Texas Politics - The Legislative Branch
  1. Tradition and Modernity
  2. Looking Ahead
  1. Sessions
  2. Special Sessions
  3. Bicameral Structure
  4. Membership
  5. Compensation
  6. Terms of Office
  1. Formal
  2. Informal
  3. Party
  4. Gender, Race, Ethnicity
  5. Incumbency
  6. Age and Occupation
  1. Historical Perspective
Powers and Immunities
  1. Bills
  2. Resolutions
  3. Administrative Powers
  4. Investigative, Impeachment
  5. Immunities
Presiding Officers and Powers
  1. Senate Pres./Lt. Governor
  2. Speaker of the House
  3. Pro Tempore Positions
  1. Committees
  2. System Impact
How a Bill Becomes a Law
  1. Intro, Referral
  2. Committee Action
  3. Floor Action
  4. Conference Committee
  5. Governor's Desk
Citizens Legislative Power
  1. Constitutional Amendments
  2. Initiative and Referendum
10  Conclusions
  1. Reforms
  2. Citizen Participation
  1. Print-friendly format
  2. Key words and phrases
  3. Multimedia resources
  4. Lt. Governors table
  5. Speakers table
iron triangles
10.1    Reforms

The very structure of the Legislature can inhibit the vibrancy of popular representation in the Texas capitol. One commonly proposed reform would increase legislators' pay. Low pay adds to the dependence of our legislators on other sources of income just to sustain themselves and their families, never mind paying for all of the additional costs of campaigning. This is part of the reason they take jobs that include lobbying the very legislature in which they are members, working as so-called rainmakers (essentially salesmen) for law firms, or lobbying city hall back in their districts. [9]

Another proposed structural reform is to increase the length of the legislative session. Lawmakers have already developed ways to extend the period of legislative activity by engaging in extensive pre-session work after the November elections. The number of bills submitted on the first day of pre-filing in recent years (135 in 2004) reflects significant pressure to conduct more legislative business than can be completed during the 140 days of the regular session. The Texas economy (estimated at over $763 billion in 2001) [10] ranks higher than that of a majority of countries in the world. Yet, we still maintain a legislative system that was devised in an era when the state was relatively unpopulated and economically primitive.

Some have gone beyond calling for longer legislative sessions, instead favoring a full-time legislature much like the U.S. Congress. Any lengthening of the legislative session would reduce the distortions caused by having to rush legislation through at the current furious pace. It would allow more time for legislators to carefully examine the bills they vote on, and time for the public to learn about and consider the issues before their legislature.

Lengthening the regular session and increasing compensation also might give legislators time and support to develop additional policy expertise the better to conduct the public's business. This would diminish their reliance on special interests for policy expertise and the actual writing of bills.

Other proposed structural changes include restricting legislative lobbying by the membership and strengthening reporting requirements for campaign contributions. This would make it more difficult for well-funded special interests to exert control over key legislators.

Some have called for reduction in the number of committees in the Legislature. Ideally, the committee system creates centers of specialized knowledge over complex areas of public policy. In practice it tends to function as a mechanism for allowing special interests to dominate select areas of public policy more easily. Instead of having to provide campaign contributions and other support to the entire Legislature (or at least a majority of the Legislature), special interests merely have to support a majority of members on the committee that controls their area of concern. This criticism goes to the heart the concept of iron triangles or subgovernments – policy subsystems that serve special interests at the expense of the public interest.

Finally, some have even called for a decrease in the number of representatives in the House. Having 150 members (almost half the number of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives) is thought to be excessive by some. The more individuals involved in any activity, the more difficult become coordination and control, thereby diminishing efficiency. As an added though minor benefit, reducing the number of seats would make it easier to pay for increases in compensation: it would make money available that could be distributed across a reduced number of legislators, while reducing the total cost of any additional increases in compensation.

9 Bob Richter. "Wentworth says he will quit lobbying", San Antonio Express News, October 17, 2002; John Williams. "Conflicts abound for legislators", Houston Chronicle, August 19, 2002.

10 link: http://www.bea.gov/bea/regional/gsp.htm [accessed Fri Sep 24 1:29 US/Central 2004]

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University of Texas at Austin