Feb 1, 2021
Gov. Greg Abbott Texas State of the State Address Transcript 2021
Texas Governor Greg Abbott delivered his annual State of the State speech on February 1, 2021. Read the full transcript of his speech here. Rep. Chris Turner delivered the Democratic response.
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Governor Greg Abbott: (01:19)
Good evening to members of the Texas legislature who join us tonight virtually, and to my fellow Texans. As we gather tonight, I can tell you, the state of our state is brimming with promise. That promise is seen in places like where I am tonight, Lockhart, Texas, home of great barbecue and the location of Visionary Fiber Technologies. The folks at Visionary Fiber, they use cutting-edge technology to provide innovative products that are transforming our future. They exemplify the tenacity of Texans, going to work to earn a living, going to work to make a difference, persevering during challenges, prospering because of the entrepreneurial spirit that is so unique to Texas.
Governor Greg Abbott: (02:25)
Now, looking back, it’s clear 2020 was a year unlike any in our lifetime. Not just for Texas and America, but for the entire world. I’ve seen firsthand the personal hardships and the pain that we have all endured. Our hearts are with those who have suffered from COVID, and we mourn for every single Texan who lost their lives to the virus. We pray to God that their families will heal from the hurt of losing a loved one, and we also pray for all of the Texans who are still recovering from COVID. We are grateful that this week more than 2 million Texans have recovered from COVID.
Governor Greg Abbott: (03:29)
Now, to say the pandemic is a challenge is an understatement. But to say that it has been a reversal of who we are as Texans is a misstatement. Texas remains the economic engine of America, the land of unmatched opportunity, and our comeback is already materializing. Texas has added new jobs for eight months in a row. In December alone, Texas added more than 64,000 new jobs. Texans are returning to work. Students are returning to school. Families are re-establishing routines. With each passing day of more vaccinations and increased immunity, normalcy is returning to Texas.
Governor Greg Abbott: (04:33)
But it has not been easy. In times of adversity, there will always be heroes who rise above the challenges we face. Our communities are filled with those heroes. Heroes who summon the strength and the perseverance to fight. Fight not just for themselves or their families, but for their neighbors, their communities, and even complete strangers. Think of our nurses and doctors, the food servers, the hospital janitors. Think of the truck drivers, grocery clerks, small business owners, and so many Texans who labor on the front lines. Think of our farmers and the ranchers who provide the food that is so desperately needed.
Governor Greg Abbott: (05:37)
Think of Texans like Eliana Gill. Eliana as a nurse at Ascension Seton Medical Center in Austin. She volunteered to go be on the front line in the hospital’s COVID unit. Eliana is like so many healthcare workers across the state who did not hesitate to answer the call.
Governor Greg Abbott: (06:03)
There are Texans like Amruth Nandish and Saathwik Saladi, two high school students who launched Telementors. Telementors is a virtual mentorship and tutoring program for children of those front line workers.
Governor Greg Abbott: (06:19)
And there is Navy veteran Rodesia Scott. Now get this: Rodesia opened a brick and mortar beauty supply store in the middle of the pandemic. It’s named Lynn’s Beauty Depot in DeSoto. She became a lifeline to other entrepreneurs when she launched Small Business Saturdays, allowing other businesses to use her store to sell their products.
Governor Greg Abbott: (06:55)
These Texans typify what we have witnessed across our state. From East Texas to El Paso, from the panhandle to Brownsville, Texans have shown grit, resilience, and compassion throughout the entire pandemic. These are hard-working Texans. Hard-working Texans are at the forefront of our agenda this legislative session, as we build a healthier, safer, freer and more prosperous state.
Governor Greg Abbott: (07:38)
Now, we’ve already seen what Texas can achieve when we create an environment that promotes freedom and empowers the people to succeed. Get this: Texas has been ranked the number one state for business for 16 straight years. For the past eight years, we led the nation in economic development, and we have led America in exports for 18 straight years. The Texas model. It inspires entrepreneurs and innovators and attracts job creators from across the entire country.
Governor Greg Abbott: (08:21)
Think about this. In the past year, Fortune 500 companies like Hewlett-Packard Enterprise moved their headquarters to Spring, Texas, which is just outside of Houston. Oracle moved its headquarters to Austin, Texas, where it already had a campus. Charles Schwab moved its headquarters to Westlake, Texas, which is between Dallas and Fort worth. We are proud that these businesses now call Texas home. Transformational leaders like Tesla picked Texas for their next generation of innovation. But it’s not just large cities that benefit. For example, in Amarillo, they are seeing the most economic development activity in the last 30 years. The same can be said for communities across the state.
