New Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan discusses what's ahead for this historic legislative session

Lawmakers are back in Austin for what is expected to be a historic session.

The economic damage from the COVID-19 pandemic and redistricting are only two of the issues facing the new Speaker of the Texas House, Beaumont Representative Dade Phelan.

"We were supposed to come into this cycle with a budget surplus, instead, we have a deficit because of COVID-19," Phelan said.

Speaker Phelan released his base budget a few days ago. 

But with the impacts from the pandemic, he said lawmakers may tap into the Economic Stabilization Fund, also called the Rainy Day Fund, which has about $10 billion in it. 

"I see some opportunities in this budget, because of COVID-19, to use that fund for one-time expenses," he added.

[REPORTER: "I am assuming one-time expenses does not mean small business relief, instead where there is a shortfall, let’s fill that void and figure out the rest with the funds that are already available."]

"The members will decide what those one-time expenses are. Whether or not it’s appropriate to use it in Article 2, which is healthcare, or Article 3, which is public education, or some of the other articles, that is in infrastructure," Phelan said.

Hanging over this session is redistricting, a traditionally ugly fight over which party controls political power in the state.

"We have redistricting coming up, which is a very controversial issue, but every 10 years, we must take up redistricting, so that's something. We will redraw maps for House, Senate, Congress, state board of education," Phelan said.

With majorities in both houses, and a weakening of the Voting Rights Act in 2013, Republicans will likely make the most of redistricting.

But Speaker Phelan will be under pressure to maintain party unity, after years of attacks on his predecessor, Joe Straus, by the far right of the party.

"We are ready to get back to our communities, back to our families, our jobs," he said. "If we can get those first two things done in the first 140 days, that will be fantastic."