The following report follows the interview of Presumptive Texas House Speaker Representative Dade Phelan, conducted by the Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith on January 11, 2020. The interview can be found here.
The HillCo report below is a summary of remarks intended to give you an overview and highlight of the discussions on the various topics discussed. This report is not a verbatim transcript; it is based upon what was audible or understandable to the observer and the desire to get details out as quickly as possible with few errors or omissions.
Q: Reactions and expectations to the Comptroller’s revenue report?
- About as expected
- Challenge ahead of the legislature
- Texas will recover better and faster than other states
Q: Any budget areas off the table for cuts?
- Everything is on the table
- Number one budget priority is public and higher education, and that will still be the case
- Will examine everything holistically when considering cuts
- Balanced in a recession year before, will do it again
Q: Are you willing to look at adding new revenue sources? Ex. Taxes, Marijuana, Gambling, etc.?
- The budget the comptroller has reported is the budget the House will use
- Marijuana and gambling are brought up, but it’s a long-term commitment and will not fix current shortfall
Q: Why did you want to be speaker?
- Didn’t want to originally
- Pressure from GOP Members and election outlook for Texas House pushed me into speaker position
- Think it will be best for the House
Q: Given the events in D.C., do you worry about Texas Capitol safety? Are you planning on any changes to security?
- DPS and National Guard are on high alert
- Members constantly getting security briefings
- Increased security presence on the grounds
- We will not be unprepared, unlike the US Capitol, if something happens
Q: Do you believe the election was “stolen”?
- The process has done its work, and the president said there would be a smooth transition of power
- “Deep respect” for the process
- Votes were cast, tallied, and verified
- Capitol incident was unimaginable and unjustifiable
Q: Regarding Capitol access, there is a lot of talk about how COVID will affect access. How do you strike a balance between public access and public health?
- Pandemic means we need to balance public access with health
- As the vaccine rolls out and faith increases in public, more people will likely appear in the House
Q: COVID testing will not be required for anyone coming into the Capitol?
- No one will be required to test for COVID
- Members can run their offices how they prefer, including mandating tests, but this does not apply for the Capitol
- Masks, social distancing, hand-washing and sanitizing will be enforced in public areas, including the chamber
Q: What do you intend to do if members flout the mask rule?
- The House will vote on Thursday (Jan 14) to pass rules
- I will enforce whatever rules the House decides on without exception
- Scenarios for members who do not want to wear a mask or for those who would prefer for medical reasons to be seated away from other members will likely be included to allow them in the chamber but not on the floor
Q: What are the key policy areas to address for the pandemic?
- Need to improve health care capacity and response to health crises like the pandemic
- Economic deregulation, such as what the Governor did
- Rural health care including telehealth opportunities need to be expanded
Q: Is Medicaid expansion on the table?
- Probably not enough votes for expansion, likely off the table
- Will allow debate on the issue if a member brings it to the floor
- Improvements based on revenue neutral framework are likely
- Insurance coverage will always be an issue due to population size and growth
Q: What should the legislature focus be on speeding an economic recovery?
- Government needs to get out of the way and let people get back to work
- Tax increases would be bad for business and economic growth
- Deregulation will stimulate growth
Q: Governor has said no more government shutdowns of business. Do you agree?
- No more shutdowns of businesses. It is time to reopen the economy
Q: Was it a mistake for the Governor to issue orders without consulting the legislature or reconvening the legislature? Do you think that the legislature will pass legislation to prevent that from happening again?
- Chapter 4 and 8 powers are very useful for disaster recovery
- Governor did the best he could do to deal with the pandemic
- Hopes other members see the benefits of the fast response allowed by Chapter 4 and 8 emergency powers
Q: Is your goal to make session hard for cities and counties?
- My goal is to empower members and bring whatever legislation is important to their districts. I am not focused on anything other than the operation of the House
- I take no sides. I have a good relationship with my mayors and county judges
Q: Will a ban on taxpayer-funded lobbying have your support?
- Members have to get the votes and support to get the bill through committee to the floor
- Co-sponsored the bill last session, it has merits
Q: You said nothing was off the table for cuts, how certain are you that you will be able to find the money to fund the HB 3 reforms? Should people be worried those changes won’t be extended?
- We will do everything possible to fulfill the responsibilities of legislation, but it will go through the process
Q: Response to GOP Chair Adam West calling you a “political traitor?”
- No response to him
- As Speaker, I have a task to focus on and will not get distracted
Q: Will Democrats get Committee Chairs this session?
Q: Texas during the Obama years was anti-Obama policies. Will you repeat this opposition with the Biden Administration?
- Will work with anyone for the good of Texas and Texans
- I hope there is not an adversarial relationship
- Texas process works, while the D.C. process is broken