Governor Greg Abbott: (09:26)
Most importantly, though, the corner stone of our economic success is the small businesses in every community across Texas. Nine out of 10 businesses in Texas are small, and they employ nearly half of all working Texans. Because of their prowess, this time last year, Texas was number one in America for the most new jobs. With their effort this year, Texas will once again lead the nation in job-
Governor Greg Abbott: (10:03)
Texas will once again lead the nation in job creation.
Governor Greg Abbott: (10:07)
Success like this has been fostered by the Texas legislature and by leaders like my dear friends Lieutenant Governor Patrick and Speaker Phelan. Now other states like California and New York, they use heavy-handed government tactics that drive away businesses. The Texas legislature on the other hand has built a framework that helps small businesses thrive, but as Senator Taylor and Representative Huberty know, to stay on top, to sustain this growth, we must continue to invest in our future and that is exactly what we did last session when we passed sweeping reforms to our school finance system and made major investments in our students and our teachers and we are already seeing the results of that work, with teachers across Texas earning meaningful pay raises.
Governor Greg Abbott: (11:17)
I’m proud to say that last year, teachers who had worked up to five years received an average raise of $3,800.00. Teachers with more than five years’ experience saw their pay increase by an average of $5,200.00 and we are also closing the digital divide for Texas students. The state partnered with school districts to provide internet connectivity and e-learning devices for schools and for students. Investments like these are a victory, a victory for teachers, for students and for parents as we provide our children with a quality education, regardless of their zip code.
Governor Greg Abbott: (12:09)
This session, we must continue to fund education as we promised. Also, if we expect the next generation of Texans to keep Texas the best state in the nation, we must teach them why we are so exceptional. We must educate them what it means to be an American and what it means to be a Texan. So we must bolster civics education in our classrooms and ensure that every child learns the values of freedom, good governance, and patriotism.
Governor Greg Abbott: (12:59)
This session must also be used to ensure a healthier Texas. The most pressing health priority is to help Texans recover from the pandemic. As we continue to combat the pandemic, we do so with better tools, more knowledge, plus medical improvements that are helping us move beyond this challenge, and for that I want to thank Chief Nim Kidd and Dr. John Hellerstedt. With their guidance, we set up medical centers where Texans can get the new antibody therapeutic medicine. This medicine is incredible. It helps people who get COVID heal quicker and it keeps them out of hospitals. To defeat this pandemic, we are accelerating the vaccine process. Texas was the first state to vaccinate more than a million residents and just two weeks later, we exceeded two million vaccinations. That number will increase even faster in the coming weeks as additional vaccines are approved. We will continue expanding vaccinations across Texas until every Texan who wants one will be able to get one.
Governor Greg Abbott: (14:26)
But if we are going to fully address COVID-related health issues, we must focus on the mental health challenges that Texans are facing. During the pandemic, we created a 24/7 mental health support line. We provided crisis counseling and we established virtual access for behavioral services. They were funded by the almost $8 billion that the legislature devoted to mental health last session. I will work with the legislature this session to ensure that Texas continues to address these challenges.
Governor Greg Abbott: (15:12)
One healthcare tool that proved very helpful during the pandemic was the use of telemedicine. It’s convenient. It’s convenient for both the patient and the doctor. We should seize the opportunity this session to permanently expand telemedicine so that every Texan in every region of the state can benefit from it. From medicine to education to business, broadband access is not a luxury, it is an essential tool that must be available for all Texans. That is why I am making the expansion of broadband access an emergency item this session. Now looking beyond just COVID, there is more that we can do this session to ensure that all Texans have better access to healthcare that includes ensuring that Texans with pre-existing conditions have access to healthcare coverage without being forced into the Affordable Care Act. A healthier Texas, it goes hand and hand with a safer Texas. Texas has always been a law and order state and we are going to stay that way. We’re not going to let cities in Texas follow the lead of cities like Portland and Seattle and Minneapolis by defunding the police. That’s crazy. We will support our law enforcement officers, not demonize and defund them. Defunding law enforcement invites crime and chaos into communities. It risks the lives and livelihoods of innocent people. To keep Texans safe and to discourage cities from going down this dangerous path, we must pass laws that prevent cities from defunding police. This issue is so urgent I am making it an emergency item this session.
Governor Greg Abbott: (17:37)
Public safety is also at risk because of a broken bail system. A broken bail system that recklessly allows dangerous criminals back out onto our streets. Too many Texans like Damon Allen have been murdered because of our broken bail system. Damon Allen was a state trooper who was gunned down during a traffic stop. His killer was out on a $15,000.00 bond despite having previously been convicted of assaulting a sheriff’s deputy and having been arrested on charges of evading arrest and aggravated assault on a public servant. He shot and killed trooper Damon Allen in the line of duty. Damon Allen’s wife, Casey, was robbed of her husband. Their children robbed of their father. To fix our flawed bail system, and to keep dangerous criminals off our streets, I am making the Damon Allen Act an emergency item this session.
