Priorities, Preparation, and Politics Today

January 22, 2021

In the midst of a fairly busy national news week, including the Presidential Inauguration, the Texas Legislature is in the organization and preparation phase of the 140-day session. While we wait for committee assignments, my staff and I have been working on our priorities, filing legislation, and preparing for the busy days ahead.

For example, this week I introduced HB 1210, which would ensure earlier notification when new wind energy projects potentially endanger military missions. There is still some work left to do on this bill, but I'm hopeful it can continue the work Texas has done to protect national security and the economic importance of military bases. 

I'd also mention that despite all of the talk regarding possible protests and riots at the Texas Capitol, there were, thankfully, no major incidents. I sincerely appreciate the work of the National Guard troops and DPS officers who ensured the safety of all at the Capitol.

Looking ahead, I've outlined five of the big issues that I expect to consume the majority of the Legislature's time and attention this session: the budget, redistricting, health care costs and access, the government's response to COVID-19, and the separation of powers. I've given a brief overview of each issue below, but, as always, I encourage you to contact my office should you have any questions or comments.

Finally, I have left you with some thoughts I have on the sad state of discourse in American politics that was taken largely from a Senator Ben Sasse op-ed. I believe this is a very important topic and wanted to share it with all of you who read the newsletter. 

May God bless you and your family,
James B. Frank Signature
James B. Frank

Major Issues for the 87th Legislative Session


Although this past year has been unlike any before, the Legislature still has to write the budget for the next two years. Recently, the Comptroller submitted the Biennial Revenue Estimate for 2022-2023 which estimated that while the state will have less money to spend than last session due to the economic impact of COVID-19, we are significantly better off than previously feared.

I remain confident that we will be able to hammer out a budget that ensures continuity of core government services and does not overly burden the Texas taxpayers and businesses which keep our economy going. 


The Legislature is tasked with redrawing the maps for State Representatives, State Senators, the US House and the State Board of Education based on the census data collected in 2020. However, because the census data is delayed, it is practically guaranteed that the Legislature will have to reconvene in a special session this summer to finish the redistricting process.

Redistricting is the most politically charged and personal policymaking the Legislature does, and this will be my first time to experience it. We'll have more details on the process - and potential maps - over the coming weeks.  

Health Care Cost and Access

Health care has become too expensive, too hard to access, and not centered around the patient. It is no longer a functioning, competitive market and all Texans suffer for that fact. A market doesn't work if prices are not clear and subject to the pulls of market forces. It is impossible for Texans to know what their health care actually costs--at every level (provider, insurer, government). We must allow that information to flow and inform our decisions.
A market also doesn't work when there is not real competition and when the rules of the game are written to restrict market access instead of enable it. Proper regulation is necessary to ensure that health insurance does what it's supposed to do (provide a backstop so that Texans aren't financially ruined by unexpected medical problems) rather than what it's currently doing in many parts of the state (restricting patient choice).
Finally, the Legislature should improve Medicaid to better provide coverage for the truly needy and provide a pathway to self-sufficiency. I'm optimistic the Legislature can and will make progress on addressing these issues over the next five months and will be doing my best to contribute to that progress. 

COVID-19 Response

The ongoing challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic have forced the state to react quickly. Some of these actions (like relaxing nonsensical licensing regulations and allowing customers to purchase alcohol to-go) might lead to permanent action because of the increased access given to Texans. However, others (like the indefinite limiting of visitors to nursing homes) must be addressed, hopefully with legislation like HB 892 and HJR 46, which would ensure no Texan is ever denied personal visits with loved ones due to a government order again.

Separation of Powers

Historically, the Governor's emergency powers were primarily used to respond to disasters like floods and wildfires. They were not, however, created to handle an 11-months long (and counting) public health emergency. This past year we have seen businesses shut down and nursing homes lock their doors because of executive orders. I believe there needs to be legislation passed to give the Legislature greater oversight of an extended emergency declaration, but it must be done intelligently and with great care to ensure we don't create later problems with our solution to this one.

This is in no way a shot at Governor Abbott, as he has been put in a nearly impossible situation with few easy answers. 

Bill Tracker

Policy Discussion

I recently joined the Texas Public Policy Foundation for a panel on creating a better child welfare system. Click the image below to watch the entire discussion. 

Saving a Generation: Creating a More Compassionate Child Welfare System


What's Happened to American Political Discourse?

As we close the chapter on one of the most contentious election cycles in recent memory, I wanted to share some thoughts on the current state of American politics and media consumption. If any good came out of the recent riot at the US Capitol, it's that it shined a light on the depths of the anger, toxicity, and misinformation that has consumed a sizable chunk of our country. While the rioters are certainly not indicative of the majority of voters, I fear that more and more people - both on the right and left - are headed in the same direction, steadily marching towards the political fringe, untethered to truth and reason. 

