The 2023 legislative session began at sharp noon Tuesday, with lawmakers and top Texas leaders returning to Austin with a cash-filled state treasury and Republicans retaining control of the reins.
The first of 140 days officially named the 88th Texas Legislature was an upbeat one, with showmanship overshadowing partisanship, even as leaders acknowledged the challenges ahead.
With Governor Greg Abbott back for a third term and the Senate once again controlled by fellow Republican Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, the only real drama unfolded in the 150-member House, where the speaker is elected by the members. Beaumont Republican Dade Phelan fended off a challenge from fellow Republican Tony Tinderholt of Arlington, who promised to ensure that the committee’s chairmanship came exclusively from the ranks of the Republican Party.
Phelan, in his first term, followed the House tradition of appointing at least a few minority party committee chairmen. And he compared the approach taken in Texas to what he saw as a dysfunction in the US House of Representatives, when it took 15 votes to finally elect a speaker.
“For the newcomers here, our 2023 freshman, congratulations. A word of caution – please do not confuse this body with the one in Washington, DC,” Phelan said. “After watching Congress try to get started last week, I can’t understand why some would want Texas to be like DC.”
In a comment to the House of Representatives, Phelan named tax breaks, improved health care, public safety, and curbing “rogue district attorneys” among his priorities for the next 139 days.
On the other side of the Capitol, Abbott appeared on the Senate floor to give a speech on opening day and expressed his confidence that senators agree on how to deal with major issues, including how to distribute the state’s $32.7 billion budget surplus. .
“When we start this session, there is already a consensus on how to solve the big problems that we face,” Abbott said.
Abbott will lay out his legislative priorities in the coming weeks and will almost certainly try to fulfill his campaign promise to cut property taxes.
Attributing the state’s transformational budget surplus to hard-working Texans and prudent leadership from legislators, Abbott took the picture in California, which has a $24 billion budget deficit, and in New York, which, unlike Texas, has a declining population.
Abbott, returning from El Paso, where he met with President Joe Biden last week about border security, is entering his fifth legislative session as governor.
“I have never been as excited about a session as I am about this session,” he said.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday, 31 members of the Texas Senate were sworn in in a ceremony that lasted only a few minutes.
As every Senate district in Texas votes for a seat in the 2022 election cycle, the House is now made up of 18 Republicans and 13 Democrats, led by Patrick of Houston.
It now remains for members of the upper house to manage amid the ongoing border crisis, anger over the state’s abortion ban, and calls to bail out taxpayers from the state’s historic surplus.
While most members who were sworn in Tuesday returned to the Senate, five state senators took the floor for the first time.
Sens. Kevin Sparks, R-Midland; Morgan LaMantia, D-Brownsville; Tan Parker, R-Flower Mound; Phil King, R-Weatherford; and Mace Middleton, R-Galveston, are members of the new class.
In addition, Pleasanton Republican Senator Pete Flores is returning to the Senate after losing reelection ahead of the 87th Legislature in 2021.
With no substantive legislative proposal on Tuesday, the Senate spent most of the day appointing Senator Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, as interim president of the House. after.
“Each member here is special in their own way,” Hancock said after being sworn into office, who serves in the absence of the lieutenant governor and is second in line for governor. “This is a very, very unique place and I love its history and the future we have for it.”
Nomination speeches were made by several distinguished and permanent members, including Senator John Whitmire, a Democrat from Houston, known as Senate Dean; Republican Senator Charles Perry of Lubbock; and Senator Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo.
“No one has ever accused him of being a hat and not a redneck,” Zaffirini said when nominating Hancock.
This is an evolving story. Please stay tuned for updates.