Texas’ lawmakers are back.
They gathered in the Texas Capitol on Tuesday for the opening day of the 85th Legislature, ready for the grind of crafting a budget and creating new laws over the next five months.
Much work looms in the coming months, but Tuesday was a day full of ceremony — marked with smiles, handshakes, hugs and a few happy tears — as members of the House and Senate gathered together and took their oaths of office with family members by their side.
Texas Secretary of State Rolando Pablos encouraged lawmakers to work together to better the state.
“It is the great men and women in these chambers that chart the course for this state,” he said in the House. “I ask one thing of you today.
“Please make sure you will always put Texas and Texans first.”
Folding chairs were set up in both chambers to accommodate the throngs of visitors, family members and distinguished guests.
A number of North Texans, including Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, made their way to Austin to watch their elected officials take office and to attend receptions and parties.
But the first day of work only lasted a few hours.
During that time, House members unanimously re-elected Republican Speaker Joe Straus to a record-tying fifth term. And Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick convened the upper chamber to business, welcoming members back.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott visited both chambers, telling lawmakers there’s much to be done this year.
He called on members to have integrity and resolve as they begin the work of the state.
“We may bring different political perspectives, but we unite under one capitol dome,” he said. “A cause bigger than any one person or any political party, … it’s the cause that makes Texas far more than just a state. It’s a cause that makes Texas a passion.”
Each regular legislative session in Texas lasts 140 days.
The 85th Legislative Session will adjourn May 29.
During this session, lawmakers will wade through thousands of bills touching on issues such as border security, whether some Texas lottery winners should be able to remain anonymous, even whether feminine health products such as tampons should be sold free of sales tax.
“I pray God blesses you and guides you over the next 140 days,” Abbott said.
The session will run until May 29.
After Pablos called the House to order at noon, the Rev. Bob Fuller was quick to ask for a blessing for the Legislature.
“These are the leaders making the decisions that affect us most directly,” Fuller, of the First Presbyterian Church in San Antonio, offered up in prayer. “Make them men and women of truth.”
After members were sworn in to office, the biggest issue at hand was choosing a House speaker.
Straus, a San Antonio Republican and House member since 2005 who has been criticized through the years by some for not being conservative enough, for the first time in several sessions drew no opponent in the House speaker race.
He was nominated for a fifth term by state Rep. Chris Paddie, R-Marshall, who noted that Straus lets members take the lead in the House, something that not all House speakers have done.
“He expects us to lead,” Paddie said. “He understands this place is different.”
Straus was first elected House speaker in 2009, the year about a dozen members known as the “Anybody But Craddick” Republicans met privately to determine the best way to oust Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland, who ruled the House with an iron fist for three sessions.
They united behind Straus and teamed up with a number of House Democrats, who then held nearly half the chamber’s 150 seats. Craddick didn’t have the votes to win and dropped out of the race.
Tuesday, all 150 House members voted in support of Straus.
After taking the oath of office, Straus told members that they will address a number of key issues this session, ranging from education to bettering the Child Protective Services system.
He said he realized that members “may not always agree on issues or approach.” And he said they don’t need to either.
“We have an opportunity … to show that elected officials still know how to solve problems … (and) have the courage to compromise,” he said.
Compromise has become a dirty word in politics, but in reality, it is how we find common ground and achieve the common good. And it is a good word in this House.
House Speaker Joe Straus
“Compromise has become a dirty word in politics, but in reality, it is how we find common ground and achieve the common good,” Straus said. “And it is a good word in this House.”
NE Tarrant Tea Party President Julie White McCarty was among those disappointed there was not a speaker’s race Tuesday.
“There was no good answer here,” she posted on Facebook. “I could argue solidly for both sides on this. But in the end, this one will get us further down the playing field when it counts. Now let’s get on with the rest of the session.”
Two years ago, state Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, was among 19 members who supported challenger Rep. Scott Turner, R-Frisco, for the top job in the House. On Tuesday, he joined in voting for Straus.
“I’m not going to red-light someone just for the purpose of red-lighting them,” Krause said. “I’ve always said I’d vote for the most conservative person. If there’s only one person, that’s my choice.”
State Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, said he believes the session is off to a good start.
“It’s great that the speaker was elected unanimously,” he said. “It’s a good sign for the people of Texas.”
In the Senate
In the upper chamber, Patrick welcomed senators back to the Capitol.
“Our state faces many challenges this session, but I have great confidence in the commitment of the hard-working senators of this state and the people of Texas who elected them,” said Patrick, who Monday announced he’s seeking re-election to his post next year.
“In all our deliberations, maintaining our conservative principles and protecting Texas values will be our top priority.”
State Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, was elected Senate president pro-tem.
Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, said she knows there’s much work to be done, particularly in creating the state’s budget.
Lawmakers learned Monday from Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar that they will have $104.9 billion to spend on general purpose spending in the next two-year budget — a 2.7 percent drop from the amount available for the same category in the current budget that runs through Aug. 31.
We have our work cut out for us this session, but I am ready to work and confident we will pass a balanced budget that meets our needs, keeps the economy strong and prioritizes education, transportation and other important issues.
State Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound
“We have our work cut out for us this session, but I am ready to work and confident we will pass a balanced budget that meets our needs, keeps the economy strong and prioritizes education, transportation and other important issues,” said Nelson, dean of the Tarrant County delegation.
State Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, took time Tuesday to announce the filing of Senate Bill 9, which is geared to reign in future spending and tighten up the state spending cap formula.
“In Texas, fiscal responsibility isn’t just a catch phrase, it’s a mandate from the people,” he said. “While I fully expect we’ll pass a conservative budget this session, this spending cap bill looks ahead to future Legislatures to provide permanent protection against sky-high government spending.”