Tuesday, the official start of the 84th Legislature, starts with oaths — the kind the kids can listen to — as members of the House and Senate are sworn into office. (The oaths the kids can’t listen to usually come later in the 20-week session.) That is the second set piece, with families and friends in attendance and in the galleries above the House and Senate floors.
The comptroller has delivered the biennial revenue estimate that tells lawmakers how much money they will have to spend during the two years starting next September. That’s the outer limit for the lawmakers who will write a budget during the legislative session.
The Senate has one more piece of business, electing a president pro tempore — the person who fills in when the lieutenant governor is away or indisposed. It is most often a ceremonial post, and the nominations and election are pro forma. Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, is this year’s designate, and after a series of very flattering speeches, the Senate will vote. That should be the end of their business for the day.
In the House, expect a little more drama. House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, apparently has the votes to win a fourth term in that position. He has an opponent, however, in state Rep. Scott Turner, R-Frisco, who is starting his sophomore session with a challenge. Turner and his supporters inside and outside of the House say Straus is not conservative enough. It’s a claim that has dogged the speaker since 2009, when he overthrew Speaker Tom Craddick with the support of a relatively small number of Republicans and most of the House’s Democrats.
Straus appears to have more than enough votes to win another term. But it won’t come quietly. The House is expected to listen to nominating speeches on behalf of the candidates before holding its first contested vote for speaker since 1975. There have been challenges since then, but none has come to a floor vote. Lawmakers are not planning a roll call vote, but a vote on the lighted board in the House, with Turner’s votes in green and Straus’ in red.
Once the votes are counted, you will probably hear speeches from Straus and Turner, and that should be about all of the day’s official business.
There is more coming later in the week. Rick Perry is addressing a joint session of the House and Senate for the last time as governor on Thursday afternoon, rekindling an old tradition of valedictory addresses that hasn’t occurred since Mark White was leaving the office in 1987. One of the lawmakers in the audience for that was a younger Rick Perry, then a Democrat from Paint Creek.
A week from now, Gov.-elect Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov.-elect Dan Patrick will be inaugurated in ceremonies that, weather permitting, will be held on the south steps of the state Capitol. The Senate will debate its rules the next day — including much-debated changes to its so-called two-thirds rule — and as soon as House and Senate committees have been named, this group of lawmakers will be ready to start doing what they were elected to do.