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Texas Legislature 101: The art of Texas politics

Texas Legislature 101: The art of Texas politics
Texas Legislature 101: The art of Texas politics 03:19

Lawmaking in Texas is a fast-paced political process that is unique compared to other states. We sat down with TCU political science professor and political analyst Scott Braddock to learn the art of Texas politics.

Lots of money and relatively little time: that's the reality for Texas lawmakers. "It's a very, very manic process," said Dr. Jim Riddlesperger, a TCU political science professor. 

According to the state constitution, regular legislative sessions only meet in odd-numbered years. Each session starts on the second Tuesday in January and can last up to 140 days. "The framers of the constitution were suspicious of government in general," said Riddlesperger. "And particularly suspicious of government after the civil war."

Each representative and senator makes $7,200 per year, plus $190 per day during sessions. The house is led by the speaker, while the senate is led by the lieutenant governor. Both positions are extremely powerful in the law-making process.

"If a bill's going to pass, it has to be on the radar of both the lieutenant governor and speaker almost from the first day of the session," said Riddlesperger. Braddock, the editor of a political newsletter and host of a political podcast, agrees. "They're controlling the flow of legislation, which bills make it to committees, which bills make it to the floor and which bills actually see votes."

The speaker is elected by members of the house. The lieutenant governor is elected statewide. He is the only full-time politician in the legislature. "He's not in a position of absolute chokehold authority," said Riddlesperger. "But he is probably the single entity that has more influence over the legislative session than anyone else."

Around 10,000 bills are filed each session. Less than half of those will make it to the finish line. "If you don't have a person of influence to get your bill considered, it's not going to be considered," said Riddlesperger.

The only bill that has to be passed is the state budget. That is number one - literally - in the house and senate. Other high priority bills will have the lowest numbers. "In the senate, the lieutenant governor has set aside the first 20 bills, in the house the speaker has set aside the first 30 bills," said Braddock. "So, once you start to see those actually filed, you'll know what the priorities are."

With an estimated $27 billion surplus, this year is different from sessions of the past decade. "The state is awash in money," said Braddock. "So, when it comes to what they're going to spend that money on, it's the question of the session."

But according to Braddock, that money comes with its own challenges. "That can be one of the toughest sessions for legislators," he said. "Because when people are asking for resources, they don't have an excuse if they can't come up with the money."

The Texas legislative session has been called many things: a mad dash, a zoo, a circus. No matter what you call it, Riddlesperger says, it's how we make laws in the Lone Star State. "If you're going to watch Texas politics, you have to do it with a sense of humor!"

Our thanks to Arlington artists Dan Darr and his daughter Ava, who helped bring this story to life.

The Texas Legislature's website is here

Here's a list of FAQs from the legislature.

Find out which lawmakers represent you here.

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