With Little Fanfare, Texas' 85th Legislature Gavels In

Jan 11, 2017

Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston (second from left), is surrounded by family as she is sworn in.
Credit Texas Tribune/Bob Daemmrich

The 85th session of the Texas Legislature opened Tuesday to lots of pomp, plenty of circumstance and, well, not much else.  

There's been plenty of buildup to the session. A couple months back we had the flurry of initial bill filings. Much of the action there landed on the more partisan filings, like ones to ban sanctuary cities and a so-called "bathroom bill" that bars transgender people from using a public restroom corresponding to their gender identity.

Since then, there have been press releases and press conferences extolling how hard each legislator planned to work this session.

Finally at noon on Tuesday, things got started.

First up in the House had to pick a leader. Unlike the lieutenant governor, the House speaker is picked by the House, not by a state-wide vote. In previous sessions, this has been a very tense and, well, interesting moment, with one or even two people stepping forward to challenge the previous speaker.

Marshall Republican Chris Paddie kicked off the process by nominating Speaker Joe Straus for re-election.

“So Mr. Secretary and members it is with complete confidence and without hesitation that I place in nomination Representative Joe Straus as speaker of the Texas House of Representatives for the 85th session," Paddie said to loud applause from the chamber.

But, for the first time since Straus won the speaker’s race in 2009, he had no challenger.

So that’s unique, but relatively drama-free.

But while the House was going through the motions, Gov. Greg Abbott was opening the upper chamber’s session with a stirring speech about all lawmakers coming together and working for Texas.

“We may be from different political parties. But we unite under one Capitol dome in a cause bigger than any one person and bigger than any one political party," he said.

However, during all the different speeches, there was at least some legislative foreshadowing.

During House Speaker Joe Straus’s acceptance speech, he did mention the need to fund and fix the state’s Child Protective Services agency,  a bipartisan goal.

But, Straus also hinted at a couple of looming battles with the Senate. One revolves around the state's school finance system, which was ruled constitutional, but broken, by the state's high court last year. The Senate, however, hasn't expressed interest in an overhaul. Straus also gave a little nod to the Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s so-called bathroom bill. A bill that, he says, businesses say will hurt investment in Texas.

“If someone wants to invest in Texas. If they want to bring commerce and opportunity to our state, we should welcome them," Straus said. "This state should invite economic activity, not turn it away."

So, that disagreement could be interesting and, after all the anticipation of a new session, lawmakers must be chomping at the bit to get to work. To debate bills, pass laws and keep their campaign promises.

But, by 3:30 yesterday afternoon, the only work being done in the House and Senate chambers was the stacking and removal of all the extra chairs brought in for the first day of the session. But, even if lawmakers wanted to, the constitutions says they can’t pass a bill for 60 days