Gov. Abbott declines to take questions from reporters during the legislative session on the house floor on Sunday, May 23, 2021.

Credit: Jordan Vonderhaar for The Texas Tribune

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Texas lawmakers are moving swiftly to reinstate funding for the Texas Legislature, vetoed last month by Gov. Greg Abbott, that affects the salaries of more than 2,100 employees across several state agencies

The House Appropriations Committee voted on Friday 21-0 to move forward a bill that would reinstate the funding after Abbott vetoed it to punish House Democrats who broke quorum in the final days of the session to kill two of his priority bills. The Senate Finance Committee heard testimony on a similar bill around the same time Friday afternoon, but did not take a vote.

House Appropriations chairman Greg Bonnen, R-Friendswood, who authored the bill, said the funding in it is identical to what the House and Senate had worked out in legislative funding during the regular session.

The bills hit close to home for lawmakers as funding for their staff hangs in the balance. Abbott’s veto of Article X of the state budget wiped out funding for the legislative branch. He said lawmakers who “walk off the job” should not receive compensation, but his action does not affect lawmakers, whose pay is constitutionally guaranteed.

The veto applies to the thousands of staffers who work directly for lawmakers and several state agencies. Those agencies include the Legislative Reference Library, which conducts research for the Legislature; the Legislative Budget Board, which develops policy and budget recommendations and provides fiscal analyses for legislation; the Legislative Council, which helps draft and analyze potential legislation; the State Auditor’s Office, which reviews the state’s finances; and the Sunset Advisory Commission, which reviews the efficiency of state agencies.

If funding for the legislative branch is not restored by September, when the new fiscal year starts, those employees would lose their jobs and benefits, like health care.

The House committee vote Friday came as Democrats await a ruling from the state Supreme Court on a lawsuit they filed last month asking the court to reverse Abbott’s veto.

Abbott called the special session to revive two of his priority bills on elections and changing the state’s bail system. He also included a bill to revive the funding he had vetoed, among other issues.

The Senate Finance Committee heard testimony from two people regarding its proposal to restore legislative funding, Senate Bill 10. Then the chairwoman of the panel, Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, announced SB 10 would be left pending. The committee went on to hear another bill and vote it out, before Nelson announced the committee would recess.

Nelson’s office did not immediately respond to a question about why the bill was left pending.

Tyler Sheldon, the legislative director for the Texas State Employees Union, told the Senate panel he was glad to see they were moving quickly on it.

“I just urge you all to continue the very swift action to make sure that [staff] don’t have the undue burden of stressing out over the fact that they may not get paid in two months, and that’s just something that’s unacceptable,” Sheldon said.

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