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CBS 11 political reporter Jack Fink interviewed Gov. Greg Abbott live at 5:00 p.m.
DOUG DUNBAR: It was a busy legislative session with bills we know and reported on passed from everything-- power crisis, all the way to permitless carry. But it didn't end without controversy. Let's bring in now our political reporter Jack Fink standing by for us in our CBSN DFW studios. Jack?
JACK FINK: Well, Doug, there is a potential for a couple of special sessions at the Texas Capitol, and the only person who can call them is Governor Greg Abbott, who is joining us now.
And Governor, as we know, lawmakers will have to return for redistricting and spending federal COVID relief money. You've also mentioned election integrity and bail reform. What other issues are you looking for, and when?
GREG ABBOTT: So Jack, those are issues that we are working on to decide as we speak right now. And we will be announcing them here in the coming weeks. We need to finish out the next few weeks first.
So even though the session is over, I'm still going through the process of having to read through, literally, more than 1,000 bills and decide whether or not to sign or veto those bills. And it will be after that when decisions are made about when we will have upcoming sessions, as well as what the agenda will be for those sessions.
JACK FINK: Will you follow through on your threat on Twitter to veto a part of the budget that pertains to the legislature, at which you know affects not only lawmakers' salaries, but those of their staffs and other employees in the legislature? And can you actually even do that?
GREG ABBOTT: So as you know, the Constitution says that the governor does have the power to veto any item that is presented to the governor as passed legislation, and including potentially the entire budget, which may have been done in the past. But this, again, will be a decision that I'll be making when the budget is received by me. I still don't have the budget yet. And at that time, I'll be making decisions about what to do about the budget, as well as what to do about upcoming sessions.
JACK FINK: Regarding the elections integrity bill, what do you say to those who were concerned about a new provision in the final bill that would have allowed early voting on Sundays only at 1 o'clock? Some African-Americans said this targeted them in their efforts for "souls to the polls." And how do you keep pollwatchers from actually interfering or intimidating voters and workers?
GREG ABBOTT: Sure, I'll answer your question directly, but let me put it in this context, and that is, it's important for Texans-- and Americans-- to know that what this Senate bill-- Senate bill 7-- this election integrity bill did, it actually increased the number of hours that were required for polls to be open in comparison to current law.
So this did not reduce hours, it increased hours. That said, you do raise an issue about voting on Sunday. You may have heard about the controversy that occurred a couple of days ago when Representative Travis Clardy said that it was a mistake-- a clerical mistake-- to show 1 o'clock as opposed to 11 o'clock. Those are facts that I do not know. That's just the context for your audience.
I agree that on that Sunday, there should be plenty of time for people to be able to vote, including having earlier hours so that it is clear but also factual that there is no discriminatory intent whatsoever. I believe throughout the entirety of this legislation there is absolutely no discriminatory intent, period. And one way to ensure that is to ensure plenty of time to be able to vote on that one Sunday during early voting.
JACK FINK: And then quickly, Governor, following up as far as the poll watchers, how would you guarantee that they don't intimidate voters and then workers as well?
GREG ABBOTT: So that's-- that's the responsibility of several different people. One, would be those in charge of operating the poll at that location, as well as other local officials. And whenever there's a violation, it can be reported to law enforcement. So there are plenty of guardrails to ensure that everybody does act appropriately.
JACK FINK: Wanted to ask you about the power outage bills. Do you think that enough was done during the session to guarantee that the State of Texas will never experience those deadly power outages that we saw? And also, some have called for some kind of credit for ratepayers, homeowners against future increases. Will you be adding that specifically to a-- to a special session?
GREG ABBOTT: Sure, Jack, let me address both issues that you raised. First, it's so important because I know that people went through very challenging times during the month of February. And we wanted to ensure that would never happen again. And when you look at all the multiple pieces of legislation that have reached my desk, the power system and power grid in the state of Texas has never been better.
Let me just tick these off real quick. Number one, there is and has much greater accountability in ERCOT-- the power grid system-- as well as in the public utility commission. There is weatherization to ensure whether it be in wintertime or summer time there are safeguards in place, making sure that all of the entities involved in the entire power generation process will be weatherized sufficiently so that they will not shut down.
There's also what's called critical infrastructure protection. What that means is, as you may recall during the winter storm, there was a blackout imposed by ERCOT, but it left the lights on in downtown Dallas and left the lights on in hospitals, but it shut down everything else.
They should have exempted power generating facilities from being shut down, but it did not exempt those. And that is one of the things that led to the prolonged outage because power generating facilities themselves got frozen. And we need to make sure-- or, not need to make sure-- we did make sure that will never happen again.
Also very importantly, Jack, as we're talking right now, Texas has more power generating capacity than we've ever had before, including before and at the time of the winter storm. Two last things, and that is there are now enforcement mechanisms with potential $1 million fines for people or entities that do not comply with the weatherization requirements, as well as legislation to ensure that customers in the future will not be subject to any type of price spikes like what some people saw during this winter storm.
And I'll use that to transition into your other question, and that is, do I think that we should seek legislation assisting consumers? I'm always in favor of that. If there's legislation that we can pass that would assist consumers, I'm all in favor of it.
JACK FINK: All right, Governor Greg Abbott, we will have to leave it there. Appreciate all of your time today, sir. Thank you very much.