Phelan, Hughes speak at Legislative Day

County officials join virtual event amid COVID-19 pandemic

By County magazine staff

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TAC held its Counties at the Capitol Legislative Day on Feb. 23, with Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) and state Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) speaking to county officials gathered virtually from around the state.

Both legislators discussed a variety of topics, including the state’s response to COVID-19, the budgetary challenges the Legislature faces this session, redistricting and the need to expand broadband.

The event is part of TAC's continuing mission to provide county officials with timely information about legislation that affects county government and connect them with members of the Legislature.  

"Counties at the Capitol underlines TAC's role as a communication and education arm for counties, and as a bridge between county officials and state legislators," TAC Executive Director Susan M. Redford said. "There is strength in numbers, and counties are better when we work together."

In an interview with Jefferson County Judge Jeff Branick recorded the week before the state's historic winter weather event, Phelan touched upon treating mental health and moving beyond the stigma often attached to mental health issues,  as well as the economic impact of COVID-19 and local control.  

He added that COVID-19 is "a kind of disrupter" that "showed us our weaknesses and our strengths throughout Texas." One of the weaknesses exposed by the pandemic, Phelan said, "is connectivity, whether it's telemedicine or whether it's public education."

Gov. Greg Abbott designated broadband internet expansion an emergency legislative item in his Feb. 1 State of the State address. The issue is a priority for Texas counties, both rural and urban.

Phelan said broadband expansion will be a bipartisan issue. Hughes also echoed the importance of reliable internet access.

"I don't have to tell you that now, after COVID-19, with relying on internet for school and for work and for so many other things, that every Texan has got the message now that broadband, rural broadband, is important," he said.

As chairman of the Senate State Affairs Committee, Hughes leads the panel charged with many top issues for Texas counties. He thanked county officials for their response to February's storms and reassured them that he would be seeking their input on a variety of issues this session. In addition to broadband expansion, Hughes specifically mentioned election reforms, COVID-19 liability protections, redistricting, and police procedures and funding.

Because of COVID-19, TAC took this year’s Counties at the Capitol day online via videoconference. More than 400 county officials from across Texas registered for the event.

For more information about TAC, visit www.county.org. For more information about TAC's Legislative Services, visit www.county.org/legislative.