This chapter provides a comprehensive overview of the legislature in Texas. An emphasis is placed on its form and function, how districts are drawn, how legislators are elected, how the leadership roles are organized, and how bills become law.
To begin, the Texas Legislature is a bicameral legislative body with two chambers, the House of Representatives and the Senate. The presiding officer of the Texas House is the Speaker of the House, who is selected at the opening of each session by a majority vote of the members. The presiding officer of the Texas Senate is the lieutenant governor, who is chosen in a statewide partisan election to serve a 4-year term. The legislature meets in regular session every 2 years during odd-numbered years. The legislature consists of 181 members, with 150 members in the House who serve 2-year terms and 31 members in the Senate whose terms are 4 years long. Members are chosen in single-member district elections where only one winner of each race is seated in the legislature. Legislators in Texas are part of a hybrid institution, where they are somewhat citizen legislators and somewhat professionals in their legislative roles.
Following the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Reynolds v. Sims (1964), members in each chamber must represent districts drawn with equal populations. Although the one person, one vote rule and the Voting Rights Act have increased equality among the electorate, the population in the legislature is very different demographically from the Texas population, where women and minorities are mathematically underrepresented. With the rise of partisanship in the legislature, redistricting has become an increasingly contentious process that not only pits the parties against each other, but also involves organized interests and the federal government to litigate what is a politically and constitutionally acceptable outcome to the process.
Most of the work in the Texas Legislature is done in the committee system, in which standing committees in each chamber are assigned pieces of legislation germane to that chamber’s jurisdiction. This allows the legislature to divide legislation by subject areas and work more efficiently under the constitutional mandate that regular sessions be limited to 140 days. Because so many bills are introduced and up for consideration, legislation reported favorably out of committee is referred to one of the calendar committees, which organize and prioritize legislation scheduled for debate. The calendar committees assign each bill to one of several calendars based on the content of each bill, and some calendars have distinct priority over others, given the limited time frame of the session.
The House limits debate among members, while the Senate rules are often suspended, allowing unlimited debate. Delay tactics exist in both chambers, and extended debate in the form of a filibuster (the Senate) or chubbing (the House) can derail a bill’s track to passage. As part of the legislative process in Texas, each chamber must pass a bill after three required readings. Bills must be worded identically to one another or a conference committee is impaneled to reconcile House and Senate versions of the bill. Both party caucuses and special legislative caucuses help to structure the debate and voting on the bills when they are discussed on the chamber floor, as legislators seek to rally support for or opposition to bills and resolutions.