Image: State Representative Dade Phelan, Republican of Beaumont, took the Oath of Office as Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives on January 10, 2023, the opening day of the 88th Legislative Session of the Texas Legislature.
The Golden Hammer Staff Reports
Austin, January 12 – The Texas Legislature convened for the 88th Legislative Session on Tuesday, January 10, 2023. Shortly after gaveling in for the swearing-in ceremony, members of the Texas House of Representatives took the oath of office and elected Representative Dade Phelan, Republican of Beaumont, to serve as Speaker for a second term.
Phelan received 145 votes to 3 votes cast for State Representative Tony Tinderholt, Republican of Arlington. All Democrats voted for Phelan, while 81 of 84 Republicans voted for him as well.
Toni Rose, Democrat of Oak Cliff, gave one of the seconding speeches for Phelan’s election as Speaker. Rose explained that she supported Phelan after his strong support for the expansion of Medicaid coverage for new mothers.
“It is a privilege to serve as a member of this distinguished body, and I am once again humbled by the opportunity to serve as Speaker of the Texas House,” Speaker Phelan said in his opening day remarks. “As I look out upon this distinguished gathering, I see 149 people – ordinary Texans – who are eager to get to work on extraordinary things. I am grateful to the majority of you who have honored me with your vote, but I am proud to represent all of you as Speaker of the 88th Legislature.”
In his remarks, Speaker Phelan emphasized a few of the chamber’s priorities for the session, including:
• Providing lasting, meaningful property tax relief;
• Increasing access to and giving patients greater control over their healthcare;
• Prioritizing criminal justice reform, DA accountability, and public safety;
• Utilizing the state’s once-in-a-lifetime budget surplus to improve infrastructure;
• Fighting back against the exploitation, sexualization, and indoctrination of Texas children;
• Making schools safer for students and teachers;
• Extending postpartum health coverage for new mothers to a full year; and
• Addressing the threats from illegal immigration and the “porous border.”
Representative Cody Harris of Palestine nominated Phelan for Speaker, with Representatives Angie Chen Button of Richardson, Tracy King of Uvalde, John Lujan of San Antonio, Toni Rose of Dallas and Shelby Slawson of Stephenville providing seconding motions.
An excerpt of Phelans’s opening day speech as Speaker of the House follows:
“As I look out upon this distinguished gathering, I see 149 people – ordinary Texans – who are eager to get to work on extraordinary things. I am grateful to the majority of you who have honored me with your vote, but I am proud to represent all of you as Speaker of the 88th Legislature.
“I also see your beautiful families, friends and supporters. Let us not forget the sacrifices they have made to get you where you are today. Texas appreciates you. Members – let us give them a round of applause.
“For the newcomers here, our freshman class of 2023, congratulations. Words of caution — please do not confuse this body with the one in Washington, DC. After watching Congress attempt to function last week, I cannot imagine why some want Texas to be like DC.
“You are now in the Texas House of Representatives — and part of a historic assembly. One hundred years after the first woman was elected to the Texas House, our membership now includes 45 women, the highest number ever.
“All of us together represent 150 unique populations from cities, the suburbs and the countryside.
194,000 strong in each district. And while our districts are certainly unique, they have one thing in common: they have trusted us to be their voice. And this is what we will be over the next 140 days – one day at a time, one issue at a time, one bill at a time.
“All of that work will be rooted in one of the most fundamental, necessary elements of this institution — the Texas House rules. As the most deliberative body in this nation, our rules matter. My advice to new members is to know them, love them, and be certain we will enforce them. Because our rules keep the game fair, but they do not dictate the outcome. We will have divisions. Every session does. But that division does not have to define us.
“So let the political fires that have raged compel us to come to the table for a solution, not flee from our responsibilities. There will be countless outside voices — not from your district, and some not even from this state — that seek to control our conversation, and they will be plenty loud. But the conversations that matter to us…the conversations that matter to our constituents…happen in here. They happen in this room.
“In the Texas House, we do our work here, together. And when we do that, we just might be surprised to find out how much we have in common.
“We can find our first patch of common ground in the most fundamental element of society – the family. If we are going to be a family-focused House, and I do hope we will be, we must take a long look at what matters to Texas families. Fortunately, everyone in here just spent the better part of a year on the campaign trail, hearing directly from our constituents.
“Like you, I heard some very straightforward concerns from the families in my district. I have heard about the economy, inflation and the difficulty in making ends meet. Ever-increasing property taxes have led many to feel – year-in and year-out – that they are renting their property from the government. Like them, I believe that tax relief should be a priority.
“Time and time again, we have seen the Legislature provide some form of property tax relief, but to make it lasting, we must do something about runaway appraisals. Taxpayers deserve better.
