AUSTIN (Nexstar) — In an abbreviated kick-off, Texas lawmakers are convening at the State Capitol on Tuesday for the 87th Legislative Session.
COVID-19 concerns stunted the pomp and circumstance of the opening ceremonies, which involve swearing in members, speeches from state leaders, and celebrating with invited guests.
Tuesday’s events were limited in size to comply with social distancing requirements, and limited in length to avoid keeping large groups of people in an enclosed space for an extended period of time.
Capitol guests were met with a heightened presence by the Texas Department of Public Safety on Tuesday. The agency confirmed additional personnel and resources were deployed to the Capitol. A KXAN photographer observed K-9s, a law enforcement helicopter, drone, officers on bicycles and fullt armored security.
“While we do not discuss operational specifics, DPS will continue to adjust our operations as needed to maintain public order and address potential threats,” a DPS spokesperson said in an email. Police dogs, helicopter and officers on bicycles were spotted on the Capitol grounds Tuesday morning.
At least 20 armed demonstrators were spotted on the south area of the grounds, but left after a few speeches. On the north side, about 10 people gathered to protest the COVID-19 vaccine.
Some members of the public were denied entry to the Capitol building after refusing to take free COVID-19 tests supplied by the state.
Some state lawmakers opted to skip the ceremony, calling it a “superspreader event.”
“The bigger picture is that we’re the height of a pandemic,” State Rep. Michelle Beckley, D-Carrollton, explained, citing record COVID-19 hospitalization numbers
As the session starts, the state faces a $1 billion deficit for fiscal year 2020-21, according to a revenue estimate by the Texas Comptroller. This represents an overall 0.4% decrease of available funds from the two previous years.