State

Texas Lawmakers File Proposal for Annual Legislative Sessions

Come Tuesday, since the Texas Legislature meets every two years, the granite halls of the Texas Capitol will ring with the clamor of all 181 of the state’s lawmakers for the first time since May of 2019.

A Democrat and a Republican from the Texas House have raised proposals to change that schedule and ensure the building stays noisy every spring.

Under a joint resolution filed by state Rep. Lyle Larson (R-San Antonio), the Texas Legislature would meet every year instead of every two years. Larson’s vision would split the legislature’s time in half: instead of Texas’ current 140-day marathon, lawmakers would meet annually for a 70-day sprint.

The Texas Constitution also devotes the first 30 days of session to acting on emergencies, introducing bills, while Larson’s resolution would cut that slot down to 15 days.

State Rep. Richard Peña Raymond (D-Laredo) has filed a similar joint resolution that would convene the lawmakers every odd-numbered year in a regular session and every even-numbered year in a session just for the state budget. It is identical to a joint resolution he filed in the last session. Raymond enabled the joint resolution with a regular House bill. Last session, his effort died in committee.

Flexibility and responsiveness are the goals of Larson’s proposal, further arguing that circumstance rather than principle motivated the Texas founders to set the sessions two years apart. In an opinion piece for the San Antonio Express-News, Larson argued that the legislature lacks the speed to address crises that happen to fall outside the biennial calendar.

“When our state government was getting started, this made sense. Back then, it took more than eight days to travel by stagecoach from Amarillo to Austin. Understandably, legislators from far-flung parts of the state had little desire to make the arduous trip annually,” Larson wrote.

“In 2020, however, the same trek from Amarillo takes eight hours by car and even less time by plane. Now, there are no discernible reasons to continue to meet just once every two years, letting important state business languish while we wait for the pages of the calendar to fall.”

Larson also pointed to Hurricane Harvey and major budget shortfalls and problems demanding the kind of quick action that he believes the legislature’s long calendar renders impossible.

Opponents of the perennial proposal tend to see principle instead of mere convenience in the current two-year schedule, often arguing that the brief and staggered schedule as laid out in the Texas Constitution prevents overactive lawmaking.

The San Antonio legislator has said the change in schedule will not affect the cost to run the legislature.

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