AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Texas legislature convenes every other year for 140 days, so lawmakers are set to meet again Tuesday for the first time since 2021. As they return to the State Capitol, KXAN would like to prepare Central Texans for what’s in store.
Dates to remember
The 88th regular legislative session officially begins Tuesday at 12 p.m. It will end on May 29 — referred to as “sine die.” However, Gov. Greg Abbott could call for special sessions after that period, and those by law can only last a maximum of 30 days. He also has the sole authority to determine which items the state lawmakers will consider during a special session.
The Texas Constitution states the first 30 days of a regular session are “devoted to the introduction of bills and resolutions, acting upon emergency appropriations, passing upon the confirmation of the recess appointees of the Governor and such emergency matters as may be submitted by the Governor in special messages to the Legislature.” During the next 30 days, the Constitution specifies the “various committees of each House shall hold hearings to consider all bills and resolutions and other matters then pending; and such emergency matters as may be submitted by the Governor.”
In the remaining time, the Constitution states “the Legislature shall act upon such bills and resolutions as may be then pending and upon such emergency matters as may be submitted by the Governor in special messages to the Legislature.”
State representatives and senators will be able to file bills this year until March 10, which is the 60-day deadline.
House speaker vote
On the first day of the new legislative session, the 150 members of the Texas House of Representatives will choose one of their members as speaker of the House.
State Rep. Dade Phelan, the Beaumont Republican, is likely to become the speaker again after his fellow members elected him to serve in that role in 2021.
Lauren McGaughy, a political investigate reporter with The Dallas Morning News, said Texans should not expect the same level of drama and delay that it took to elect the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-California, finally secured enough votes to take the speaker’s gavel late Friday night after an historic 15 ballots in Congress.
“It’s very, very unlikely that we would see a repeat of what happened in D.C. here in Texas,” McGaughy said during an interview Monday afternoon with KXAN Live’s Will DuPree. “There’s much more agreement over who’s going to take the helm of the House here in the state.”
The first thing the speaker and the lieutenant governor, who presides over the Texas Senate, will ask the two legislative bodies to do is to decide on rules they will follow during the session. The Texas Constitution lays out some procedures, but both chambers can add on other rules if they’re passed by a majority of the members.
According to the Texas House of Representatives website, the “members give the speaker the authority to appoint the membership of each standing committee, subject to rules on seniority, and to designate the chair and vice chair for each committee. Under the rules, the speaker is responsible for referring all proposed legislation to committee, subject to the committee jurisdictions set forth in the rules. The rules also allow the speaker to appoint conference committees, to create select committees, and to direct committees to conduct interim studies when the legislature is not in session.”
McGaughy said she anticipates to see pushback this time in the tradition of naming Democrats as committee chairs.
“That’s something the Texas Republican Party is opposed to, but it’s historically always taken place,” she said, “so we’ll see if those fights play out on the sidelines.”
Abbott’s legislative priorities
What remains unclear a day before the session begins is what Gov. Abbott will include on his list of legislative priorities. McGaughy noted Abbott is the one person who can name emergency items for lawmakers to debate during the first few weeks of the session. She expects him to share those in a few weeks, though the timing could change depending on what the governor would like to do.
However, Abbott left some bread crumbs indicating that those emergency items may include property tax relief using revenue from the record budget surplus. The Texas comptroller’s office announced Monday that amount is estimated at $32.7 billion.
“We might also see some discussion of border security, border funding,” McGaughy said. “This is mostly a federal issue, but here at the state we can use state tax dollars to funnel cash. Obviously, we have Operation Lone Star that’s been active on the Texas-Mexico border for many months, and we might see a proposal from the governor again to funnel state money into that border security effort, which the governor has made clear is one of his priorities during his recent reelection campaign.”
KXAN will also provide comprehensive coverage of the first day of the Texas legislative session on Tuesday, so stay with us for the latest updates.