When the Texas Constitution was adopted, the intention was to safeguard the people from government—to encourage legislatures led by citizens rather than career politicians. In an effort to achieve that end, sessions of the state legislature were limited to 140 days every two years.
The limitation is often used by lawmakers as an excuse for inaction on conservative legislation.
Conservative bills die at the end of every session. It was only last session that “time ran out” and killed a noteworthy commonsense transparency measure with bi-partisan support after House leadership slow-rolled it through the committee process for months. Almost perennially, conservatives are told that many of the reforms they fought for simply “ran out of time.” Sadly, many good bills see a similar fate near the end of each legislative session.
Such an excuse implies that the days lawmakers are convened in Austin are defined by a flurry of productive activity; that the legislature just can’t get to everything in the short time window they have. The reality is far different. If legislation is even given the light of day in a committee hearing, lawmakers will often pass it along to the Calendars Committee to stall it—passing it out right before the constitutional deadline and leaving it rife for defeat at the hands of Democrats through chubbing, procedural time wasting, or points of order.
Republicans in leadership then give an oafish “Aww, shucks!” response as if they simply were outfoxed instead of willfully complicit.
This session seems to be following standard procrastinating procedure. With the exception of a fight in which conservatives successfully defeated an attempt by House leadership to ram through new rules for the body at the last minute to expand the speaker’s power, legislators in the House haven’t really done very much since the session began. Since gaveling in on January 13th, they have congratulated an elementary school, a couple on their anniversary, and a Dallas college opening. One would be rather hard-pressed to label such measures as priorities.
While they can’t pass bills that aren’t declared emergency items by the governor until 60 days into session (with limited exceptions), they can certainly work more diligently to appoint committee members so they may begin work hearing and analyzing bills sooner to lessen the anticipated bottleneck near the end of session.
An example of this can be found in the other chamber. The Senate got right to work in assigning committees and referring legislation. As a result Senate Finance Chairman Jane Nelson is already having hearings on the budget and Lt. Gov Dan Patrick has called for campus carry “to be scheduled for public hearing as soon as possible.”
Still, the House is moving at its usual pace. In 2013, committees were assigned in the House on the 24th legislative day. Projecting that practice onto the current session would leave one expecting an announcement by this Thursday.
Judgment on whether or not time has been “wasted” should be reserved until the end of the session. The House could also come out of the gate strongly and pass the conservative reforms that the people of Texas have demanded. If, however, such attempts fall short and the same excuses are offered again, Texans can point back and remind them that “running out of time” is simply inexcusable.