Texas State Legislature
The Texas Legislature is the state legislature of Texas. The legislature meets at the Texas State Capitol in Austin. In Texas, the Legislature is considered the most powerful branch of state government because of its aggressive use of the power of the purse to control and direct the activities of state government.
Texas entered the Union in 1845. The First Legislature met from February 16 to May 13, 1846.
Structure and operations
Like most state legislatures, it is a bicameral institution, consisting of a lower house, the Texas House of Representatives, and the upper house, the Texas Senate. The legislature meets in regular session on the second Tuesday in January of each odd-numbered year. The Texas Constitution limits the regular session to 140 calendar days. The Lieutenant Governor, elected statewide separate from the Governor, presides over the Senate, while the Speaker of the House is elected from that body by its members. Both have wide latitude in choosing committee membership in their respective houses and have a large impact on lawmaking in the state.
Only the Governor may call the Legislature into special sessions (the legislature may not call itself into session, as is the case in some other states), and the governor may call as many sessions as he wishes. For example, Governor Rick Perry called three consecutive sessions in 2003 to address congressional redistricting. The Texas Constitution limits the duration of each special session to 30 days; lawmakers may consider only those issues designated by the Governor in his "call," or proclamation convening the special session (though other issues may be added by the Governor during a session).
Both houses of the Legislature are officially organized on a bipartisan basis, with members of both parties serving in leadership positions such as committee chairmanships. Currently (2007), a majority of the members of each chamber are members of the Republican Party.
Qualification for service
The Texas Constitution sets the qualifications for election to each house as follows:
- A senator must be at least 26 years of age, a citizen of Texas five years prior to election and a resident of the district from which elected one year prior to election. Each senator serves a four-year term and one-half of the Senate membership is elected every two years in even-numbered years, with the exception that all 31 Senate seats are up for election for the first legislature following the decennial census in order to reflect the newly redrawn districts. After the initial election, the Senate is divided by lot into two classes, with one class having a re-election after two years and the other having a re-election after four years.
- A representative must be at least 21 years of age, a citizen of Texas for two years prior to election and a resident of the district from which elected one year prior to election. They are elected for two-year terms, running for re-election in even-numbered years.
Neither the House of Representatives nor the Senate has term limits.
The current make-up of the Texas Legislature is as follows:
- Texas Senate: 20 Republicans - 11 Democrats
- Texas House of Representatives: 79 Republicans - 71 Democrats
Multiple voting controversy
On May 14, 2007, CBS Channel 42's KeyeTV Investigates reported on the rampant multiple voting by Texas state representatives present during a voting session. The report noted how representatives would race to the nearest empty seats to register votes for absent members on the legislature's automated voting machines. Each representative would vote for the nearest absent members, apparently regardless of party affiliation. This practice was in direct violation of a Rule of the Texas Legislature; however, no house member had ever been disciplined for the practice. The then-Speaker of the House, responsible for enforcement of the rule, issued a statement that discipline for violations of the rule is left to the individual house members.
- Texas Government Code 301.001
- CBS Channel 42 KeyeTV Investigates: One Lawmaker, Many Votes?, May 14, 2007, available at "http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eG6X-xtVask"; see also Wilson, Nanci, One Lawmaker, Many Votes?, May 14, 2007, available at "www.keyetv.com/topstories/local_story_134224129.html"
- "Citizen Handbook". The Senate of Texas. Retrieved 13 April 2005.
- Stanley K. Young, Texas Legislative Handbook (1973).
- Univ. of Tex., The Legislative Branch in Texas Politics,  (last accessed Oct. 8, 2006) (stating that "The Texas Legislature is the most powerful of the three main branches of government[,]" primarily because it is "less weak than the other branches").
- Wikipedia: Texas Legislature