The 83rd session of the Texas Legislature was called to order in the House and Senate on Jan. 8.
State Rep. Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, was elected speaker of the House, setting in motion his third consecutive term as leader of the chamber and his fifth two-year term as a state representative. State Rep. John Zerwas, R-Simonton, nominated Straus, and was followed with seconding speeches given by Reps. Jason Isaac, R-Dripping Springs; Rene Oliveira, D-Brownsville; Patricia Harless, R-Spring; Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston; and John Otto, R-Dayton.
After the vote, Straus was administered the oath of office by Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson, and then he spoke. Straus acknowledged the change in composition of the body, calling it “the largest class of new members in 40 years.” Forty-three of the 150 members of the House are freshmen, while 96 are Republicans and 54 are Democrats.
“Texas does not face a fiscal cliff, but we do face a demographic cliff,” Straus said. “Our rapid growth requires a steadfast commitment to the core responsibilities of government, such as a quality education, a reliable water supply, a healthy transportation system, and an honest state budget.”
About education, Straus said, “Our priorities should begin where our future does: in public education. More than 5 million children are enrolled in our public schools, which is more than the total population of 29 states. More than three million of them are deemed economically disadvantaged, and almost one million of them speak limited English. The education of all our students will determine whether Texas is a land of prosperity or lost opportunities.”
Last session, the Legislature cut more than $5 billion from the education budget.
Meanwhile, in the East Wing of the Capitol, the Senate, presided over by Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, convened. Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, was elected president pro tempore, chosen by her peers to step in and preside whenever the lieutenant governor is away. She served Texas as a House member from 1990 to 1999 and has been a member of the Senate since 1999.
Gov. Rick Perry addressed the body, focusing his comments on fiscal conservatism with a reminder that the Legislature pulled the state out of a multi-billion-dollar deficit last session.
Ed Sterling, a veteran political writer and legislative analyst, is Director of Member Services for the Texas Press Association, headquartered in Austin.