Texas Legislature

By: Janice C. May

Type: General Entry

Published: 1976

Updated: March 12, 2021

The Texas legislature is the dominant branch of state government within the state constitutional framework of separation of powers. Under the Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, the legislature, as representative of the people of Texas, exercises plenary powers, limited only by the Texas and United States constitutions and valid federal laws. The legislature may exercise the state's inherent police power to promote and safeguard the public safety, health, morals, and welfare; and, by nineteenth century judicial interpretation, is superior to local governments, which are regarded as "creatures of the state." The lawmaking institution also possesses the traditional legislative power of the purse (to tax, spend, and borrow money for public purposes), and to organize and confer powers on the executive and the judiciary not otherwise provided for or prohibited in the Texas Constitution. Nevertheless, the legislature is subject to checks and balances in the tripartite system. Prime examples are the governor's power to veto bills, which is rarely overridden, and to call special sessions; the courts' power of judicial review; and a measure of administrative agency independence in the absence of a central management structure.

1845–1876. The Texas statehood constitution, adopted in 1845, laid out the basic legislative framework that has, with modifications, been retained to the present. The charter established a bicameral legislature composed of a House of Representatives of from forty-five to ninety members who were elected from counties, cities, or towns for two-year terms and a small Senate of nineteen to thirty-three members elected from districts for four-year staggered terms so that one-half were up for election every two years. Legislative vacancies were filled by elections only. Apportionment, mandated every eight years, was based on the number of free inhabitants for the House and qualified electors for the Senate. Legislative qualifications were age (twenty-one years for representatives and thirty for senators), citizenship (United States or Republic of Texas) and residence (for representatives two years in the state and one year in the district prior to election, and for senators, three years in the state and one year in the district before election). Ministers of the gospel and priests, persons who engaged in duels, and United States and certain state officers were expressly disqualified. Compensation was fixed for the first legislature at $3.00 a day with a mileage allowance of $3.00 for each twenty-five miles of travel to and from the Capitol. While the legislature was allowed to change the compensation, any increase was not to become effective until after an intervening election. Neither regular sessions, which were biennial, nor special sessions called by the governor were limited in duration. The date and hour of legislative sessions were determined by legislation. The speaker, the presiding officer of the House, was elected by and from the members when the House assembled. The lieutenant governor, an executive officer next in line to the governorship and elected statewide at the same time as the governor and with the same qualifications for a two-year term, was by virtue of the office, the president of the Senate. The senators elected from their number the "president for the time being" (president pro tempore).

The statehood constitution vested in the legislature "legislative" or lawmaking powers and a few nonlegislative powers such as impeaching and removing executive and judicial officers, electing the governor in the event of a tie and deciding certain contested elections, approving gubernatorial appointments, and proposing constitutional amendments (the constituent power). The 1845 charter was the only one of the five Texas state constitutions to assign to the legislature the appointment of the treasurer, comptroller of public accounts, and district attorneys, but this was changed by an amendment ratified in 1850. Several important legislative procedures and rules that have endured to the present were incorporated, among them the definition of a quorum (two-thirds of the membership), the requirement that bills be given three readings, open sessions, and specifying a bill's enacting clause without which it cannot become law. Revenue bills had to originate in the House.

