Senate Could Start Fast — and With Fewer Committees

Lt. Gov.-elect Dan Patrick listens to Kent Grusendorf at a session of the Texas Public Policy Foundation's policy orientation on Jan. 7, 2015.
Lt. Gov.-elect Dan Patrick listens to Kent Grusendorf at a session of the Texas Public Policy Foundation's policy orientation on Jan. 7, 2015.

The Texas Senate could lose as many as six of its 18 committees when it adopts rules after the new lieutenant governor is sworn in, and the members of those committees could be named before the end of the second week of the new legislative session, sources said Wednesday.

The shrinking number of committees has been rumored for weeks and would not be unusual. The Senate had 18 committees in 2013 — David Dewhurst’s last session as lieutenant governor — compared with 15 when he took that position in 2003. His predecessor, Rick Perry, had 13 committees during his one session as lieutenant governor. 

Naming people to fill those committee positions usually takes weeks. Lt. Gov.-elect Dan Patrick’s timetable is extraordinarily fast, as these things go. Legislative sessions begin on the second Tuesday of January in odd-numbered years, and committee appointments are often unsettled until well into the month of February.

Naming committees quickly would give the Senate a head start on the House, perhaps setting up a flow of Senate bills to the lower chamber before the House is ready to send anything back.

It’s inside baseball, but it’s important: Legislators actually care whether a law resulted from a Senate bill or a House bill, even if hardly anyone else notices. More importantly, in the back-and-forth interplay of the two legislative chambers, an early start on the Senate side could pressure the House to get going on the upper chamber’s legislation — a subtle way of positioning the Senate’s agenda in front of the House’s own plans.

There is also a risk: Sending a pile of Senate bills to the House gives the House some leverage over senators who hope to gain consideration for their bills. What comes over, packaged as the Senate’s agenda for the session, could become the hostages held by a House with an agenda of its own. 

The new legislative session starts Tuesday, and Patrick and Gov.-elect Greg Abbott will be inaugurated on Jan. 20. The Senate plans to vote on rules the next day — including any changes to the number of committees — and the committee assignments could be complete by the end of that week. 

 

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