78TH LEGISLATURE OPENS IN AUSTIN
(AUSTIN) - On January 14th, the 78th Legislature began with the swearing in of 31 Texas Senators and 150 members of the Texas House of Representatives. For 140 days, the Legislature will meet in Austin to consider legislation for the citizens of the State of Texas.
This session, the Texas Senate will be presided over by Lt. Governor David Dewhurst, who will be sworn in on January 21. Dewhurst replaces Senator Bill Ratliff, who was elected by the members of the Senate to serve as Presiding Officer last session. Ratliff was elected to fill the vacancy left by Governor Rick Perry, who assumed the office of Governor following George W. Bush's election as President of the United States.
After 34 years of service, Tom Craddick of Midland was elected by his fellow House members to serve as Speaker. Craddick replaces Rep. James E. "Pete" Laney, who served as Speaker of the House since 1993.
This is the first Weekly Capitol Update from my office, and it focuses on our legislative process in Texas. Portions of this article were taken from the Capitol website (www.capitol.state.tx.us).
The Legislative Process in Texas
The Legislature of the State of Texas is the state's lawmaking body. Its primary function is to enact laws to provide for the health, welfare, education, environment, and economic and general well-being of the citizens of Texas. It also establishes public policy through the passage of bills and resolutions and proposes amendments to the state constitution, which are then submitted to the voters for approval or disapproval.
Like most other states, Texas employs a bicameral system for its legislative branch of state government. The Texas Legislature consists of two separate chambers, a 31-member senate and a 150-member house of representatives. State senators and representatives are elected from single-member districts to serve four-year and two-year terms, respectively.
District boundaries were redrawn as required by law after the 1990 census, and each state senator now represents a senatorial district of more than half a million residents, while the average house district is composed of about 113,000 people. The rich diversity of Texas is mirrored in the composition of the two chambers as 181 men and women from all walks of life unite to represent the 18 million people of the Lone Star State.
In accordance with the Texas Constitution, the legislature meets in a regular legislative session in Austin every two years. By statute, the legislature convenes in a regular session on the second Tuesday in January of every odd-numbered year. These biennial sessions are limited to 140 days' duration. The constitution also allows the governor to call additional special sessions as necessary. During a called session, which cannot exceed 30 days, the legislature may consider legislation only on matters specified in proclamations issued by the governor.
Powers and Duties of the Lieutenant Governor
The Texas Constitution provides that the lieutenant governor shall serve as president of the senate, the presiding officer of that body. The lieutenant governor is elected statewide by the voters of Texas and is the second-highest ranking officer of the executive branch of government (the governor is the chief executive officer of the state).
However, as the presiding officer of the upper house of the legislature, the lieutenant governor wields substantial power over legislative matters. This is unlike the situation in the U.S. Senate, where the vice president of the United States serves ceremonially as the president of the senate. The lieutenant governor's power over legislative matters is derived from the senate rules of procedure adopted by the members of the senate at the beginning of each regular session of the legislature. The senate has given the lieutenant governor powers similar to those given to the speaker in the house rules of procedure. Under the senate rules, the lieutenant governor has the power to appoint senate committees and committee chairs and refer legislation to committees, in addition to the power to maintain order during floor debate, rule on procedural matters, and recognize senators who wish to speak. In the senate, the power to recognize members who wish to speak takes on added importance, as it is this power of recognition that determines the order in which bills will be considered on the senate floor.
Please contact my office to discuss this, or any other issue.
To contact Sen. Deuell about the legislative process, contact the Capitol Office at (512) 463-0556 or mail to Sen. Bob Deuell, Texas Senate, P.O. Box 12068, Austin, TX 78711. The website for the Texas Senate is www.Senate.state.tx.us. The e-mail address for Sen. Deuell is: firstname.lastname@example.org.