Beginning in 1846 Texas legislatures have been assigned a number in sequential order at each regular session. The First Legislature (1846–47), whose apportionment required twenty senators and sixty-six representatives, convened on February 16 and adjourned on May 13 of the same year. William E. Crump was the first speaker and A. C. Horton, the first lieutenant-governor. Democrats were the most numerous group, but in the 1850s the Know-Nothing or American Party elected about twenty representatives and five senators. Burdened with the responsibility of making the transition from an independent republic to statehood, the First Texas Legislature passed numerous laws, many carried over from the republic, by authority of the transition schedule attached to the constitution, elected the state's first two United States senators (Sam Houston and Thomas J. Rusk, and provided for congressional elections. The Eighth Legislature (1859–61), called into special session by Governor Sam Houston, authorized retroactively the Secession Convention, whose ordinance of secession from the United States was approved by the voters on February 23, 1861, and Texas joined the Confederacy soon thereafter. To conform to the new order, the Secession Convention adopted amendments to the 1845 charter, which as amended, is customarily referred to as the Constitution of 1861. The document made no change in the basic framework of the Texas legislature, but it no longer required United States citizenship as a qualification for legislative office, restricted constitutional amendment proposals to regular sessions (which endured to 1972), and allowed the legislature to call a constitutional convention by a two-thirds vote. Permissible debt authorized by the legislature was increased from $100,000 to $500,000. During the Civil War the Eighth (1859–61), Ninth (1861–63), and Tenth (1863–64) legislatures convened, the latter adjourning on November 15, 1864, during the second called session. Following cessation of armed hostilities, a new constitution, also in the form of amendments incorporated in the 1845 charter, was drafted in 1866 by a convention elected under presidential Reconstruction. Only a few provisions changed the organization of the legislative branch. The state residence requirement was raised to five years for representatives and senators, who were required to be of the White race, and only White citizens were counted for apportionment, based for the first time on ten year periods. Subject to change by law, legislative pay was raised to $8.00 a day and mileage increased to $8.00 for each twenty-five miles. A constitutional convention could be called by a three-fourths vote of the legislature subject to a gubernatorial veto. (Subsequent constitutions dropped all reference to conventions until 1972.) The constitution contained extensive legislative directives on such matters as education and internal improvements. Following ratification of the new charter by the voters in 1866, the Eleventh Legislature (1866–67) met from August 6 to November 12, during which time, among other actions, it rejected the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and refused to consider the Thirteenth. After the Congress turned down the new constitution in 1867, no legislative sessions were held until 1870.

The Constitution of 1869, drafted by convention and adopted by the voters under congressional Reconstruction, retained many of the legislative provisions from earlier charters but added several that were destined for a very short life, of which the two most significant were annual legislative sessions and six-year terms for senators, one third of whom were to be elected every biennium. Also new were the removal of the disqualification of clerics, the fixed size of both houses (ninety for the House and thirty for the Senate), and, for senators, a lower age requirement to twenty-five. Durational residence qualifications for senators and representatives were restored to their 1845 levels. Ten-year reapportionment was retained from 1866 but not the White citizen provision, which was also struck from legislative qualifications. Legislative compensation was unchanged from 1866. Members of the Twelfth Legislature (1870–71) were elected in 1869 at the same election at which the voters approved the new constitution. But before normal relations with the United States were restored on April 17, 1870, the newly elected legislators were ordered into session from February 8–24 as a provisional legislature by the military commander, who also appointed a provisional speaker, to ratify the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments and elect two United States senators. Twelve days after federal rule ended, Republican Governor Edmund J. Davis called the Twelfth Legislature into special session. The first regular session was held from January 10 to May 31, 1871, and the second, September 12 to December 2, 1871. The Twelfth Legislature was, to date, the only one in which Republicans held a majority of seats and also the first to which African Americans were elected. Among unusual procedural incidents were the removal of Republican Speaker Ira H. Evans for opposing the change of election dates that in effect altered constitutional terms of office, the arrest of senators by the Senate and the forcible return of enough to make a quorum, and the expelling of a senator. In the 1872 elections the Democrats reclaimed both houses of the legislature.

The Thirteenth Legislature (1873) proceeded to dismantle the more unpopular measures of the preceding legislature and proposed three amendments to the 1869 charter, all of which were adopted, including one that in effect prohibited the legislature from delegating its power to suspend legislation, a provision retained to the present. After the election of Democrat Richard Coke as governor in late 1873, the Fourteenth Legislature (1874–75) considered his proposals for a new constitution, but rejected a draft prepared by a joint legislative committee and approved instead a call for a constitutional convention, which the voters adopted. The convention convened in Austin on September 6, 1875, and wrote a new document, which was ratified in February 1876.

