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Texas Legislature

A Beginner's Guide To The Texas Legislature

Jan 8, 2019

The Texas Legislature heads back to work today. While you may know the body's main objective is to pass laws – especially the next state budget – you might not know much else.

That's not a criticism! The legislative process can be complex, so let's go over the basics of what the Legislature is and how it works.

After facing sexual harassment allegations, state Sen. Charles Schwertner has told the Senate's leader he no longer wants his post as chair of the powerful health and human services committee.

State lawmakers filed dozens of bills about educating kids ahead of Tuesday's start to the legislative session. The most interesting discussion at the Capitol will likely be around school funding.

It’s something the Legislature brings up every session, but bills aren't always passed. Lawmakers typically pass school funding bills only when they're forced to act because of a lawsuit.

Miguel Perez / KERA News

When the Texas Legislature gavels into session next week, Julie Johnson will make history. She'll be one of Dallas County's first two openly gay legislators — and the first state House member with a same-sex spouse.

State Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton
Photo Illustration by Emily Albracht / Robert Daemmrich and Anneke Els Paterson for the Texas Tribune

Ten votes.

That’s the razor-thin margin by which a young Dennis Bonnen — two years out of college — made it into the 1996 Republican primary runoff for House District 25.

Hurricane Harvey aftermath in Spring, Texas, in 2017.
Shutterstock

Big-dollar decisions about health care and education will top the agenda in many state capitols as lawmakers convene for their 2019 sessions with a closer balance between Republicans and Democrats.

Some states will be considering anew whether to expand government-funded health coverage to more people after Democrats put a sizable dent in Republican statehouse dominance during the November elections. Others will be wrestling with how to boost salaries for teachers and funding for their public schools.

Michael Stravato for The Texas Tribune

The government has the power to seize land from citizens to build things like schools, roads and border walls although it is required to fairly compensate them. 

Screenshot of video via Texas Tribune

The short answer is yes. And a handful of such local control battles have raged in the Texas Legislature in recent years.

A sexual assault evidence collection kit is checked in by a forensic analyst for testing in the biology lab at the Houston Forensic Science Center Thursday, April 2, 2015, in Houston.
Associated Press

Officials say Texas drivers donated more than $560,000 to clear a backlog of untested rape kits but the state can't find enough cities and counties to take the money.

Texas is not a state known for strong environmental protections. The fact is, many green groups head into legislative sessions more concerned about stopping bills that might do harm than supporting bills that might help.

When the Texas Legislature reconvenes Jan. 8, lawmakers will already have on their desks bills aimed at undoing City of Austin rules.

The city-state conflict is nothing new. Last time they met in 2017, state lawmakers passed bills overturning Austin ordinances affecting ride-hailing companies, like Uber and Lyft, and passed a "sanctuary cities" bill.

AUSTIN — A commission convened by Gov. Greg Abbott to focus on rebuilding after Hurricane Harvey issued a report Thursday saying the state should take a series of steps to prepare for the next big storm, including hardening utilities against natural disasters, improving the debris removal processes and expanding a council devoted to emergency management.

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller is urging Congress to legalize industrial hemp.

 

The effort is one of the many provisions contained within the U.S. Farm Bill, and Miller believes it could greatly benefit Texas farmers.

 

 


During the weeks leading up to next session of the Texas Legislature, we're examining some of the state's most pressing issues – and the bills lawmakers have filed to address them.

First up, guns. 

football helmet
Tom Pennington

A Texas House member wants to bring back an annual football game between the state's two flagship universities: the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University.

Leaders of the Texas Republican Party are considering a historic vote this weekend. Their decision would ultimately provide the state party chair a salary.


Ivan Pierre Aguirre / Texas Tribune

EL PASO – Beto O'Rourke, coming off a closer-than-expected race against U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, is no longer ruling out a 2020 presidential run.

The Texas Freedom Caucus in 2017 (clockwise from back): State Reps. Jonathan Stickland, Briscoe Cain, Matt Krause, Valoree Swanson, Mike Lang, Kyle Biedermann, Matt Rinaldi, Tony Tinderholt, Jeff Leach, Bill Zedler, Matt Schaefer, Matt Shaheen
Bob Daemmrich for The Texas Tribune

Despite prior differences, ten of the 11 returning members of the Freedom Caucus in the Texas House have publicly backed Angleton Republican Dennis Bonnen as speaker.

The top three elected officials in Texas are the governor, lieutenant governor and speaker of the House. But you didn't find that last official on the Nov. 6 ballot, because we, the voters of Texas, don't get to vote for speaker.

Bob Daemmrich / Texas Tribune

State Rep. Dennis Bonnen announced Monday that he has support from 109 members to become the next speaker of the Texas House. That number, if it holds, is more than enough votes for him to win the gavel.

State lawmakers are studying how housing instability, homelessness and mental illness are interconnected and what changes might reduce the state’s overall homeless population.


Todd Wiseman / The Texas Tribune

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is urging the Teacher Retirement System not to raise health care premiums for retired teachers, arguing that state lawmakers should take on the burden of increased costs.

Robin Jerstad for The Texas Tribune

Standing before a federal judge in a San Antonio courtroom on Tuesday afternoon, former state Sen. Carlos Uresti was contrite.

“I truly feel remorseful, ashamed, disappointed, disgraced, angry at myself and sad,” Uresti told the court, according to the San Antonio Express-News.

Marjorie Kamys Cotera for The Texas Tribune

State Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, announced early Wednesday that he filed the necessary paperwork to run for speaker of the Texas House, making him the first Democrat to enter the race to succeed retiring House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio.

After the Columbine school shooting in 1999, the Texas Legislature created the School Safety Center, a research center at Texas State University that helps schools prepare for different kinds of disasters.

Robin Jerstad for The Texas Tribune

SAN ANTONIO— State Sen. Carlos Uresti was found guilty Thursday of 11 felonies, opening up the possibility of years in federal prison and millions in fines, and throwing into question his future as a Texas legislator.

Christopher Connelly / KERA News

The race for Texas’ only open state Senate seat up for election this year is heating up. Two well-connected candidates with well-known names are spending millions to win the District 8 seat in Collin County, which was left empty when state Sen. Van Taylor announced he’d be stepping down to run for Congress.

Bob Daemmrich for The Texas Tribune

The State Republican Executive Committee voted to censure Texas House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, on Saturday, dinging the outgoing state leader for standing in the way of the party leadership group's priorities.

Eddie Seal for The Texas Tribune

After a federal report blasted Texas for failing kids with disabilities, educators and public education advocates are pointing the finger directly at state legislators who, they argue, first suggested capping special education to keep costs low.

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus stunned colleagues and political observers alike when he announced that he would not seek re-election to his place in the Texas House of Representatives a few weeks ago. The news also meant that Straus would not be returning to his position as Speaker. In light of his upcoming departure, Texas House Republicans are seeking to have a greater influence over the choice of his replacement.

Texas Tribune Political Reporter Patrick Svitek says that on Friday, the House Republican Caucus agreed to make changes to their process for selecting a speaker candidate.

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