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Texas Politics - The Legislative Branch
 
 
 
Sen. Averitt on the difficulty of the legislative process & lobbyists. Sen. Averitt on the difficulty of the legislative process & lobbyists.
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1.    Introduction

Legislative bodies carry a heavy burden in representative democracies, and the Texas legislature is no exception. Legislatures must provide avenues for the representation of the numerous and diverse interests in society, and then reconcile the inevitable conflicts in a process of law making and oversight. Legislative bodies are also required to strive to achieve fairness in by functioning in ways that do not systematically provide unfair advantages to particular interests.

The constitutional design of the legislative branch and the political history of Texas have combined to make "the lege," as insiders and observers call it, a peculiar institution. The Texas Constitution creates a part-time legislature that meets for a relatively brief 140 days every other year. The members, so-called citizen legislators, work within a political culture with a strong suspicion of government and a long history of accepting the involvement of wealthy business interests in politics.

Together these institutional and cultural forces have limited the ability of the legislature to fully play its representational role, and have been further amplified by historical factors. The history of racial exclusion until well into the mid-twentieth century and a long period of one-party rule by the old Democratic Party has meant that the institution has struggled to comprehensively represent (or fairly reconcile) the diverse interests of a dynamic and growing population.

At a practical level, the legislative sessions that begin in January of odd numbered years are daunting undertakings for all participants in the process, legislators most of all. The legislature must produce a two-year state budget for a large modern state --- $165.4 billion for the 2012-2013 biennium -- as well as handle bills on a wide range of subjects. And there are lots of them: 6190 bills were introduced in the 80th session that met in 2007, of which 1481 became law.

As former Senator Kip Averitt (R-Waco) frankly discussed in a 2006 speech in the Texas Politics Speaker Series at UT - Austin, the crush of legislation in a short period of time makes it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for individual legislators to be experts or even well-informed on every piece of legislation on their own. As a result, legislators become dependent on additional sources of information on legislation. Representatives of organized interests - lobbyists - become central to the process, not just because they represent social interests (as discussed in the Texas Politics chapter on interest groups), but also because they can supply legislators with something they vitally need: information. Inevitably, their ability to supply this, as well as a range of other resources, make "the lobby" a central part of the legislative process.

The former Senator's comments paint a clear portrait of some of the practical problems facing legislators. They also hint at some of the central institutional problems that persist as a result of the often archaic design of the legislature: essentially part-time legislators must confront a large number of increasingly complex bills within a very short period of time.

Texas Politics:
© 2009, Liberal Arts Instructional Technology Services
University of Texas at Austin
3rd Edition - Revision 115
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