The Texas House of Representatives has gaveled in to begin their 140-day legislative session, swearing in new lawmakers and officially electing Dennis Bonnen (R–Angleton) as the Speaker of the House.
It’s the first change in House leadership in nearly a decade after former-Speaker Joe Straus announced he would leave the legislature in 2017.
The House Republican Caucus passed new bylaws that created a process by which members would nominate a unified Republican candidate for the position, rather than allow Democrats to join with a minority of Republicans to elect another “coalition” speaker like Joe Straus. Though some speaker candidates attempted to recreate this arrangement, the caucus nomination process helped thwart their efforts, and Speaker Dennis Bonnen was unanimously nominated by the caucus last month.
Despite a slimmer Republican majority after Democrats gained 13 seats during the November election, the House unanimously elected Bonnen to the post.
Six members from across the political spectrum gave speeches to officially nominate Bonnen for the position, including Democrat State Reps. Mary González (Clint), Senfronia Thompson (Houston), and Eddie Lucio (Brownsville), and Republican State Reps. Lyle Larson (San Antonio), Dustin Burrows (Lubbock), and Matt Krause (Fort Worth).
In his speech, Krause highlighted Bonnen’s promise to members to “level the playing field” by allowing “members to represent their districts,” which would be a considerable departure from the previous administration who would often apply inconsistent and unfair use of the rules in order to prevent members from making motions that could affect their preferred outcome.
“I’ve never seen the use in sugar-coating things,” Bonnen said in his first address to members after his unanimous election. “I operate with efficiency and honesty that can leave a mark. I am direct and I am a problem-solver.”
While short on specifics of what his speakership would entail, Bonnen echoed points he made in appearances throughout the state by saying he would allow the members to drive the agenda of the House.
“That’s the beauty of being speaker. The agenda is up to … the body. My agenda is simple, bring passionate people to the table.”
Bonnen did, however, say that he was looking forward to fixing school finance and working toward providing property tax relief.
“When it comes to property taxes, we have the opportunity to reform a broken system that is taxing Texans out of their homes,” said Bonnen.
In his remarks to the Texas House, Gov. Greg Abbott congratulated Bonnen, who he called a good friend, saying, “I know for a fact he is going to be an outstanding speaker, not only for this House, but also for the State of Texas.”
Tomorrow, the House will vote on a “housekeeping” resolution, which, as filed, increases office budgets by $1,000 per month while the legislature is in session, places limits on the value of gifts members are able to give other committee members, and makes permanent new policies and procedures designed to curb sexual harassment. They will also vote to adopt the House rules they will follow for the duration of the session.
With the pomp and circumstance of the first day of session in the rearview mirror, the eyes of Texas will be on the body to see if Bonnen and lawmakers will use the next 140 days to deliver on their promises.
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