Political Engagement

Opening day of the 83rd Texas Legislature marks beginning of contentious session

Opening day of the 83rd Texas Legislature marks beginning of contentious session

Austin Photo Set: karen_83rd texas Legislature_lege_jan 2013_house chamber
The 83rd Texas Legislature

The opening gavel has fallen for the 83rd Texas Legislature, marking the start of its biennial 140-day session — complete with a raft of great ideas, terrible bills, fights and strange bedfellows.

State leaders on Tuesday described priorities that included coming up with plans for energy and water, furthering a social agenda that includes limiting access to abortion, and a myriad of reforms for education. 

But lawmakers have filed more than 11,000 bills during some sessions — and passed in the neighborhood of 5,000 new laws — so the range of issues is comprehensive. The 181 lawmakers start their real work later this month, after all the committees have been assigned and can start meeting, but bills are already being filed. 

The state also enters the session with $8.8 billion more than they had thought they’d get, a cash infusion courtesy of the oil and gas boom, welcome news for a state that faced a $25 billion shortfall just two years ago.

Look for some major battles, though, over how to spend that money, or whether to spend it at all.

The only real hope for any fireworks on opening day this week was the potential for a fun speaker’s race in the Texas House with a challenge to Rep. Joe Straus, R-San Antonio. 

That didn’t materialize, as challenger David Simpson of Longview withdrew his name from consideration — it wasn’t likely that he’d have garnered more than a handful of votes anyway — and said he just hoped House leaders would play by the rules without playing politics. 

Otherwise, the dramatic oath of office and speeches by Gov. Rick Perry before the House and Senate were the highlights of the day, which is mostly welcomes, back-to-school style reunions, and galleries filled to brimming with spectators.

The halls of the pink dome were already filled with demonstrators, including groups advocating on behalf of people with disabilities and Hispanics asking for fair treatment by the majority Republican legislature. 

Some who visited the Capitol just wanted to witness the process. “We came to watch our public officials get sworn in, and let them know that we’re behind them — and that we’re watching them,” said Oldrich Fousek, who traveled to Austin from McKinney, TX with about 40 members of the McKinney Tea Party. 

He wore a bright yellow pin with a snake and the words, “Don’t Tread on Me.”