History of the Texas Legislature
I’d like to relay some of colorful history of the Texas Legislature from the past 171 years to present and share the top priorities of the upcoming 85th Legislature all in 5 minutes.
The Legislature of the State of Texas, convenes its regular sessions at noon on the second Tuesday in January of odd-numbered years.
But do you know why the legislature begins on the second Tuesday?
My former boss, Commissioner Jerry Patterson always told this colorful story. “Back then folks had to travel by train, sometimes on horseback. The Legislature couldn’t start at 0800 cause you needed to leave too early and miss Sunday church, so Tuesday was picked. They had to pick the 2nd Tuesday cause the first Tuesday would occasionally fall on New Year’s Day and many would be too hung-over to show up, much less think straight.”
The First Legislature (1846–47), required twenty senators and sixty-six representatives. Democrats were the most numerous group, but in the 1850s the Know-Nothing or American Party elected about twenty representatives and five senators.
The Texas statehood constitution, adopted in 1845, laid out the basic legislative framework that has, with modifications, been retained to the present. Ministers of the gospel and priests, persons who engaged in duels, and certain state officers were expressly disqualified to run for office.
During the Civil War the Eighth (1859–61), Ninth (1861–63), and Tenth (1863–64) legislatures convened. A constitutional convention could be called by a three-fourths vote of the legislature subject to a gubernatorial veto.
The Constitution of 1869 added two provisions that were destined for a very short life: Annual legislative sessions and six-year terms for senators in staggered years. Also new was the removal of the disqualification of clerics. Republican Governor Davis called into session, the Twelfth Legislature and to date, the only one in which Republicans held a majority of seats and also the first to which African Americans were elected. Among unusual procedural incidents were the removal of Republican Speaker Evans for opposing the change of election dates, the arrest of senators by the Senate and the forcible return of enough to make a quorum, and the expelling of a senator. In the 1872 elections, the Democrats reclaimed both houses of the legislature.
The Constitution of 1876 restored the traditional biennial regular sessions and four-year overlapping senatorial terms and the most important new rule was the requirement that before a bill can be considered on the floor, it must be referred to and reported from a committee. Maximum property tax rates were included for the first time, and debt was limited.
From 1909 to 1930 there was an unusual pattern of short legislative sessions followed by an average of almost three special sessions.
In 1975 the voters approved an increase in legislative salary to $7,200 a year.
The enactment of the Texas Sunset Act was adopted in 1977 one of the first in the nation. It required periodic review of state agencies by the Sunset Advisory Review Commission.
The decade of the 1980s may well be remembered as a difficult time for the Texas legislature with a deep recession and other demands. They enacted the largest tax increases in Texas history and incurred unprecedented debt. The legislature met in a record number of special sessions, sixteen for the decade and six special sessions in the 1989–90 session. The legislature also proposed the largest number of constitutional amendments of any decade (108), the voters approving ninety-one.
Probably the most important development of the 1990s was the rise of the Republican Party as a legislative force. By 1995 the Republicans were within reach of majority status in both chambers.
The most powerful Elected Official in the Texas Legislature is undeniably the Lt. Governor.
The top 5 priorities of the Lt. Governor Dan Patrick for the 85th Session are as follows:
SB 1 – 2017 Budget Proposal – the FY 18-19 Budget Estimate is not yet available, but we will pass a balanced budget that will strengthen the Texas economy and assure that it retains its global competitiveness.
SB 2 – Property Tax Reform – Texans pay the sixth highest property taxes in the nation and the high rates are taxing people out of their homes and hampering business growth. This must change.
SB 3 – School Choice – There is broad support for legislation to ensure that every parent has the option to send their child to the school they believe is best for them.
SB 4 – Sanctuary Cities – No city in Texas should be allowed to ignore the law. We will end this practice once and for all this session.
SB 5 – Photo Voter ID – Nothing is more critical to our democracy than the integrity of the voting process. Photo Voter ID is essential
Kathie Nenninger CCRW Legislation Chairman