What to expect from the 2019 Texas Legislative Session

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The Texas Legislature will convene for its 86th legislative session on Jan. 8. The Texas Legislature only meets during odd-numbered years, and lawmakers have to be prepared to hit the ground running as soon as the 140–day session begins.

“The speaker’s race will be one of the very first things the House does,” said Susan Nold, the director of the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life. “Just this week we’ve seen Rep. Dennis Bonnen of Angleton saying he has the support to be elected the next speaker.”

The Speaker of the Texas House sets the legislative agenda in Texas’s House of Representatives. Outgoing Speaker Joe Straus announced his intention to retire last fall, beginning the race to succeed him. On Monday, Bonnen announced 109 of the 150 newly elected members of the House pledged to support him in his bid to become their next leader. 

Despite initially saying that he did not plan to seek the speakership, Bonnen threw his hat in the ring after being persuaded by several of his colleagues to enter the race. Six other House members, including one Democrat, also competed for the position. 

“We’re here to let you know the speaker’s race is over, and the Texas House is ready to go to work,” Bonnen said at a press conference. “We’re going to release here in a moment 109 names of my colleagues that have signed on to support me as speaker … We stand ready to work with the governor, and of course, we stand ready to work with our friends and partners in the Senate and the lieutenant governor.”

Sherri Greenberg, a former member of the Texas House and current professor at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, said so far Bonnen has adopted a tone of unity.

“He’s certainly been reaching out to try and say, ‘I’m going to be a speaker of all the members whether they have pledged to me or not,’” Greenberg said.

Aside from identifying the next speaker, Greenberg said it will be harder to tell which issues will define the new legislative session. Some possible contenders include financial legislation, school finance and online voter registration.

“Sometimes you think an issue is going to be defining and it’s not, but I think there are indications,” Greenberg said. “They’re going to be (talking about) financial and economic issues. I think local property taxes will be a big deal. School finance is going to be a very big issue. You could see some issues around elections — there have been attempts to have online voter registration. Texas is one of 12 states that doesn’t allow that.”

Nold said while the Senate and the House may have their own priorities, usually the Governor plays a big part in determining which issues are going to be prioritized.

“The Governor usually also identifies fairly early in the session his top priorities,” Nold said. “Once the Governor actually designates which priorities are on the top of his list, those can actually be issues the Legislature takes up to consider and debate earlier and sooner in the session than a lot of other topics.”