By the time you read this article, we will be in the final throes of the 2020 election cycle, and you have likely grown tired of all the commercials and/or have turned your TV set off altogether. I want to encourage you one last time to get out and vote for the candidates of your choice and tell your families and employees to do the same.
The 87th Texas Legislature will also be less than 100 days away from convening in regular session. Article 3, Section 5 of the Texas Constitution requires the legislature to meet every two years and is scheduled to start the second Tuesday in January (January 12th) and can meet for up to 140 days.
The typical session always starts with a bang — much pomp and fanfare are surrounding the opening day of the session — there is a formal swearing-in of those elected, each respective chamber adopting operating rules for the session, and leadership teams being set. In addition to new faces in the Texas House and Senate this session, we will also see a new House Speaker chosen.
Then a brief lull occurs. There is always a wave of excitement when committee assignments are made, but most of the time members spend on the floor up to that point is specific to resolutions recognizing, honoring and memorializing people, groups and events in Texas. Work outside the chamber is typically limited to the budget and emergency items identified by the Governor. When committees are named, they organize and start meeting and hearing bills. It reaches a fevered pitch around March.
Last session, the committees in both chambers worked on thousands of bills (7,795) and passed well over a thousand (1,560). The Texas House had 34 committees and the Texas Senate had 16. Although I have no doubt that both chambers will be COVID-ready, it is unclear exactly how the Texas House and Texas Senate will operate — what will be the rules for each chamber given the current environment, how will committees function, how will floor deliberations and votes occur, etc. Given these challenges and the new pandemic-requirements of mandatory facemasks, hand sanitizers, social distancing and room cleaning, I would surmise that it will undoubtedly take longer.
Ultimately, there is only one must-pass piece of legislation — the state budget. It will prove challenging to find the consensus here just as it has been challenging in previous sessions facing budget shortfalls (2003 and 2011). With the pandemic and the collapse of oil prices, the legislature appears to be facing a daunting multibillion dollar budget shortfall.
There is a slight caveat to the budget being the only required piece of legislation to pass in that once every 10 years, the legislature is charged with redrawing boundaries for Texas House districts (150), Texas Senate districts (31) , State Board of Education (15) and congressional districts (36+). Although there are many interesting redistricting stories from each decade starting in the 1980s and there are processes that occur if legislation is not passed, these are stories for another time.
At this point, you may be asking yourself how this applies to you and why should I care about the Texas Legislature and what happens in Austin. Although I can certainly understand the sentiment that the sausage-making process is not for the faint of heart and can be unpleasant, the final product should be of interest to all of us. The Texas Legislature establishes the framework for the operation of new car dealers in the state of Texas. Our franchise laws, dealer licensing, operation and repair of vehicles, financial product issues, titling and registration, vehicle fees, salvage issues, vehicle safety, emission reduction programs, vehicle warranties, and taxes are but a few of the issues that fall under the purview of the legislature — and the legislature will determine how they work in the future. In this publication of Dealers’ Choice, Bryan Case, the chair of TADA’s Legislative Committee, highlights several legislative issues being discussed by the committee that will be a focus for TADA this session.
With so much uncertainty surrounding the legislative session, personal relationships with our elected officials will be more important than ever. It is a relationship-based process, after all. Every legislator I have visited with talks positively about their dealers and what a difference they make in their local communities. Thank you for making that happen! It makes a huge difference for our lobby team here and in D.C. when we visit with state legislators and members of Congress. If you don’t know your local House member, Senator or member of Congress, now is a great time to get acquainted. You might want to keep their contact information handy. The 87th Texas Legislature is shaping up as one for the History books.
As a final note, I would like to thank the members who contributed to AutoPAC, TADA’s political action committee. These funds have helped us to support our legislative friends involved in campaigns this election cycle. If you haven’t contributed, please consider doing so. It is an investment in our future.