The Constitution of 1876 restored the traditional biennial regular sessions and four-year overlapping senatorial terms and continued the ten-year apportionment periods of the 1866 and 1869 charters and the five-year residence requirement for senators from 1866. Among the changes were a higher age requirement for senators (twenty-six), Senate membership fixed at thirty-one, and election of senators from single-member districts with no county entitled to more than one senator. The size of the House was permitted to rise to a maximum of 150, beginning with ninety-three members and increasing by one additional representative for each 15,000 incremental gain in population. Similar to the 1845 charter, representatives were to be elected from equally populated districts "as nearly as may be." For the first time legislative compensation, which was lowered from 1866 and 1869 levels, was set in the constitution, requiring an amendment for changes. A few modifications were made in the rules and procedures, the most important of which was the requirement that before a bill can be considered on the floor, it must be referred to and reported from a committee. Also, the governor, for the first time, set the legislative agenda for special sessions. A striking feature of the new document was the number of restrictions placed on legislative power, many of them fiscal. Maximum property tax rates were included for the first time, and debt was limited, although not so severely as the 1845 constitution, but the most onerous were the flat prohibitions (exceptions requiring constitutional permission) on fiscal and other aid by the state or local governments to individuals, associations, or corporations. Other limitations included a long list of subjects on which local or special laws were forbidden and an unenforceable attempt to turn the legislature into one of granted rather than plenary powers by listing topics on which the legislature was allowed to legislate.

1876–1930. After the new constitution went into effect, no further changes in legislative organization or procedures were required by constitutional amendment until 1930, but there were other developments. One was the tradition of a one-term speaker that lasted for over fifty years. The only exception was Speaker John H. Cochran who served for two non-consecutive terms (1879–80 and 1893–94). One speaker, A. M. Kennedy of Mexia (1909–10), resigned at the request of the House following an investigation of personnel practices, but he retained his House seat until his death. It is of interest that Samuel T. Rayburn of Bonham, Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, was speaker of the Texas House in 1911–12. The office of lieutenant governor, in contrast to that of speaker, was routinely held for more than one term. From 1909 to 1930 an unusual pattern of legislative sessions evolved, consisting of short regular sessions lasting from January to March (10 of 11) followed by an average of almost three special sessions. Called "member sessions," the regular sessions were devoted to members' bills, whereas the special sessions, the "governor's sessions," were concerned with appropriations and other major bills. The odd arrangement was the result of a new and later deadline for passage of the appropriation bill and the end of free legislative railroad passes, but the underlying reason was that legislators' pay was $5.00 a day for the first sixty days of the regular session and $2.00 for the remainder but was $5.00 for special sessions. The short sessions ended abruptly in 1930 when compensation was raised, but resort to special sessions continued unabated. The first effort to regulate lobbying occurred in 1907 with the passage of the Lobby Control Act, which limited lobbying to an "appeal to reason" and imposed criminal penalties for violations, obviously an impractical approach. Two years later the Legislative Reference Library, the first legislative assistance agency, had its beginning as part of the state library. (It became independent in 1969.) The 1921 reapportionment act set the maximum constitutional size of the House (150). In another development the legislature exercised its impeachment power to remove Governor James E. Ferguson from office in 1917, the only Texas governor to lose office by this process.

Politically, the legislature was dominated by the Democrats, but from 1876 to the turn of the century Republicans were elected regularly, although in declining numbers as the century wore on, and third parties also won seats. The Populists elected members to five legislatures from 1893 to 1901, reaching their peak in 1895 with over twenty seats. The Greenback Party was also successful in 1879 and 1881, winning ten and three seats, respectively. But beginning with the new century the Democrats virtually monopolized the legislature. From 1901 to 1930 Republicans, including Independent Republicans, held no more than one Senate or two House seats in any one legislature, and except for one Populist in 1901 no third parties were represented. Although the Democrats were in a position of dominance, they were divided into many factions on many issues, as is common in one-party states. The most significant of the divisions that developed in the early twentieth century were between the progressives, most of whom were in favor of prohibition, a highly volatile issue in Texas politics, and conservatives, many opposing prohibition. With progressive support, the legislature approved resolutions in 1917 and 1919 to place a constitutional convention call on the ballot, but the first was vetoed by the governor and the second defeated at the polls. The legislature was composed predominantly of White Anglo males from 1876 to 1930. A few African Americans were elected, all running as Republicans, from 1876 to 1897 (missing only one legislature), but none was elected in the twentieth century until the 1960s. A few Mexican Americans were legislators from 1876 to 1883 but only occasionally thereafter. Representative José T. Canales of Brownsville served in five legislatures from 1905 to 1919, but only one or two other Mexican Americans were elected before 1930, although the records are incomplete. The qualified elector requirement prevented women from election as legislators until the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution became effective in 1920. The first woman, Edith E. Wilmans of Dallas, was elected to the House in 1922 but served only one term. Margie E. Neal of Carthage won a Senate seat in 1927 and in 1929 was joined by two women representatives.

