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Visit San Antonio: Legislative Affairs, November 2020

Federal

While political posturing continues to control much of the news coming out of Washington, D.C., the country is moving towards a Presidential transition.  It also appears that the partisan control of the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives will remain the same, with some changes in the House and possibly several run-off elections in the Senate, as it was before the Nov. 3 General Elections.

The Bexar County Federal Delegation

Our federal delegation essentially remained the same, with the only change coming with election of Congressman-elect Tony Gonzalez for the 23rd District of Texas. He’ll be replacing retiring Congressman Will Hurd.

The Visit San Antonio Government Affairs Team remains engaged with advocating for federal assistance for the travel and tourism industry.  We continue to make the case of the importance of our industry to the national, state and local economies as we work with our federal delegation, the U.S. Travel Association and other travel partners and stakeholders to secure federal relief and funding for all of the businesses in our region. This would serve to not only help recovery from the impacts of COVID-19, but in becoming more resilient.

State

Approximately 66% of Texas’ 17 million registered voters turned out this general election cycle, a 6.6% higher total than 2016’s total turnout.  Roughly 10 million voters cast their vote early.  The 2020 general election was the state’s first, in recent history, without an option for voters to check one box to vote for every candidate from a single party.

The 2020 Texas election can be described as a “status quo” election.  Before the elections, the Texas Senate makeup consisted of 19 Republicans and 12 Democrats.  The new 87th Legislative Session will see a new partisan balance with 18 Republicans and 13 Democrats.  Former State Representative Roland Gutierrez beat Senator Pete Flores for the Senate District 19 seat.

In the House of Representatives, before the election, that body’s makeup was 83 Republicans and 67 Democrats.   Although unofficial, with a chance of maybe one or two challenges, the makeup for the new 87th Legislative Session will see no partisan shift with 83 Republicans and 67 Democrats, exactly the same as the previous session.

The hottest Texas political race to not see a public ballot is and will always be the Speaker of the House of Representatives.  With the early retirement of Speaker Dennis Bonnen, several veteran Democrat and Republican members of the House of Representatives began lining up in October to gain their colleagues’ support for the Speakership.  Soon after the Nov. 3 election, Representative Dade Phalen (Beaumont) announced he secured 83 members and members-elect, 53 Republicans and 30 Democrats, supporting his bid for Speaker of the House.  Ultimately, the number of supporting votes reached near 100.  While the vote for Speaker will not actually occur until the 87th Legislative Session convenes on Jan. 12 and all new members are sworn in, Rep. Phalen goes in as the presumptive Speaker.

Operations of the 87th State Legislature

Texas is a constitutional state that is required to meet in person.  Given the challenges of meetings during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Texas Department of Public Safety is working on guidelines for building security.  We anticipate there will be limited access to the Capitol complex.  It is also likely that there will be no large gatherings, inside or outside, such as county, city or organization days at the Capitol.   While there will be social distancing, mask utilization and hand sanitization stations in the Capitol complex, the Senate and House are still working on how business will be conducted.  Representative Bonnen has appointed former State Sen. Tommy Williams to lead a bipartisan committee draft policies and procedures for the House of Representatives.

The Bexar County State Delegation

There were only two changes to the make-up of our delegation.  As noted previously, Rep. Roland Gutierrez will be the new senator for Senate District 19 and Elizabeth “Liz” Campos will replace Rep. Gutierrez in the House District 119 he vacated to join the Senate.

87th Regular Legislative Session Update

Beginning Nov. 9, Senate and House members of the 87th Legislature began pre-filing legislative bills.  As of Nov. 13, approximately 750 pieces of legislation has been introduced by House and Senate members.  As expected, these bills cover a spectrum of issues from taxes, law enforcement, the minimum wage, paid sick leave, health care, redistricting and voting to COVID-19 and much more.

As previously reported, the Texas Comptroller is projecting a revenue shortfall for 2022-2023 biennium of $4.8 billion.  It is widely understood that any legislative proposal that seeks new funding will be placed under a “microscope” and face a tough migration through the legislative process.  Much of Visit San Antonio’s Legislative Program will be protecting previous travel and tourism funding levels, state agency, department, and programmatic operations to help our state’s economic recovery.  The Visit San Antonio Government Relations Team will be engaged with the state Executive and Legislative branches to reinforce the positive economic impacts of the travel and tourism industry to Texas.

Texas Travel Alliance (TTA)

The Board of Directors of the Texas Travel Alliance (TTA) has named Erika Boyd as the Association’s interim President & CEO and Executive Director of the Texas Commercial Airports Association.  In her new roles, Erika will focus on advocacy, elevating education and networking events, growth strategy management and value-added member opportunities that increase these already benchmark organizations.

Erika has been a part of the Texas Travel Alliance and Texas Commercial Airports Association for the past two years as Vice President of Government Relations and Communications.

“Stay Connected with Your Legislators for the 87th State Legislature”

As a reminder, the Texas Travel Alliance (TTA) has developed a text notification advocacy system for alerts, notifications and “calls to action” for the coming State Legislative Session that begins in January.  TTA anticipates that there may be limited access to legislators and their staff during the coming Regular and any Special Legislative Sessions.  The text system is a way for them to get information out to you and for you to contact your legislators, when necessary.

Please take a few minutes and text to 40649, type in Travel, and then hit send.  You will get a confirmation text with the opportunity to fill out your name, address and other contact information.

With the budget challenges facing the 87th State Legislature, it will be important that we make our voices heard for the support and promotion of travel and tourism throughout the state of Texas.

Local

With no new or amended Executive Orders from Gov. Greg Abbott, Bexar County and San Antonio are seeing a small increase in COVID-19 positivity rates. We remain in a Moderate risk rate locally.  As we approach the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, it is important to remember to practice proper hand sanitation and wear face masks and keep social distancing, as needed, to prevent the spread of COVID-19 to get our local economy not only on a recovery track, but to expansion levels we realized before the emergence of this pandemic.