preventing transgender athletes from playing in girls sports was signed into law in Florida but not in Texas.
“We couldn’t even get that to the governor’s desk in Texas,” he said. “That requires much more courageous leadership than what we’ve seen in the conservative movement. And I’m hopeful that the special session will become opportunities for our leaders of the conservative movement in Texas to realize that.”
Vought said passing the election integrity bill, protecting girls sports by banning transgender athletes from competing, and reforming Big Tech companies are crucial issues that must be addressed.
“We have the system of bail currently in Texas where dangerous, dangerous criminals are actually buying their way out on a fairly regular basis,” he said. “Just last year, we had a police officer slain by somebody who is granted bail. Now, other things that I think need to be added … include education reform.”
Cohen said bills on virtual education and charter schools ran into “some pretty severe headwinds in the opposite chamber” and didn’t become law.
“There’s not a lot of congruence on what that particular area is going to look like,” he said. “But that needs to be a prioritized item, doing better by the children of our state as well, in addition to that which the governor has already identified.”
Norris said he hopes the state continues to provide more protections against COVID-19 mandates.
“We did a great job of putting an amendment on a clinical course bill that essentially bans backseat passports in this state,” he said.
Vought cautioned state leaders to be “very careful about developing a reliance” on COVID-19 relief dollars. At some point, federal funding will end and state tax dollars will be needed to keep programs operating.”
Roberts said he has an idea how to spend the money.
“We would love to see Texas take some of that infrastructure money and finish building the border wall,” Roberts said. “Because, Lord knows, Biden and Harris aren’t doing a doggone thing about it.”