1930–1959. During the years of Great Depression, the New Deal, World War II, and postwar prosperity, the Texas legislature became a more modern institution but fell short of professionalism or accountability. A small step was taken toward modernity with the ratification of the 1930 constitutional amendment that increased compensation to $10 a day for the first 120 days of a regular session and $5.00 thereafter and mileage reimbursement to a maximum of $2.50 for each twenty-five miles of travel to and from the Capitol. Twenty-four years later a second increase was awarded, to $25 a day for the first 120 days but none afterwards. Also in 1930 the "split session amendment" was adopted in an attempt to increase legislative efficiency by requiring deadlines for bill introduction, committee consideration, and floor action. The deadlines could be suspended by a four-fifths vote of the respective chambers. One legacy has been the "free introduction of bills" during the first sixty days before suspension of the rules is required. As Texas became more urban, reapportionment became more controversial as certain regions and less populated areas generally feared a loss of legislative power to the cities. In 1936 the constitution was amended to limit the number of representatives from the largest counties (a clear violation of the principle of equally populated districts) and in 1948, after the legislature had failed to redistrict in 1931 and 1941, a second amendment was adopted to set up the Legislative Redistricting Board, composed of five high elective executive officers (but excluding the governor), to redistrict should the legislature fail to do so during the first regular session after federal census data become available. The state supreme court was authorized to force the board to act if this proved necessary.

In 1942 the voters approved the "pay-as-you-go amendment" that requires the legislature to balance the budget. In 1949 by statute the legislature set up a modern budget system for the first time by authorizing a new legislative agency, the Legislative Budget Board, composed of ten legislative leaders whose chairman is the lieutenant governor, to prepare the two-year budget and the appropriations bill for introduction in the legislature. In 1951 the governor was directed to prepare a budget as well, with the assistance of a budget officer, thus providing a dual budget process, which in practice is dominated by the legislature. Earlier, in 1943, the auditor, in conformance with modern budget principles, was transferred from the executive to the legislative branch, specifically to the Legislative Auditing Committee. Another important legislative agency, the Legislative Council, was established in 1949 to serve as a research and bill drafting agency. In the 1950s, in the aftermath of scandals, three new laws were passed, the Lobby Control Act of 1957, which required lobbyists to register for the first time, an ethics code for state employees, one of a few in the nation, and the Representation Before State Agencies Act. One common practice targeted by the laws was payment by interest groups of retainers' fees to legislators. A significant change in legislative leadership took place in the 1940s and 1950s with the rise of the lieutenant governor to a position of preeminence. The increase in power is commonly attributed to the lieutenant governorship of Allan Shivers (1946–49), later governor, and to his successor, Ben Ramsey, who held the office for six consecutive terms (1951–61). The statewide elective office offers real advantage to an aspiring political leader; the lieutenant governor is, by virtue of the Senate Rules, the real presiding officer of the Senate, and with the advent of modern budgeting, plays a major role in government decision making. The office of speaker also grew in importance marked by a trend toward two-term speakers, of which there were three, Coke R. Stevenson (1933–36), Reuben Senterfitt (1951–54), and Waggoner Carr (1957–60). From 1930 to 1959 only one Republican was elected to the Texas legislature, and he served for only one term (1951–52). No third parties were represented. The Democrats divided among themselves, forming and reforming groups on given issues. By the 1950s, however, it became commonplace to speak of the differences between the conservatives and the liberals following deep divisions within the Democratic party in the 1940s. The labels have proved enduring and continue to be used to the present. While no Blacks were elected to the legislature during the entire period, Henry B. Gonzalez, Democrat from San Antonio and later a member of Congress, was the first Mexican American elected to the Texas Senate (1957–61) in the twentieth century and possibly since 1876 (an uncertainty caused by incomplete records). A few other Mexican Americans won seats in the House, including E. "Kika" de la Garza of Mission, who also was elected to Congress. Women continued to serve but in no great numbers.

