Back in Session: Texas Legislature Has a New Set of Challenges to Tackle in 2021

LiLi Xiong, Staff Writer

It’s that time again time for the biennial Texas legislative session, a meeting that could perhaps provide a chance to pass the legislation needed for Texas to recover from all that has happened in 2020. For the unemployed, the uninsured and struggling families, this legislative session could act as a lifeboat in the vast ocean of uncertainty that symbolizes 2021. For lawmakers, this legislative session could act as just another chance to reject the extension of Medicaid and to hold on to their chances of re-election.

Regardless of political stance, it’s clear to every Texan that the state’s economy is in a dire situation. According to the Economist, Texas’ dwindling oil and gas industry, coupled with decreasing sales tax revenue, has contributed to our state’s relatively high unemployment rate. The biggest ally to the Texas economy this year has been federal aid, as $13 billion have been allocated to our local governments. With a Democrat-controlled United States Senate and the incoming Biden-Harris administration, these funds are likely to increase. Texan leaders such as Governor Greg Abbott were known for criticizing the Obama administration, and Texas sued his administration 44 times, more than any other state. It’s important, now more than ever, for Texas leaders to not show the same hostility to the new administration our state funding could depend on it.

Perhaps the most pressing matter that needs to be addressed in the upcoming legislation is health care. Texas has been notorious for not extending Medicare due to claims that it is too costly. Of course, that isn’t entirely true — the federal government would take care of 90% of the cost. People’s health coverage is determined by their employment, and during a pandemic that has put so many out of their jobs, many more people are now living uninsured. Access to healthcare is a human right and deserves to be a major topic in the legislative session, especially during a pandemic.

Another major issue that needs to be discussed is Texas’ increasing population. Many are incentivized to move here because we don’t have to pay income tax, but that might not be sustainable for long. Without guaranteed healthcare for everyone and skyrocketing local property tax rates, it’s wise to invest in improving living conditions for future population growth. However, Republicans are generally unwilling to make these kinds of investments. We’re in the middle of a pandemic, and neglecting the overwhelming  health-related needs of the Texas population undergoing a health crisis could be laughable if there weren’t more than 30,000 Texans dead at the hands of COVID-19 and overfilled hospitals across the state.

Regardless of how the healthcare debate is going to go, COVID-19 has already struck the capitol building as a result of the session. State representative Joe Deshotel announced his positive COVID-19 test after the first week in the session. Lawmakers are trying to be careful without seeming like they care more about their health than that of the citizens. For example, if they ended up closing the building, it would be hard to make the case that schools and businesses should be kept open. If they keep constituents out, it would be hard to make the case that the unheard are being heard. This is the dilemma of the Texas legislative session. The responsible thing to do would be to host a virtual session and pass legislation that would aid everyday families financially and medically.

Many people saw this year as a fresh start and a way to heal the terrible wounds this state has suffered from the pandemic. It’s vital that the Republican-dominated state legislature finds it within themselves to do what’s best for the people of Texas.