Governor Greg Abbott: (19:07)
At the same time, we cannot ignore the need to improve policing. It helps our law enforcement officers do a better job. It makes our communities safer. This session we must provide law enforcement with the tools and the training they need to ensure the safety that their communities deserve. Public safety also extends to our border. Because of the federal government’s open border policies, Texas must work to fortify our efforts to secure our border. We already have planes in the air, boots on the grounds, boats on the water and cruisers on the roads. We must expand our efforts to crack down on human trafficking and to put an end –
Governor Greg Abbott: (20:03)
To crack down on human trafficking and to put an end to drug smuggling in Texas. We also have a duty this session to keep Texas the freedom capital of America. Whether you’re a newcomer to our state or your family has been here for generations, we all unite around the ideals of freedom and personal liberty, but freedom is fragile. If left undefended, we risk losing our freedoms one by one. Freedom of religion is enshrined in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. And yet some government officials across the country shut down churches during the pandemic. Even in Texas, some local officials tried closing churches. That is wrong.
Governor Greg Abbott: (21:07)
We must ensure that freedom to worship is forever safeguarded. I want a law this session that prevents any government entity from shutting down religious activities in Texas. But let’s face it, it’s not just First Amendment freedoms that have been threatened. Second Amendment rights are also under attack. Politicians from the federal level to the local level have shouted, “Heck yes, the government is coming to get your guns!” We won’t let that happen in Texas. Last session, I signed 10 laws to protect gun rights in Texas. This session, we need to erect a complete barrier against any government official anywhere from treading on gun rights in Texas. Texas must be a Second Amendment sanctuary state.
Governor Greg Abbott: (22:20)
Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Those are guaranteed rights on which our founders established our country. They sent us in the Declaration of Independence that lists those three rights is followed by this and I quote, “To secure these rights, governments are instituted among men deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Now precisely what the governed consent to should never be in doubt. That is why the integrity of elections is so essential to our democracy. One thing that all of us should agree on, whether you are a Republican, a Democrat, or an Independent, is that we must have trust and confidence in the outcome of our elections.
Governor Greg Abbott: (23:18)
That is why election integrity will be an emergency item in this session. The most precious freedom of all is life itself. Our creator endowed us with the right to life, and yet millions of children lose their lives every year before they are even born. Estimates show that more than 40 million babies lost their lives to abortion in 2020. That’s shocking. It’s horrifying. It must end. I have signed 11 laws that protect innocent lives, but more must be done. In this session, we need a law that insures that the life of every child will be spared from the ravages of abortion. And we should make explicit what should be obvious, no unborn child should be targeted for abortion on the basis of race, sex, or disability.
Governor Greg Abbott: (24:37)
Next, another important issue is helping the millions of businesses and workers who have been impacted by the pandemic. To say the very least, we must balance the state budget without increasing taxes. I want to thank Senators Nielsen and Hinojosa, as well as Representatives Capriglione and Longoria for their financial stewardship this past year to put Texas in a position to be able to achieve those goals. But listen, there’s far more to do to help business owners and their employees. They have gone above and beyond throughout the pandemic to open and to operate safely. And yet, those same businesses now face the crosshairs of lawsuits. Texas businesses that have operated in good faith shouldn’t have their livelihoods destroyed by frivolous lawsuits.
Governor Greg Abbott: (25:45)
I am asking the legislature to quickly get a bill to my desk that provides civil liability protections for individuals, businesses, and healthcare providers that operated safely during the pandemic. This is an emergency item in this session. We must also ensure that in the event another pandemic ever strikes again, families and businesses will never again face the financial consequences they experienced in 2020. I will continue working with the legislature to find ways to navigate a pandemic while also allowing businesses to remain open. We must find solutions that allow all Texans to enjoy the unique prosperity that comes with being a Texan.
Governor Greg Abbott: (26:49)
Now, the pandemic has revealed what makes Texas great as well as ways that we can make it even better. Texas prides itself on low regulations, but our response to the crisis revealed even more regulations that can be cut. For example, we suspended a number of regulations to help Texans navigate challenging times. That included measures like helping our restaurants by allowing them to sell alcohol to go and allowing Texans easier access to doctors through the use of telemedicine. Some of those ideas are worth keeping. That’s why I’m asking the legislature to make permanent some of the regulatory relief that are authorized. This will cut red tape and unleash the full might of the Texas economy.
Governor Greg Abbott: (27:52)
And speaking of the Texas economy, it has now grown so big if Texas was its own country, we would now have the ninth largest economy in the entire world. There is no brand more powerful than: Made in Texas. I want the hard working Texans who built that brand to know you have a governor who has your back. Products that are made with the Texas brand should be made by Texans. We must protect Texas jobs for Texas families. Employers should be hiring Texans when they fill job openings. If job training skills are needed, the state will work to provide them. We’ve already supported job training programs that have achieved remarkable success. I met Stacia Brightmon from the Houston area.