1960–1995. The 1960s, a time when a national movement to reform state legislatures was underway, marked a turning point in the development of the contemporary Texas legislature. The best-known reform group was the Citizens Conference on State Legislatures, organized in Kansas City in 1965. Its pioneer study of all fifty state legislatures, popularized in The Sometime Governments, published in 1971, was widely circulated in the Texas Capitol, as was the group's relatively low ranking (38th) of the Texas legislature. Reapportionment, by far the most significant legislative reform of the decade, was forced on the states by the United States Supreme Court in such landmark cases as Baker v. Carr in 1962 (establishing the justiciability of the issue) and Reynolds v. Sims, 1964 (requiring equally populated districts in both houses of a bicameral legislature). Federal court litigation in Texas began in 1965 with Kilgarlin v. Martin, in which a three-judge federal district court ordered the Texas legislature to redraw districts to conform to the new "one person, one vote" rule, and specifically declaring unenforceable Texas constitutional provisions limiting a county to one senator and the number of representatives from the largest counties without regard to equality of representation and flotorial districts. However, to date, neither federal nor Texas courts have ruled on the constitutionality of the longstanding Texas provision that requires Senate districts to be based on "qualified electors" rather than the currently used standard, population. Urban and suburban areas benefitted immediately from the new districts by an increase in representation. One beneficiary elected from Houston in 1966 was Barbara Jordan, the first Black woman state Texas senator and later, the first Black woman United States representative from Texas and the South. In the 1970s the emphasis shifted to minority representation, and with passage of the 1975 amendments to the United States Voting Rights Act, Texas reapportionment was subject to preclearance by the United States Justice Department or to suit in a District of Columbia court. One remedy for inadequate minority representation was single-member districts, which were judicially imposed on nine of the largest metropolitan counties, beginning with Dallas and Bexar, and then were required by a 1975 Texas law for all House districts. (Single-member Senate districts have been mandated by the Texas Constitution since 1876.) Reapportionment was a contentious political and legal issue after each federal decennial census for the remainder of the century. In 1971 and 1981 the Legislative Redistricting Board convened for the first and second times, respectively, to redistrict all legislative seats. House districts were included both years, even though timely drawn by the legislature, but they had been held in violation by the Texas Supreme Court for unnecessarily crossing county lines. In the 1990s a new issue had been raised, the constitutionality of districts drawn predominantly to favor the election of racial or ethnic minorities.

Other legislative reforms in the 1960s were the first legislative salary, a maximum of $4,800 annually (1960), the first constitutional limit on the duration of regular sessions (140 days) (1960), and the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1961 designed to enhance legislative efficiency by the continuous use of its resources, including interim committees. In 1967 the House by resolution established the first Texas constitutional revision commission, whose report, which was not adopted, contained a few legislative reforms, such as allowing the legislature to determine its own salary. Reapportionment, which brought to the legislature many new faces and ideas, and the Sharpstown Stock Fraud Scandal (1971–72), were major factors in the passage of an unprecedented number of legislative reforms in the 1970s. Although some change had occurred before 1973, such as presession orientation meetings, the resignation of Speaker Gus F. Mutscher in 1972 after conviction on bribery charges led directly to a package of reforms enacted by the Sixty-third Texas Legislature (1973–74) covering ethics, lobby regulation, campaign finance (the speaker's race was brought under the law for the first time), and open records and open meetings laws. Efforts to limit the speaker to one term failed. Other reforms in the 1970s included a restructuring of the committees (limited seniority in the selection of House committees was instituted), additional staff, private offices for every legislator, new research offices, improved computer operations, impact statements (beginning with fiscal notes) on bill reports, prefiling of bills, and "hot lines" to facilitate citizen access to legislative information. In 1975 the voters approved an increase in legislative salary to $7,200 a year, raised per diem to $30, and allowed mileage to be set at the same rate as that of state employees. The Sixty-third Legislature was deeply involved with Texas constitutional revision as a result of a constitutional amendment ratified in 1972. The lawmakers established a constitutional revision commission in 1973 and then acted as a unicameral constitutional convention in 1974. The convention failed to submit any proposals to the voters, but the Sixty-fourth Legislature (1975–76) referred to the voters a new constitution, except for the Bill of Rights, which was retained in full, in the form of eight amendments, all of which were rejected in November 1975. The proposed legislative article included annual sessions, a salary commission, and other reforms. The legislature also exercised its power of impeachment in 1976–77 by removing state district judge O. P. Carrillo and began proceedings to remove associate Texas Supreme Court justice Donald B. Yarbrough, who resigned before he could be dismissed. In 1981 the Texas House exercised another rarely used power by ordering a new election in a contested election case between two representatives from San Antonio. (Republican Alan Schoolcraft, whose election was annulled by the House, won handily in the rematch with Al Brown, Democrat.)