The rise of the internet and social media has provided access to a never-ending supply of news and opinions. In theory, this presents an incredible opportunity to learn from and interact with those who hold different views and have lived different experiences. In reality, our social media feeds and news diets often become an echo chamber, painstakingly curated to tell us exactly what we want to hear. It's from inside these echo chambers, free from dissenting thought, that we become radicalized, hostile to anyone who dares puncture our protective bubble. This new, unfettered access comes at a time when we, as a people, are rapidly losing our sense of meaning and of our place in one common American story. 

In a recent Atlantic article, Senator Ben Sasse outlines three factors that have contributed to our modern ills: media consumption, institutional collapse, and the loss of American meaning.

America's junk-food media diet

"The way Americans are consuming and producing news - or what passes for it these days - is driving us mad. This has been said many times, but the problem has worsened in the past five years. On the supply side, media outlets have discovered that dialing up the rhetoric increases clicks, eyeballs, and revenue. On the demand side, readers and viewers like to see their opinions affirmed, rather than challenged. When everybody's outraged, everybody wins - at least in the short term.
"This is not a problem only on the right or only on obscure blogs. The underlying economics that drive Fox News and upstarts such as One America News to cultivate and serve ideologically distinct audiences also drive MSNBC, CNN, and The New York Times. More and more fiercely, media outlets rally their audience behind the latest cause du jour, whether it's battling supposed election fraud or abolishing local police departments.

America's institutional collapse

"Traditional media outlets are only some of the long-standing institutions collapsing as the digital revolution erodes geographic communities in favor of placeless ones. Many people who yell at strangers on Twitter don't know their own local officials or even their neighbors across the street. The loss of rootedness and institutional authority has created an opening for populists on the right and the left. It's not a coincidence that in 2016, millions of Republicans threw in their lot behind a man who for almost all of his life had been a Democratic voter and donor, and millions of Democrats wanted as their nominee a senator who staunchly refused to join their party. On both sides, conventional politicians were being told they had lost the thread.

"The anger being directed today at major internet platforms-Twitter, Facebook, and Google, especially-is, in part, a consequence of the fading of traditional political authority. Sometimes intentionally, sometimes inadvertently, Americans have outsourced key parts of political life to Silicon Valley behemoths that were not designed to, and are not competent to, execute functions traditionally in the province of the government. The failure of our traditional political institutions and our traditional media to function as spaces for genuine political conversation has created a vacuum now filled by the social-media giants-who are even worse at the job.

"Civic authority has ebbed in other ways. Political incompetence and malpractice around the COVID-19 pandemic have only deepened suspicions that some politicians will never let a crisis go to waste. The decisions in California to keep churches closed but to keep open strip clubs and marijuana dispensaries baffle Main Street. Similarly, the jolting juxtaposition of a media-addict mayor breaking up Hasidic funerals while marching in Black Lives Matter protests not only deepens the cynicism of many Americans, but it indisputably undermined institutions of public health that should have been cautiously protecting their standing.

America's loss of meaning

"Our political sickness has a third cause. At least since World War II, sociologists and political scientists have been tracing the erosion of the institutions and habits that joined neighbors together in bonds of friendship and mutual responsibility. Little Leagues were not just pastimes; soup kitchens were not just service organizations; they were also venues in which people found shared purpose. Today, in many places, those bonds have been severed.

"In 1922, G. K. Chesterton called America "a nation with the soul of a church." But according to a recent study of dozens of countries, none has ditched religious belief faster since 2007 than the U.S. Without going into the causes, we can at least acknowledge one cost: For generations, most Americans understood themselves as children of a loving God, and all had a role to play in loving their neighbors. But today, 
many Americans have no role in any common story.

"Conspiracy theories are a substitute. Support Donald Trump and you are not merely participating in a mundane political process-that's boring. Rather, you are waging war on a global sex-trafficking conspiracy! A conspiracy theory offers its devotees a way of inserting themselves into a cosmic battle pitting good against evil. This sense of vocation that makes it dangerous is also precisely what makes it attractive in our era of isolated, alienated consumerism."

Read the full article here.

COVID-19 Protocols at the Capitol

If you are planning to visit the Capitol during the next few months, I encourage you to contact my Austin office (512-463-0534) to get the latest updates on health and safety protocols before making the trip down.  The rules are constantly changing. 

You may find the following information useful as your plan your visit:
  • My office is always open to constituents. 
  • The Capitol is open from 9am - 6 pm, Monday - Friday.
  • The House Gallery will be open to the public at reduced capacity.
  • Committee hearings will be open to the public both in-person and virtually. 
  • A mask must be worn over the mouth and nose while in the building.
  • There are no public tours, groups, or sponsored event spaces.
  • All visitors must enter the Capitol through the north door.
  • COVID-19 rapid testing is available prior to entering the Capitol (located outside, north of the building).
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