“My constituents also talked about the need for quality healthcare at a reasonable price for families and businesses. They appreciate the progress we made last session, tackling the cost of prescription drugs and health plans, pricing transparency, and improving outcomes for women and children – and they need us to do more. So, let us continue our momentum by giving patients greater control over their health care as well as better access.
“In my travels, I also heard about Texans’ desire for safe streets. During the 87th, we reset the national conversation on criminal justice. We showed it is possible to improve public safety while defending the rights of the accused and offering second chances when deserved. We lead the nation in decreasing incarceration rates, reducing recidivism, and facilitating reentry. We have proven you can be tough on violent criminals while also making the criminal justice system work better for nonviolent offenders. And that is what we will continue to do. We can work all day on these issues, but if rogue District Attorneys will not uphold the law, what progress are we really making? It is time to rein them in.
“Our constituents also want roads that can move them in a timely manner from their home to their job, to their child’s school, or their place of worship. Texans want a reliable supply of water, resiliency from flooding, dependable energy and high-speed internet across this great state. They want exceptional schools with exceptional teachers. With a once in a lifetime budget surplus, now is the time to put a down payment on the future of Texas.
“To make this down payment even more critical – over a thousand people move to Texas every single day. They do not bring these investments with them. We all serve different regions, but we recognize these as common obligations.
“Perhaps we have no greater task ahead of us than protecting those who will carry on what we have started – the children of Texas. I created the Select Committee on Youth Health & Safety last session to examine the issues facing our children. The threats to their safety are all too real:
child trafficking, violence in schools, bad actors seeking to exploit their innocence, and social media companies that prey on the insecurities of children, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation, sexualization, and indoctrination. Members, we must stand up for the children of Texas.
“Teachers and parents alike want safer schools, and our kids deserve them. Last May, the lives of 21 Texans – teachers and children – were stolen when a gunman opened fire at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas. We owe it to the memory of those children and teachers to make sensible, meaningful change.
“I want to thank the families of Uvalde for inviting me to meet with them just last week. Having heard from them directly — and taking into account the findings of our investigative committee — we have insights to inform our decisions. This is going to be an especially tough conversation, but this body has proven capable of handling tough conversations in the past. I am confident we will do so again.
“As we work to make Texas an even better place to raise a family, we must acknowledge there is true suffering in society, and we have to make things better for those families in the toughest situations. The most important thing to do, certainly, is to ensure our economy continues to generate quality jobs and meaningful wages. After all, an opportunity to provide for one’s family is a powerful motivator, no matter where one is in life.
“At the same time, let us not forget people who need more than just a job. Even with a vibrant economy, a single parent who can work, afford childcare, healthcare, transportation and housing, is indeed rare. How can we improve their lives and their children’s futures? Tax-free diapers, wipes and other childcare supplies would be a great start, and so would ensuring health coverage for new moms that lasts – not sixty days, not six months but a full year.
“Starting today, I represent Jasper County. Last week, I read a story about the local county hospital joining the 60% of rural Texas hospitals that no longer deliver babies. Mothers in rural areas now face hour-long drives for basic services. We should not leave this session without a firm commitment to reversing this trend. Because in my dictionary, the definition of ‘pro-life’ includes ensuring access to affordable healthcare for all, especially Texas mothers and their babies.
“To show the Texas House is committed to the maternal health of our own staff this session, I am proud to announce we are now offering additional resources to guarantee twelve full weeks of paid maternal and paternal leave for those working in this chamber this session.
“Our names may be on the office door, but the men and women who serve in our capitol and district offices are the ones who do the heavy lifting. We must provide an environment that respects them and recognizes their value. With rapid inflation, let us also retain them by finally increasing their salaries.
“Making things better for all Texas families is how we deliver on the limitless potential for our state in every area, from gainful employment to public safety. That includes border security, which is certainly on the minds of our members, but especially for those who represent border communities.
“We can all agree that our border towns have been bearing the brunt of Washington’s failed immigration policies – some going as far as declaring themselves to be in a state of disaster. It is a legal and humanitarian crisis. Every Texas budget I have ever voted for has poured hundreds of millions, now billions, of dollars into the gap between federal policies and the realities on the ground. As stewards of every budget dollar, we must ensure our strategy not only fits the realities on the ground, but is truly, measurably effective.
“We must also acknowledge the additional threats posed by a porous border. More than 1,600 Texans died from fentanyl overdoses in 2021. That is 1,600 too many. Before more Texas families get that heartbreaking call, we must stop the cartels in their tracks. And we will.
“Members, though we may face many challenges this session, there will be even more opportunities. The work is hard, but it is worthwhile. The work is demanding, but it is noble. The work is necessary, and, because we have the privilege of doing it for the people of Texas, I know we will get it done together.
“It is a privilege to serve as a member of this distinguished body, and I am once again humbled by the opportunity to serve as your Speaker. Thank you for this enormous honor and thank you for serving this great state. May God bless you and May God bless the great State of Texas.”