In the 1970s the legislature engaged in a more aggressive exercise of legislative oversight of administrative agencies, which continued in the succeeding decades. Originating with the convention of 1974, sunset review was adopted in 1977 with the enactment of the Texas Sunset Act, one of the first in the nation. It required periodic review of state agencies by the Sunset Advisory Review Commission, a legislative agency, and unless renewed by law, the agencies were abolished. In the next two decades the legislature established by statute legislative oversight boards composed solely of legislators to review the implementation of given policies. In 1985 the legislature acquired constitutional "budget execution power" with which to exercise oversight (see below), and in the 1990s was able to improve oversight by adopting recommendations, if it so chose, from the comptroller's "Performance Reviews," designed to improve administrative efficiency and save money by a thorough review of state agencies. Legislative leadership entered a period of record-breaking tenure in the last decades of the twentieth century. Speaker Billy Wayne Clayton of Springlake, elected in 1975, served for an unprecedented four consecutive terms (1975–82) followed by Gibson "Gib" Lewis of Fort Worth, who was in office for five terms (1983–92). Lewis's election was also unusual because he was, despite urban gains by reapportionment, the first speaker since 1947 from a large metropolitan county. Both speakers were indicted for legal infractions during their terms. Clayton was acquitted of all charges of bribery in the "BriLab Case" in federal court in 1980. In the next legislative session he sponsored legislation that set up the Public Servant Standards of Conduct Advisory Committee, whose report led to new ethics laws in 1983. Lewis paid fines on governmental ethics misdemeanor charges in state court in his first and last terms. After the twelve-year tenure of Ben Ramsey ended in 1962, the next two lieutenant governors served multiple terms, but Lieutenant Governor William P. "Bill" Hobby broke all records by holding the office for eighteen years (1973–90), one two-year and four four-year terms. During his extended tour of duty, Hobby was widely regarded as the most influential legislative leader of the "Big Three" (the governor, speaker, and lieutenant governor), and he even received national recognition, though admittedly subjective, as the most powerful lieutenant governor in the nation. He suffered a rare defeat in the "Killer Bee" episode of 1979, when twelve mostly liberal senators "broke quorum" to prevent a vote on a presidential primary bill they opposed. Despite intensive searches by the Texas Rangers and others, the senators could not be found, and after Hobby relented on the bill, they returned in triumph to the Capitol. Membership also became more experienced in the 1970s and later decades. Turnover rates in earlier years had generally been high, averaging around 40 percent between 1930 and 1970, but after the membership changes resulting from reapportionment and the Sharpstown Scandal, the percentage of new members dropped to about 20 percent. Also, Texas legislators have become more representative of the population, at least in terms of demographics and party. In the 1961 legislature there were no Blacks, two Republicans, four women, and five Hispanics; but by 1993 the numbers had grown to 16 Blacks, 71 Republicans, 30 women, and 32 Hispanics. Occupations have become more diverse as well, marked by a decline in the number of lawyer-legislators. Education levels are high, with very few members who have not at least attended college and with many earning post-baccalaureate degrees. Membership diversity has contributed to the rise of modern caucuses, some of which by the 1990s had become institutionalized with staff, funding, and group positions. The oldest are the Black and Mexican-American caucuses, organized in the 1970s. The liberal House Study Group, also from the 1970s, is a special case. Set up to provide members with research and information it evolved into the House Research Organization, a nonpartisan, objective research agency supported by the House. Other caucuses include those of both parties, the Conservative Coalition and the liberal Legislative Study Group.

