If the Texas Legislature Were a Symphony, This is What it Would Sound Like

Jan 23, 2013
Originally published on January 22, 2015 9:38 am

Editor’s Note: This is an updated version of a story that originally ran in January 2013.

The Texas Legislature is back in session, though the casual observer might not know it.

This week, the highlights included the swearing in of Governor Greg Abbott and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick. The Senate made changes to its rules yesterday. But you might notice that things are quiet when it comes to actual law-making. The clock is ticking: There’s 131 days left in the 140-day session.

And while it might seem like a slow start to the every-other-year meeting, actually, it’s all part of the plan.

In musical terms, each session has its own rhythm and tempo.

It all begins with the flourish of a pounding gavel, but then it quickly dies down. And not a whole lot gets done right away: for the most part, lawmakers can't take a final vote on any bills in the first 60 days. It’s in the state Constitution (Article 3, Section 5). That means our little Legislative Symphony is kind of quiet in the beginning.

But when we get a little ways into the first 60 days, the tempo picks up a bit. That momentum will keep building until March 13 – the 60 day deadline for filing most bills – and snowball into frantic activity before sine die on June 1 – the end of the legislative session. (Here’s the dates of interest for the 84th Legislature.)

While that means Texans will have to wait a few weeks or months for any real action, that’s in part what the framers of the Texas Constitution were striving for.

“There’s a sense in which legislators are not only supposed to pass laws,” says Jim Henson, who directs the Texas Politics Project at UT. “They are supposed to deliberate," says Henson. "The flip side might be, do you really want your legislature – in particular the Texas Legislature for that matter – to go in and start passing stuff right away? You might not want that."

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