If state lawmakers in the 83rd legislative session ever need legal representation, they will not have to look far; nearly a third of their colleagues are lawyers. If they want a tutorial on newfangled technology, they will have help — the Legislature, with its dozens of new members, is getting increasingly youthful, according to research of legislative records.
And as the 180 current legislators prepare for debates over higher education spending and accountability, they will bring varied experiences to the table: Nearly one-third of them went to a private college or university, and nearly two-thirds went to public schools. Four went to community colleges, while six have only a high school education.
Nearly one-third of lawmakers attended a University of Texas-affiliated school, including the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Texas-Pan American and the University of Texas at San Antonio. The most popular private school? Baylor University, attended by 11 of this session's lawmakers.
Gender diversity has taken a step back this session. While more than half of Texas’ population is female, women hold fewer than 21 percent of the Legislature’s seats. There are 37 women in the House and Senate combined, down from 43 in 2009 and 38 in 2011.
To some, the drop in female representation may be having dire effects, including last session’s $73.6 million cut to the state’s family planning financing.
“I believe that one of the reasons we’ve seen so much pushback on women’s health care and successful cutting of funds has something to do with the fact that women are underrepresented to a large degree,” said state Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin.
Ethnic diversity continues to tick slowly upward in this legislative session. In terms of the Legislature's demographic breakdown, there has been just a slight shift over 2011; two additional minority lawmakers hold elected office.
There are 38 Hispanic lawmakers in the Legislature, accounting for more than 20 percent of the House and Senate. That is the same number as in the last legislative session, and an increase of three seats over the 2001 session. Those figures lag behind the statewide numbers — 2010 census figures show more than 38 percent of the population identifies as Hispanic.
The number of black lawmakers — 20, or roughly 11 percent — is up by one member since the last session, and is more representative of Texas as a whole, where 12.2 percent of the population identifies as black, according to the census.
Roughly a decade ago, there were no Asian lawmakers. Now, there are three, an increase of one over last session. But Asians make up just 1.6 percent of the Legislature, compared to 4 percent of the state population.
The expanding diversity of the Legislature is “a trend that’s been continuing for a long, long time and it mirrors the changing face of this state,” said state Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas. “This state will be Hispanic and African-American into the future, and the elected representatives simply reflect that growing demographic and that political power.”
As the Legislature becomes more diverse, it is also getting younger. This session, more than 40 percent of lawmakers are under age 50, up from 34 percent in 2011. Last session, there were seven members older than 70; now there are just three.
The diversity of lawmakers’ careers, meanwhile, is less varied: Roughly a third identify as lawyers, and a third identify as business owners or executives.
Real estate is the money-maker for 16 legislators Slightly more lawmakers earn income from ranching and agriculture — 14 — than work in the health care field (12, not including veterinarians), and just a handful are educators or work in the nonprofit realm.
Julian Aguilar and Becca Aaronson contributed reporting.