Governor Greg Abbott: (28:59)
Just a few years ago, she was homeless. That changed after she went through the job training program at S&B Engineers and Constructors and she began to work her way up the ranks. In just a few years, she went from being homeless to becoming a home owner. And when she told me how much she is making, I let her know she’s now earning more than the Governor of Texas. Opportunity. Opportunity is what Texas is all about. Now, there’s no doubt that we faced some hard times this past year, but as Texans, we never shy away from challenges. Instead, we embrace them. We adapt and overcome and grow stronger as a result. In this session, the legislature can continue that legacy. We can help Texans across our state exit this chapter.
Governor Greg Abbott: (30:03)
It can help Texans across our state exit this chapter even stronger. We can help them achieve the boundless opportunities that exist only in Texas. And just as Texans have united and put their differences aside to support one another through the pandemic, we in the capital must also come together to work on their behalf. We must seize this opportunity to make our state healthier, safer, freer, and more prosperous for all who call Texas home. The first lady, Cecilia Abbott, she joins me in saying thank you to our fellow Texans who work every single day to make our state the greatest in America. We pray that God blesses you and guides you, and we pray that God forever blesses the great state of Texas.
Speaker 1: (31:06)
Thank you, Governor. Texas Democrats have their own vision for the future, and they’re sharing them through the experiences of friends and neighbors. Here now is the Democratic response to the Republican State of the State Address.
Speaker 1: (31:21)
You’ve been listening to Governor Greg Abbott’s State of the State Address. Representative Chris Turner, Chair of the House Democratic Caucus, is joining us now. Representative Turner, share with us your thoughts on the priorities for this legislative session.
Chris Turner: (31:47)
Thanks for having me, Ashley. Look, I think that this legislative session, obviously the priority needs to be helping Texas recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. Tragically, more than 36,000 Texans have lost their lives. We have high incidence of COVID-19 spread throughout the state, and too few Texans are able to get vaccinations right now. So we’ve got to slow the spread. We have to amp up our vaccination ability so that more Texans are protected. And importantly, we’ve got to get into the harder to reach communities, to help populations that have been disproportionately impacted be protected. And we’ve got to help the economy recover. We got to get Texas back to work. Our unemployment is too high. [inaudible 00:32:38] get Texans back to work. And we’ve got to help Texas school kids get through what has been a very challenging school year. So those are the priorities as we see them in this unprecedented time.
You know, while those are the top priorities, there are obviously other things you all will want to get accomplished because you only meet every two years. So talk to us about some of the high priorities for Democrats this session.
Chris Turner: (33:04)
Well, absolutely. You’re right. The legislature only meets every other year, so we have a lot to do in a short period of time. One of the most pressing priorities facing Texas, and this pandemic has really exposed it, is lack of access to healthcare for too many Texans. We have the highest rate of uninsured of any state in the nation, and the highest number of uninsured of any state in the nation. We have to do better, and we can do better. Texas could be drawing down billions of dollars of federal funding right now that other states are taking advantage of, and we’re not. And it’s our loss. We have the most to gain from healthcare expansion, from Medicaid expansion in Texas. We need to take advantage of that and draw down those needed federal dollars to insure more than a million Texans overnight. That would go a long way to improving the health of our state and also building our economy.
You know, when we look at what all has happened over 2020, racial inequity, dealing with police brutality, things of that nature have also been a big topic of discussion for people. And we have heard Governor Greg Abbott talk about the move of some cities, some communities, wanting to defund the police and how important it is for him to stop that from happening. Talk to us about your thoughts on those.
Chris Turner: (34:22)
Well, I think that when it comes to law enforcement and criminal justice issues, I think there is a lot of work for the legislature to do. And I think that’s where our focus needs to be, on the George Floyd Act, legislation introduced by the dean of our caucus, Representatives Senfronia Thompson from Houston. It was championed by the Legislative Black Caucus to address some of the very real policing reforms that are needed that were exposed in sharp relief last summer by the brutal murder of George Floyd. But we know that there have been many other instances around the country, including here in Texas, that outlined the need for that legislation.
Chris Turner: (35:06)
With respect to the issues the governor is talking about [inaudible 00:35:11] I’m not on a city council for the city I live in, and the governor is not on the Austin City Council. We’re elected to deal with issues for the entire state. And we have a lot of those issues to deal with, public education, higher education, healthcare, the economy, criminal justice issues. We shouldn’t be in the business of trying to make budget decisions for city of Austin or any other city in the state of Texas. That’s what we have city councils for. That’s what we have mayors for. And if the voters don’t like the decisions that those local elected officials make, the voters have the power and they use that power to elect new officials. So I think that’s where those decisions should be best made, that’s at the local level.