Texas House Representatives discuss pandemic, 87th Texas Legislature during Texas Tribune Festival

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Neha Madhira | Daily Texan Staff

While uncertainty still remains about the next Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, legislators say the first thing to remember for the Texas House is getting things done.

To kick off the second week of the 2020 Texas Tribune Festival, four Texas House Representatives discussed the future Speaker and the priorities of the upcoming 87th Texas Legislature during the pre-recorded “The House Agenda” panel Monday morning. The panel featured Texas Representatives Sarah Davis, Donna Howard, Joe Moody and Four Price. 

The virtual festival, which will feature over 250 speakers, began Sept. 1 and will run through Sept. 30. 

In October, five Republican House members released a joint statement stating they no longer supported Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen after a recording scandal. Howard said she does not know of anyone who is actively campaigning to replace Bonnen for the Speaker position right now.  

“We are very focused on the pandemic and the economy and all the other things we’re dealing with right now,” Howard, D-Austin, said. “(We) want to get through this election first to see who all is going to be here to make the decision then.”

Davis, R-West University Place, said she has served for two speakers with completely different leaderships.

“The leadership totally changed when speaker Joe Straus retired and Bonnen began as speaker, and so I would anticipate that whoever the new speaker is will be all new leadership compared to the last session,” Davis said.

Price, R-Amarillo, said more details of who will be the Speaker will be revealed after election day. 

“All we know is that we are going to have (a Speaker),” Price said. “I’m not sure who it will be. I think we’ll see a lot more energy behind those races and have a much better idea as we head to the end of the calendar year.” 

Along with discussions about the next Speaker, representatives also spoke during the panel about the pandemic and Gov. Greg Abbott's use of executive power. When Gov. Greg Abbott made decisions about the COVID-19 pandemic, Howard said the Legislature was not included because it was not in session.

“If you really take a step back and go back to where we are, it is difficult for anyone to predict the future,” Price said. “I think the governor was in a very difficult spot to make decisions.”

Moody, D-El Paso, said a conversation needs to be had about executive authority. 

“The powers that are being utilized aren’t envisioned for a pandemic that lasts for months,” Moody said. “These are powers that were looked at for natural disasters, and this is a very new environment in which they are being used.”

Moody said the budget is important, but if people do not get answers on policing reform, criminal justice reform and racial inequalities, the 87th Texas Legislature will be a failed session. 

“(The budget) is the driver of all discussions,” Davis said. “Given the disaster at declarations we’ve been seeing and the growing tension between state government and local government and the power of the executive, I think that could be a really big issue.”