Why does the Texas Legislature have regular sessions only once every two years?

Why does the Texas Legislature have regular sessions only once every two years?

In mid-19th century Texas, the only ways to travel were on foot or on horseback, and you were likely to be robbed by outlaws from the Wild West or attacked by Native American tribes.

So it stands to reason that early Texas legislators weren’t eager to make the trek to Austin every year to handle state business, and that’s one reason legislative sessions were designed to be biennial rather than annual.

The 88th Texas Legislature opened Tuesday, when lawmakers from across the state will meet in Austin to debate bills that will affect everything from taxes to education to health care to the state’s power grid.

“Given the size of Texas and the fact that there were so many legislators from all over the state, it was difficult to get everyone together at once,” said Brett Derbes, editor-in-chief of the Texas Handbook, a guide to Texas history put together by the Historical Society. of the State of Texas non-profit. “In the 1800s, it was difficult and dangerous for important travel, so they decided to meet every two years.”

Because of this, Texas has longer legislative sessions than other states. A 1960 revision of the Texas constitution limited regular sessions to 140 days and special sessions to 30 days.

“When the Legislature meets only every two years, it gets swamped with bills and issues to deal with, and that often leads to special sessions being called to get everything done,” Derbes said.

The constitution gives governors the power to call as many special sessions as they want if more time is needed.

Texas, Montana, Nevada, and North Dakota are the only states with biennial legislatures, all of which meet in odd-numbered years.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, the advantages of legislators meeting every two years include having time to build and maintain relationships with their constituents, campaigning for re-election and using ad hoc committees to study proposed legislation. Meeting every two years can also serve as a safeguard against unnecessary or knee-jerk legislation.

One downside of not meeting every year, according to the conference, is that states cannot respond quickly to new federal laws or make policy in time if legislation is needed during an interim period.

And of course, there is the issue of salary. Texas lawmakers historically haven’t been paid much, so most have other jobs. They earn $7,200 a year and $190 a day during regular and special sessions.

“The low salary is to preserve the spirit of being a citizen-legislator”, said Derbes. “This is for people to have a primary job beyond being a lawmaker, because the low wage is not sustainable to live on.”

However, our reader Swinney said it makes more sense to him that lawmakers would want to meet every year.

“Even though lawmakers only meet every other year, they act like they’re politicians all the time,” he said. “If you’re going to take on the role of politician, wouldn’t you get more value out of that role by spending every spring in the Legislature taking care of business?”

The First Legislature was in February 1846 and lasted only 87 days. The second session was in 1847, beginning the course of odd years. From 1846 to 1960, regular sessions varied in length—the shortest was 61 days and the longest was 177. The largest number of special sessions was six, in the 71st Legislature in 1989 Shortest Special Session lasted only one hour, in the 38th Legislature of 1923. The session beginning today in Austin will be the 88th Legislature.

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