AUSTIN, Texas — In this week's edition of Texas This Week, Philip Jankowski, politics reporter for The Dallas Morning News, joins Ashley Goudeau to discuss the bills filed in the Texas Senate this week aimed at increasing the reliability of the Texas power grid.
Three things to know in Texas politics
1. Filing deadline in the Texas Legislature
Friday, March 10, marked the 60th day of the 88th Texas Legislative Session, a critical date for lawmakers. It was the last day lawmakers could file bills and resolutions that impact the entire state. A total of 1,041 bills and resolutions were filed on Friday ahead of the 6 p.m. deadline. That brings the total number of bills filed this session to 9,114. Now, lawmakers can only file local bills, which are pieces of legislation that only impact their districts, or bills related to the governor's emergency items. The 60th day also marked the end of the constitutional waiting period for lawmakers to vote on bills, though the Senate passed its first bills of the session ahead of the date.
2. Texas Senate passes first bills of the session
On Wednesday, the upper chamber passed its first bills of the session. Both are the work of Houston Republican State Sen. Joan Huffman. Senate Bill 728 brings Texas in compliance with federal law for background checks for gun purchases. Last year, President Joe Biden signed the "Bipartisan Safer Communities Act," which enhanced background checks to include juvenile mental health records and intellectual disability information. That's information Texas doesn't report right now.
SB 728 requires clerks to report the information for Texans ages 16 and older to the Department of Public Safety, which reports to the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System. Sen. Huffman said the bill impacts school safety, one of the governor's emergency items, so lawmakers could vote on the legislation before Friday, the 60th day of the session. But after passing that bill, the Senate suspended the constitutional rule to pass SB 372. It makes it a Class A misdemeanor for anyone other than a judge or justice to release or leak a court decision. The bill is in response to the leaked U.S. Supreme Court draft opinion of the Dobbs decision that overturned Roe v. Wade. Both bills passed unanimously and now head to the House where the legislative process starts over with the bills being assigned to committees.
3. Man files lawsuit against women for helping his ex-wife get an abortion
A Texas man filed a wrongful death lawsuit against three women who he says helped his ex-wife get abortion medication. The Texas Tribune reports the abortion happened in July 2022, about a month after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade, but before the Texas abortion ban went into effect. Still, it was illegal in Texas to provide abortion-inducing medication, except in specific cases, and the state law allowing citizens to sue anyone who aides a woman in getting an abortion was also in effect. The man is asking for more than $1 million in damages.
Politics reporter Philip Jankowski on Senate energy bills
This week, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick held a news conference to introduce of slate of bills intended to increase the reliability of Texas power grid. Philip Jankowski, politics reporter for The Dallas Morning News, joined KVUE to talk about the bills.
Ashley Goudeau: Let's start with Senate Bill 6. Tell us exactly what that bill would do.
Philip Jankowski: "It would create a 10 gigawatt backup generator, so to speak, a series of natural gas-fueled power plants throughout Texas, financed or paid by the state government. That could, well the cost for that will be in the billions of dollars. We're talking upwards of $10 billion, possibly even more, to build these natural gas power plants that would be able to provide enough electricity to keep the lights on in about 7.5 million homes, according to the senator behind this proposal. But more or less, the way he views it is not unlike buying a backup generator for your home, which many of us did after the 2021 deadly winter storm. But this would be a backup generator for the entire state."
Ashley Goudeau: Yeah, an idea that these plants could just kind of come on at a moment's notice and start producing energy, I would imagine, that because we're talking about gas-fueled plants, this cannot make environmentalists very happy, this idea.
Philip Jankowski: "No, absolutely not. Texas is more than just a national leader, it's a worldwide leader in renewable energy. What's happening in here really kind of leads and sort of sets the tone for a lot of how you develop renewable energy. And the things that are being tried in Texas aren't being tried elsewhere. And but there is, amongst at least and really amongst both, it's mainly a Republican effort, but there's some hand-wringing among even Democrats that see renewable energy as a possible source of a lot of unreliability, I should say, on the Texas power grid."
Ashley Goudeau: There are also bills related to those wind and solar power plants. Senate Bill 7 is one of them. Tell us about what that bill would do.
Philip Jankowski: "Well, Senate Bill 7 is a, really all of these bills are kind of a buffet of fossil-fuel favored bills. Senate Bill 7 creates a – I'll try not to get too far into the jargon – but creates what the senator behind it calls a firming requirement – essentially, that if you are going to connect to the Texas power grid, then you have to be able to guarantee that you are providing a certain amount of power at a certain time. For renewable energy that is a major change and possibly a major disruption to how companies that are investing in that technology would do business in Texas, mainly because the sun doesn't shine all day and you never know when the wind is or is not going to blow, meaning that these variable resources, weather-dependent resources, could be forced under this bill to either procure energy on the Texas market to make up for their lack of production during maybe an overcast day or a day where the wind isn't blowing. I should say that those requirements are extended across all forms of power production. So the same, you know, a fossil fuel-powered power plant would also have to do the same thing if for, say, they are undergoing maintenance or something like that. But there's already some sort of things that have been developed since the winter storm that have led those, some of those, power plants to start building onsite backup fuel and things like that. With solar power and wind power, this would be something that has been contemplated but not been forced upon them. And that's what this bill would do."
Ashley Goudeau: The lieutenant governor says these bills will save Texans money. How will Texans save money if these bills become law?
Philip Jankowski: "Frankly, they won't. You just have to think that power reliability costs money. If you're going to build these power plants, I mean, if we go back to Senate Bill 6, that's really going to be using either a surcharge on your electric bill or taxpayer money in some format to build power plants or finance power plants. And you would be paying for these power plants to exist as a backup not to actually be selling energy, but merely to exist. That costs money. There is in no way that these, when taken together, that you will see your electric bill go down. It will go up. The question is how much."