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As I See It: What Are They Doing in Austin?

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As I sit here watching the Texas House of Representatives elect their Speaker I’m reminded that in the next 140 days these men and women will see constituents from their districts, delegations from business and many other interests while attending committee meetings to hear testimony on the seven thousand to nine thousand bills that will be introduced.  It is a huge job and a short time during which to accomplish the business of Texas.

But little will happen to those bills during the first weeks of the session.  Texans have a strong mistrust of government.  Our Constitution limits the speed at which bills move through the process to slow legislation down.  In the House the only requirement is to pass a biennial budget.  That budget is usually made public in the first week of the session.  But that bill creating the budget is traditionally introduced by the Chairman of the Appropriations Committee.  This session begins without an Appropriations Chairman so HB/SB 1, traditionally the Bill number of the budget, may not be filed immediately.  It is expected that the Speaker of the House, Joe Straus, will have named committee chairs by the first week of February.  Once a Chairman of the Appropriations Committee is named the budget will be the hot button issue of the 84th Legislature.

During the period that the Speaker is deciding on Chairmen for committees the House determines rules by which they will operate and settles many housekeeping issues.  But, I believe the real reason for the delay in appointing committee chairs is to slow the process.  With few committee chairmen in place there are fewer committees meeting. With fewer committees meeting less testimony is heard and fewer bills are considered in those committees.  That means fewer bills make it to the calendar to be heard on the floor.

But that may be best.  With bills pushed farther back in the session it is less likely that a frivolous bill will survive the gauntlet our legislature creates for them.  With seven to nine thousand bills introduced each session the process is intended to make certain that every bill the legislature passes has been thoroughly considered and the public has had an opportunity to testify to the committee hearing it or has been able to express his or her opinion on the topic to their Representative and Senator.

By spending time at the beginning of the session debating rules and carefully adopting procedures that insure the minority is heard and important issues facing Texas are addressed, the Legislature is doing what Texans want.  By pushing committee appointments back a few weeks thereby moving bills later in the session, the process keeps our Legislature from “over-Legislating”.

It may seem an inefficient (because it is) and a cumbersome (because it should be) way to make laws but these traditions and rules enable the Legislature to address the truly important issues we face without allowing enough time for the creation of laws we do not need.

Still, it is a major sacrifice our representatives make when they are elected.  And while we may not always agree with them we do owe them our respect and gratitude. I wish the US Congress followed the same schedule!

Gary Gillen owns and operates Gillen Pest Control and Gillen Political Strategies in Richmond. He is the only person in history to have served on both the Richmond City Commission and the Rosenberg City Council. He was also the Chairman of the Republican Party of Fort Bend County 2006-2007.      

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