87th Texas Legislative Session Begins With Heightened Security, Virus Protocols

Lawmakers meet during a pandemic, and have 140 days to conduct the state's business.

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In a nearly unanimous vote, Texas House members elevated Rep. Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) to Speaker of the House Tuesday as the 87th Texas Legislature began in Austin under heightened security and new COVID-19 protocols.

“Let us unite in one common purpose to do what is right for the people of Texas,” Phelan said in his remarks to the Texas House of Representatives. 

He takes over during a pandemic in which more than 13,000 Texas were hospitalized with COVID-19 through Monday.

 “This is going to be one for the books," Phelan said in an interview Monday. " It’s our first time in 102 years that we are going to convene during a pandemic."

Addressing the coronavirus pandemic and the issues around is high on the list of priorities for lawmakers.

“COVID-19 has been lingering over us since last year, and so we definitely want to address the needs of our educational institutions, the health care system," Rep. Nicole Collier (D-Fort Worth) said. "We need to address our budget, and of course, redistricting, and criminal justice issues are just definitely top priorities in my opinion as we go forward."

COVID-19 tests were required to get into the capitol for opening day. Both the House and Senate will discuss rules and operating procedures regarding COVID-19 in the next few days.

Bob Garrett, Austin Bureau Chief for The Dallas Morning News, joins NBC 5 to discuss the opening of the 87th Legislature on Tuesday.

Business is underway in the Senate too, where Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) gaveled the body in.

New state Sen. Drew Springer (R-Muenster), who defeated Dallas salon owner Shelley Luther in a high-profile runoff election in December, has already filed a bill limiting the governor's powers during a pandemic.

“One of the things people talk about, you know is, 'All you are going to do is the budget, redistricting and COVID.' You know look, I bet we still find a way of filing 6,000 bills," Springer said. "Now, I don't know if they all get, as many get heard, but there are a lot of little issues that we are working."

On top of it all, they meet with heightened security following last week's storming of the U.S. Capitol.

“I’m confident in the work they are doing. I have seen an increased presence around the Capitol and in Austin all together,” Collier said.

“I do feel comfortable in Texas. I don't think we are going to see anything like that but we definitely have a few more hands on from DPS today at the Capitol,” Springer said.

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