The decade of the 1980s may well be remembered as a difficult time for the Texas legislature, which in order to cope with a deep recession and other demands, enacted the largest tax increases in Texas history and incurred unprecedented debt. The legislature was forced to meet in a record number of special sessions, sixteen for the decade and six for a given legislature (1989–90). The legislature also proposed the largest number of constitutional amendments of any decade (108), the voters approving ninety-one, including important changes to relax the severe fiscal restraints of the 1876 charter on state and local governmental assistance to the private sector, a perceived barrier to a modern economic development policy. Several of the constitutional amendments of the 1980s altered legislative organization and procedure. In 1984, in recognition of the importance of the lieutenant governor as presiding officer of the Senate and the largely honorary position of the president pro tem, the senators, in the event of a vacancy in the lieutenant governorship, were required to elect one of their own to take on the dual duties of senator and lieutenant governor until the next general election. After several unsuccessful attempts to allow the legislature or the governor or both to supervise spending of agencies after the adoption of the budget, called "budget execution power," the voters approved such an amendment in 1985, allowing the legislature to require prior approval of the expenditure or emergency transfer of funds by agencies. Also, in 1985 the legislature acquired the sole power to enforce compliance with the time-honored requirement that the subject of a bill must be expressed in its title, a source of considerable litigation in the past. As part of a national plan to prepare for disaster caused by enemy attack, an amendment in 1983 allowed the legislature to provide for prompt and temporary succession to the office of legislator, should the incumbents be "unavailable."

In the 1990s ethics reform was again on the agenda with the passage of the first constitutionally established ethics commission in 1991. Among its many duties, the commission is entrusted with setting per diem pay of legislators and recommending, subject to voter approval, increases in legislative salaries, including larger sums for the two presiding officers who, since 1876, have received the same compensation as members. In 1993 House Rules were revised under newly elected Speaker James E. "Pete" Laney, after complaints by members concerned about undemocratic procedures. One important change was to require open meetings of the Calendars Committee, which clears bills for consideration on the floor; but the most visible outcome has been the effectiveness of new deadlines at ending the hectic last-minute consideration of bills in the House. The historic restoration of the Capitol, completed in 1995, has upgraded the physical facilities available to the legislature and coincided with new computer and media services, including laptop computers for use by representatives on the floor and a brief House experience with TEX-SPAN modeled after C-SPAN. Probably the most important development of the 1990s was the rise of the Republican party as a legislative force. By 1995 the Republicans were within reach of majority status in both chambers, holding 64 of 150 House seats and 14 of 31 in the Senate. While both houses have party caucuses, to date the legislature has never organized along political party lines as do Congress and most state legislatures. The speaker and the lieutenant governor have appointed Republicans to committee chairs and to their "teams," and legislative proceedings have generally been nonpartisan with exceptions on such subjects as districting and taxes. The presence of a large number of Republicans has, overall, contributed an added conservative influence to the legislature and legislation. It remains to be seen whether changes in legislative structure and procedure, such as political party organization of the legislature, annual sessions, increased salaries, and term limits, are more likely under Republican than Democratic majorities.

George D. Braden, ed., The Constitution of the State of Texas: An Annotated and Comparative Analysis (2 vols., Austin: Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations, 1977). J. William Davis, There Shall Also Be a Lieutenant Governor (Institute of Public Affairs, University of Texas at Austin, 1967). Charles Deaton, The Year They Threw the Rascals Out (Austin: Shoal Creek, 1973). L. Tucker Gibson, Jr., and Clay Robison, Government and Politics in the Lone Star State: Theory and Practice (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1993; 2d ed. 1995). Clifton McCleskey, The Government and Politics of Texas (Boston: Little, Brown, 1975). Janice C. May, Stuart A. MacCorkle, and Dick Smith, Texas Government, 8th ed. (New York: McGraw Hill, 1980). Members of the Texas Congress, 1836–1845; Members of the Texas Legislature, 1846–1992 (2 vols., Austin: Texas Senate, 1992). Rupert N. Richardson, Texas: The Lone Star State (New York: Prentice-Hall, 1943; 6th ed., with Adrian N. Anderson and Ernest Wallace, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1981). James R. Soukup, Clifton McCleskey, and Harry Holloway, Party and Factional Division in Texas (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1964). Patsy McDonald Spaw, The Texas Senate, Vol. 1 (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1991). Frank M. Stewart and Joseph L. Clark, The Constitution and Government of Texas (Boston: Heath, 1933). University of Texas at Austin LBJ School of Public Affairs, Guide to Texas State Agencies (Austin, 1956-). Vernon's Annotated Constitution of the State of Texas, 1993. Stanley K. Young, Texas Legislative Handbook (Austin: Texas Legislative Council, 1973).

Time Periods:
  • Texas in the 1920s

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Janice C. May, “Texas Legislature,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 14, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/texas-legislature.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

March 12, 2021