Critics say the Texas Senate and House proposals to prevent another massive power failure don’t go far enough.  
Mar 31, 2021 | View in browser
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In today's Brief: Some argue currently proposed legislation doesn’t go far enough to prevent another power crisis. Plus, the Texas Senate has approved five bills restricting access to abortion.

Yasmeen Khalifa contributed to this edition of The Brief.
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Will this legislation be enough? Both the Texas Senate and House are advancing bills that attempt to prevent another massive power failure in extreme temperatures. But parts of their legislative proposals are drawing criticism for not going far enough to prepare electricity infrastructure for increased risks posed by climate change. Critics of the quickly moving legislation are also wary that some measures would leave enforcement of the mandated upgrades to the Public Utility Commission, which in 2020 disbanded its oversight and enforcement division.

But a spokesperson for the Public Utility Commission of Texas said that the agency’s enforcement function was enhanced by increasing the number of attorneys available to work on enforcement matters. 

Senate Bill 3, the upper chamber’s omnibus electricity legislation, was approved Monday. The House is tackling electricity through a series of standalone bills that are similar, but not identical.

Here’s what the House is expected to give final approval to Wednesday:

  • House Bill 11 would define extreme weather conditions in the winter as a time when temperatures remain below 10 degrees Fahrenheit for more than a day and are expected to remain that low for the next 24 hours. For the summer, it defines it as when the National Weather Service issues a heat advisory.
  • House Bill 12 would establish a statewide alert system. The same agency — the Texas Division of Emergency Management — that failed to deliver critical emergency information during February’s storm to Texans would be responsible for studying the feasibility of such a system.
  • House Bill 16 would prohibit retail electric providers from selling products based on wholesale power prices in the market. 
  • House Bill 13 would create a new committee of leaders from the PUC, ERCOT, Texas Railroad Commission (which regulates the oil and gas industry) and Texas Division of Emergency Management.

Each chamber could soon have a chance to tweak the others’ bills. But members of both chambers will at some point have to iron out the differences in their respective bills before anything can become law. Read the full story by the Tribune’s Erin Douglas and Mitchell Ferman.

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Bills restricting abortion get OK: On Tuesday, the Texas Senate approved five bills restricting access to abortion, including a priority measure that could ban abortions before many women know they are pregnant. Senate Bill 8 would ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat has been detected — at six weeks, according to a legislative analysis. Nearly every Republican in the Senate has signed on as an author of the bill, as has Brownsville Democrat Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., who said during a debate Monday that he believes life begins at conception.

The measures, which abortion rights advocates call some of the most "extreme" nationwide, are among the earliest bills to be debated by the full Senate — whose presiding officer, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, has given two abortion proposals top billing this session. The House must still approve the bills before becoming law. Read the full story by the Tribune’s Shannon Najmabadi.

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THE LAST WORD
"A lot of people didn’t know what was happening, and I think sometimes the fear of not knowing what’s going on is just as bad as the crisis itself."
— State Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston on the Texas Division of Emergency Management’s failure to deliver critical emergency information to Texans during February's winter storm. Wu added an amendment to House Bill 12, which was approved Tuesday, to ensure that if the alert system is created, it would include languages other than English. 
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By Elvia Limón
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@elvialimon
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