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Interactive: Visualizing the Key Debates in the Lege

The Trib captured every debate, tirade and joke uttered into the mikes in the House and Senate during the 82nd legislative session in our online transcripts. Our latest data apps help you identify when important debates occurred by visualizing the frequency of keywords.

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The Texas Tribune captured every impassioned debate, angry tirade, anecdote, joke and banality uttered into the microphones in the state House and Senate during the 82nd legislative session in a collection of online transcripts. The latest series of our data applications helps you identify when important debates occurred by visualizing the frequency of keywords.

Each day this week we'll be releasing new topic pages to help readers delve into the debates: The Budget (today), Public and Higher Education (Tuesday), Health Care (Wednesday), Immigration (Thursday), Criminal Justice and Wild Card Issues (Friday).

Below is a brief explanation of how to use the applications. 



This graph shows an overview of how frequently lawmakers discussed these topics. Each point denotes the total number of times the words were said in either chamber on that day. Simplifying the graph — clicking on the legend to remove topics from the visualization — makes it easier to identify trends. The higher the peak — i.e., the greater number of times a word was spoken — the more likely a lengthy debate about the topic took place that day.

On March 31, for example, both “budget” and “education” were said more than 100 times. A look at the House transcript from that day reveals representatives debated multiple bills related to balancing the budget by making drastic cuts to public education.

The visualizations on each of the topic pages are more useful for finding transcripts related to specific debates in the House and Senate. Separate graphs for each chamber show the frequency of multiple keywords related to the topic. Highlights from the session, with links to the transcripts and the Tribune’s coverage of the event, are also included on each page.

Visually, the graphs provide a sense of how often lawmakers discussed certain topics. The graph above shows lawmakers said the words “budget,” “education” and “health care” almost daily.

Take the word “education” — which appears in the transcripts more than the words “budget,” “health care” and “immigration” combined. The particularly high frequency could be attributed to a variety of factors. Lawmakers considered more than 600 bills related to public and higher education. And disagreements on how to reform education finance had lawmakers tied up in days-long debates, as they attempted (and often failed), to pass bills related to “education.”

In comparison, lawmakers discussed few bills about TWIA, the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association, and the word was rarely heard in either chamber. After Gov. Rick Perry called on lawmakers to reform TWIA’s claims process during the special session, the frequency of the word “TWIA” spikes dramatically, but only on the days lawmakers discussed that particular bill. Similarly, the frequency of the word “immigration” is low most days, but its usage increases on days when lawmakers debated a bill to ban so-called “sanctuary cities.”

One note of caution about making assertions based on the frequency of a word. The program designed by the Tribune to search for word frequency counts the number of times a string of letters appears in the text of each transcript. A search for the word “tax,” which is included in the budget visualization, will also count the appearance of words like “taxes” and “taxation.” But it will also count words unrelated to the topic, such as “taxidermy” and “taxi.”

Searches for longer, more specific text like “Rainy Day Fund” usually generate fewer, but more precise word counts. The best way to find important debates on a subject like taxation is to identify days where multiple related words like “revenue” and “fee” also have a high frequency. 

Comparing the use of two or more words is also a useful method for finding debates incorporating both topics. For example, comparing “budget” and “education” can help pinpoint debates related to education finance reform. When the frequency of both words peaks on the same day it suggests lawmakers were debating how to finance education. 

When making assumptions from the graph about the frequency of a word, remember to consider all the possible usages of a word. For example, two words in the budget visualization — “appropriation” and “finance” — are also the names of the House and Senate committees, respectively, that review the budget bill. Therefore, every mention of a House Appropriations Committee hearing will be counted in the search for “appropriation.” 

Once you're acquainted with how to use the graphs, click between the tabs to see how often words appeared in the Senate compared to the House. A cross-examination of graphs from the two chambers can reveal differences in how often lawmakers spoke about certain issues. Please note: The average frequency of most words is lower in the Senate than in the House because there are fewer lawmakers involved: 32 senators compared to 150 representatives.

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