AUSTIN -- State lawmakers went back to work Tuesday, ready to tackle the state's pressing issues, even as a potential battle for House leadership ended as the leading challenger withdrew from the race.Republican House Speaker Joe Straus was re-elected by acclamation after conservative challenger David Simpson, a Tea Party-backed GOP lawmaker from Longview, withdrew his candidacy, saying House leaders agreed to address some of the internal reforms that had been the centerpiece of his brief candidacy."Theodore Roosevelt once said, 'The best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing,'" Straus said after being re-elected. "Improving education, expanding opportunity and meeting the challenges of a growing population -- this is work worth doing. And it is work that can no longer be ignored."So let us be consumed by the urgency of the task before us. Let us be bold. Let us be visionary. and let us focus on what Texas can be."Electing a speaker had loomed as one of the few elements of controversy on an opening day mostly devoted to ceremony. Legislators -- including scores of newcomers fresh from election victories in November -- are embarking on a 140-day session loaded with divisive issues.But on Tuesday, members of the 83rd Legislature greeted each other with smiles and handshakes -- some shedding happy tears as they took their oaths of office.Even so, there was a serious mood, as state lawmakers know they have much to accomplish before the end of the session."There are hard choices before this body that call to be solved," Dr. Tom Pace, senior pastor at St. Luke's United Methodist Church in Houston, said during the invocation in the Texas Senate. "[All Texans] need us to make decisions that are not easy ones, we need you to lead the way forward for us."Texas Gov. Rick Perry spoke to both chambers, noting that the economy has improved greatly during the past two years.But tough decisions still loom, he cautioned lawmakers."Two years ago we chose a fiscally conservative path that has led us here today by prioritizing and tightening our belts. This session is an opportunity to rededicate ourselves to the policies that have made Texas economically strong in the first place," the governor said."When people keep more of their own money it's better for them, it's better for their families, and it's better for the state."During this session, which ends May 27, lawmakers will deal with thousands of bills addressing issues ranging from healthcare and gambling to educational measures and concealed handguns. But the only bill they must address is passing a state budget. And Comptroller Susan Combs has predicted state lawmakers will have $101.4 billion to spend on the state's budget during the next two years.For the most part, Tuesday was about pomp and circumstance as both Senate and House members took their oaths of office in chambers filled with friends, family and constituents. Folding chairs were set up in both chambers to accommodate the throngs of visitors and distinguished guests.Hundreds of North Texans -- including former Fort Worth Mayor Kenneth Barr, Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns, Tarrant County Commissioner Roy C. Brooks and political strategist J.D. Angle -- made their way to Austin to watch their elected officials take office and attend receptions and parties.Texas Secretary of State John Steen called the 150-member House to order at 12:01 p.m. and urged veteran lawmakers and freshmen alike to think big as they tackle state problems ranging from water to transportation."Now is not the time for small thinking," said Steen, appointed by Perry to the post in November, calling Texas "a state of big ideas."In the Senate, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst called the chamber to order at 12:08 p.m., making his biggest public appearance since losing last year's GOP primary battle for the U.S. Senate to now U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.Dewhurst, the Senate's presiding officer who has said he will run for re-election next year, has pledged to make Texas the most "fiscally and socially conservative state in the country." That likely means he will push for legislative measures to keep the budget low, creating more restrictions on abortion, allowing school vouchers and requiring recipients of welfare and unemployment to be drug tested.During the swearing-in ceremony Tuesday, state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, took the oath of office for her second term, after winning a hard-fought re-election battle in Senate District 10 against former state Rep. Mark Shelton, R-Fort Worth. This was one of the most watched and costly races in the November election, as Democrats statewide backed Davis and Republicans statewide -- including many of Davis' current Senate colleagues -- stood by Shelton.Davis has said there's "no time for grudge matches." Former state Rep. Kelly Hancock, a North Richland Hills Republican, took the oath of office as the senator representing District 9. He replaces the retiring state Sen. Chris Harris, R-Arlington.Straus challenge faltersIn the House, Straus, who has served as speaker since 2009, was virtually assured of winning re-election with the approach of the session but Simpson signaled as late as Monday evening that he planned to stay in the race and not withdraw.He was re-elected by acclamation after Simpson withdrew his candidacy.Straus, a San Antonio Republican who has been a House member since 2005, has periodically confronted conservative dissent during his four years as House leader but has beaten back potential challenges. Paxton, now in the Senate, also challenged Straus for the speakership in the past, in 2011, but he also withdrew his bid on the first day.Straus, 53, was first elected speaker in 2009 after a coalition of Republicans and Democrats ousted former Speaker Tom Craddick of Midland, who has served in 22 legislative sessions and is now the dean of the House. Craddick was applauded when he was recognized on the House floor.Simpson began his challenge several weeks ago after a previous opponent, Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, dropped out of the race and threw his support to Simpson, who was elected to the House in 2010.Simpson said that he was withdrawing his candidacy "at the request of colleagues," adding that the House leadership was receptive to possible internal reforms.Dave Montgomery, 512-739-4471Twitter: @daveymontgomeryAnna M. Tinsley, 817-390-7610Twitter: @annatinsley
General purpose revenue expected over next two years.
The 83rd session of the Texas Legislature will run for 140 days.
Deadline for filing bills and joint resolutions other than local bills and emergency measures
Last day of the session
Last day the governor may sign or veto bills passed during the regular session
Date that bills without specific effective dates become law
Info: Texas Legislative Council: www.tlc.state.tx.us