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State representatives discuss upcoming legislative session

Michael Hutchins
Herald Democrat
State Rep Reggie Smith talks with Brett Graham during the annual Sherman Chamber of Commerce legislative event. The annual luncheon was replaced in 2020 with a video that was aired on the chamber's social media pages.

Area state representatives were in Sherman Friday to give an update on what will likely to be key issues going into the 2021 legislative session. The annual legislative update event hosted by the Sherman Chamber of Commerce featuring state representatives, and a state senate candidate, giving an update on the status of the state legislature and the upcoming session.

This year's update was a change of pace for the annual event, which traditionally is held as a luncheon at Austin College. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, organizers instead transitioned the event into a virtual format with videos of interviews by Brett Graham streamed on the chamber's social media pages.

"It has been an honor for us to do this for the better part of a decade now and we are so happy you are joining us today in learning what is taking place in the Texas legislative session for 2021," Sherman Chamber President Eddie Brown said.

Among the speakers during Friday's event was State House Rep. Reggie Smith, who spoke about both the upcoming session along with his first term representing Texoma on the state level. Smith was successful Tuesday in his bid for a second term representing State House District 62.

One of the first issues that Smith faced in his freshman year as a legislator was work in choosing a speaker of the house, following the retirement of former speaker Joe Strauss in 2019.

"That is fraught with its own set of challenges. So, I had all that going, and I think the lord blessed me and we were able to make it through it and have a good experience,"  Smith said, describing the decision of who to support in the race. 

Smith said the elephant in the room going into the next session is the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which is expected to restrict some access and space within the capital. Smith said he hopes to have opened access as much as possible prior to the session.

Last session, about 7,500 bills were filed with about 1,500 passing into law. Given the short schedule, Smith said it is a tight four-month time frame in the most average of years, let alone during a global pandemic.

"It is a challenge in any normal year much less with this COVID situation," he said.

New guy in town, took time to get to know people before making the decision on who he would support.

Smith and the other house representatives are expected to have several major decisions that must be made during the next session. Among those decisions will be an expected budget shortfall.

The legislature is also expected to start the process of redistricting, following the 2020 census, but Smith said all the data may not be available in time due to the public health crisis.

"I don't know that we will have the data when we need it," he said. "That is going to beg the question of if we have a special session or not."

Another topic that will likely come up during the session will be the emergency powers of the hovernor, which were used heavily during the pandemic.

The Emergency Declaration Act of 1975 gives the governor powers during an emergency, but Smith and others said it has never been used to the scale it was during the pandemic and was traditionally used in a more localize level during weather events. 

Reassess executive powers and limits of emergency declaration act of 1975. Has never been used on the scope that it was used during COVID-19.

Regarding the budget, State Rep. Drew Spring, who also spoke during the event, said he the state's rainy day fund could be used to offset some of the expected shortfall. While not the best scenario, Springer said the rainy day fund is there specifically for situations like this.

"It is not a shiny object that should never been touched," he said, noting it was used in 2019 for emergency relief.

Springer, who currently holds the District 62 seat, will compete with Shelley Luther next month in a runoff election for the Distict 30 State Senate Seat, that was recently left vacant by incoming U.S. Rep. Pat Fallon.

Luther, a salon owner, gained attention this summer when she was arrested during the COVID-19 pandemic when she defied state mandates regarding salons and other businesses.

During Friday's talks Luther spoke about her priorities, including pushes to limit government overreach into the private sector. This includes a reevaluation of the emergency declaration act.

"The government is not there to protect us — they are not," Luther said. "They are there to protect our rights."