Every other year, the legislature of the Lone Star States convenes for 140 days for a regular session to carry out the responsibility of lawmaking. While the opening ceremonies of session have historically been carried out with much pomp and circumstance, the opening to the 87th Legislature was met with less fanfare and more COVID-19 precautions.
Both chambers met to swear in the members and elect the speaker of the House and the president pro tempore of the Senate, and then indicated that after the bodies solidify their rules this week, they will adjourn until Tuesday, January 26.
In the Senate, members were sworn in before a short address from Gov. Greg Abbott.
“We all need to come together and work together over the next 140 days exactly like we did last session,” said Abbott.
“Over the next 140 days, we have the opportunity to put Texas on a trajectory to make our state even more extraordinary. That means tackling [COVID-19] challenges, ensure better access to healthcare for all Texans; it means supporting our law enforcement officers and keeping our communities safe; it means safeguarding freedom for all Texans; and it means getting Texans back to work.”
After Abbott’s address, senators continued the tradition of electing the president pro tempore based on seniority, with the nomination this year going to Sen. Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury).
Though the position is mostly honorary, the pro tempore will perform the duties of the lieutenant governor in his absence and follows him in the line of succession for the governor’s position.
As he accepted the nomination, Birdwell expressed his gratitude to his colleagues, family, friends, and God.
Meanwhile in the Texas House of Representatives, Rep. Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) was nominated to be the speaker of the House by Rep. Will Metcalf (R-Conroe).
The presumption that Phelan would be the next speaker — something he announced in November — proved true when he was elected to the position in a 143-2 vote.
A few House members were not present at the ceremony on Tuesday and will be sworn in separately, including Reps. Michelle Beckley (D-Carrollton) and Ana-Maria Ramos (D-Richardson) who cited concerns about the coronavirus and “a threat of violence from several white supremacy anarchist groups.”
Reps. Drew Darby (R-San Angelo) and Tracy King (D-Batesville) did not attend and were sworn in separately because they both tested positive for COVID-19 and have been quarantined.
Both chambers will meet later this week to debate and vote on the rules for each chamber.
The Senate adopted a resolution to adjourn from Wednesday, January 13 through Tuesday, January 26.
Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston), who introduced the resolution, clarified that the Senate will still convene on Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. to adopt its rules.