Abbott mourned the loss of lives and livelihoods to the pandemic while acknowledging the improvements made since last March, stating, “Texans are returning to work. Students are returning to school. Families are reestablishing routines. With each passing day of more vaccinations and increased immunity, normalcy is returning to Texas.”
“Texas was the first state to vaccinate more than a million residents, and just two weeks later, we exceeded two million vaccinations,” said the governor.
Abbott outlined five emergency items for this legislative session:
- Expansion of rural broadband access;
- Recourse for cities that “defund their police”;
- Bail reform;
- Election integrity;
- Financial protection from coronavirus lawsuits.
The first item acknowledges the lack of internet access in rural areas. He added, “From medicine to education to business, broadband access is not a luxury. It is an essential tool that must be available to all Texans.”
Eighty legislators advocated this over the interim and the federal government has already allocated $20 billion to the project across the country. But the costs of such an expansion, even just in Texas, are astronomical.
Abbott’s second and third emergency items highlight the state versus local divide, particularly as the governor has publicly sparred with Austin and Houston governments for their respective policies on police funding and jail bonds.
He added, “Texas has always been a law and order state, and we are going to stay that way. We will not let Texas cities follow the lead of cities like Portland, Seattle, and Minneapolis by defunding the police. That’s crazy. We will support our law enforcement officers, not demonize and defund them.”
Since last fall, concern over election integrity has abounded and a variety of election-related bills have already been filed by legislators this session.
His final emergency item concerns civil liability lawsuits against businesses that operated during the pandemic.
A border crackdown is necessary, Abbott stated, to prevent drug and human trafficking across Texas’ border.
Abbott then cited the need to protect First and Second Amendment rights, specifically stating he wants to see legislation passed that prohibits localities from shutting down any religious activity along with a designation of Texas as a sanctuary state for the second amendment.
While local officials pulled the trigger on closing churches, it was Abbott’s disaster declarations and the Texas Disaster Act of 1975 that opened the door for them — despite the governor’s halfway exemption for places of worship.
On the issue of abortion, Abbott advocated on behalf of Preborn Nondiscrimination legislation that prohibits termination of a pregnancy on grounds of immutable characteristics.
Touting last session’s school finance reform, Abbott said, “This session, we must continue funding education as we promised.”
“[T]o stay on top, to sustain this growth, we must continue to invest in our future, and that is exactly what we did last session when we passed sweeping reforms to our school finance system and made major investments in our students and our teachers.”
In a tacit shot across the bow of the New York Times’ “1619 Project,” Abbott added, “We must bolster civics education in our classrooms, and ensure every child learns the values of freedom, good governance, and patriotism.”
On fiscal issues, Abbott emphasized the need to balance the budget without raising taxes and continuing the state’s remarkable economic growth of the past decade.
“[I]f Texas was its own country, we would now have the ninth-largest economy in the entire world. There is no brand more powerful than ‘Made in Texas.’”
Rep. Chris Turner (D-Grand Prairie), chair of the Texas House Democratic Caucus, gave the minority party’s response in which he stated, “The governor’s speech was notable only for what he did not say: no mention of increasing health care access to millions of uninsured Texans, no mention of policing and criminal justice reform, no mention of gun violence in the wake of El Paso and Odessa and no relief from the STAAR test.”
With an emergency item designation, the typical 60-day start date for the legislature to consider legislation can be bypassed.
Read the full text of the address here.