A few hours after Texas lawmakers finally passed three bills Friday, Governor Greg Abbott (R) signed them into law.
Among the bills signed by the Governor was the sunset legislation that forced the Special Session. During the Regular Session, lawmakers failed to pass a bill to extend the operation of a handful of state agencies, including the Medical Board which licenses doctors.
Friday morning the House of Representatives quickly and unanimously passed Senate Bill 20, which keeps the agencies operating, and Senate Bill 60, which ensures the agencies are funded. Action that sent the bills to Governor Abbott for his signature.
"Thanks to the passage of this critical legislation, Texas will now be able to continue to license new doctors and regulate the practice of medicine," said Governor Abbott in a statement. "As the first order of business on my special session call, these bills were necessary in keeping important state agencies running, and keeping Texans healthy. I would like to thank the legislature and bill authors Sen. Van Taylor and Rep. Larry Gonzales for their hard work on this must-pass legislation."
Governor Abbott also signed Senate Bill 5 (SB5) into law which increases penalties for mail-in ballot fraud.
The Senate voted Friday to concur with changes the House made to the bill, but not without some discussion first.
Senate democrats expressed concern because SB5 makes it illegal to talk about an election if a mail-in ballot is out, for example on a kitchen table. It also makes it a crime to write or mark on the ballot or envelope outside of indicating a vote. Senators Jose Rodriguez (D-El Paso) and Royce West (D-Dallas) said these provisions could cause families to unintentionally break the law.
Senator Joan Huffman (R-Houston) said she was disappointed that the House amended the bill to repeal a new law that passed with bi-partisan support and was signed by the Governor during the Regular Session. It would have expanded early voting into nursing homes. If more than two residents of a nursing home requested a mail-in ballot, an election clerk would be required to go to the facility during early voting to allow all residents to vote. Supporters of the bill said it would ensure ballots were not mishandled by nursing home staff and increase the integrity of the voting process.
But after the bill was signed into law, election officials reached out to lawmakers, complaining it was an unfunded mandate. Senator Huffman says she is going to push to have the bill considered during the interim. And she ultimately voted for SB5, saying she would not sacrifice the good for the perfect.
Governor Abbott released the following statement about SB5:
“It is a primary function of government to protect a citizen’s right to vote, and I will not allow the integrity of the ballot box to be compromised in Texas. As Attorney General, I prosecuted countless cases of mail-in ballot fraud, and yet this problem continues to persist. Thanks to the efforts of the legislature and authors Sen. Kelly Hancock and Rep. Craig Goldman, Texas has strengthened penalties against those that commit mail-in ballot fraud."