Texas' 80th Legislative Session Underway

The eightieth legislative session is already technically underway, but tomorrow's state inauguration will allow lawmakers to really start working. Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson brings us an analysis of the upcoming session and the issues it will address.

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They only meet for a few months every two years, so Texas lawmakers have a lot of work to get done. And the reality is there's a big, shiney surplus of nearly $15 billion that University of Houston Political Science Professor Robert Heath says will be the first issue to come up.

"The 800 lb. gorilla, at least for the early days, will be all that money on the table. And then how that money will affect in one way or another a variety of bills and measures and arguments and such that are made."

Those arguments will primarily center around two topics: the property tax and immigration. Last session, legislators promised cuts to the property tax. But first, the legislature has to grapple with how to get around a state spending cap which could limit their ability to fund the cuts. Illegal immigration will also be a hotly debated topic. But Rice University Professor Bob Stein says this issue will be significantly affected by lobbying efforts.

"Think of it this way, the two things that labor and industry can agree on is that immigrants are a critical part of our economy. Look at the bills that are introduced, the majority of which will never see the light of day out of committee, I think the interest groups here can find reasons to prevent some of the extreme forms of essentially anti-immigration policy from passing. There'll be efforts, I think they'll be mostly symbolic but I don't think there will be significant efforts to remove or undermine the economy's dependence on immigrant labor."

Dr. Heath agrees that lobbying will play a major role in the immigration debate. He says another issue that's going to affect the session is the traditional division between the two chambers: the dignified Senate vs. the rowdy House.

"There will be a clubbiness in the Senate, there will be more dissension and discussion in the House -- more variety of positions presented there. There will be longstanding wrangles as the two bodies try to come together to resolve their differences. And ultimately out of that, the Speaker of the House and the Lieutenant Governor of the State play substantial roles in bringing that legislation together."

Lawmakers have until the end of May to reach consensus on all of these issues. Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.

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