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Texas Politics - The Legislative Branch
Lt. governors talk about legislative focus of office. Lt. governors talk about legislative focus of office.
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Biographies: Lieutenant Governors Since 1874 Biographies: Lieutenant Governors Since 1874
6.1    President of the Senate: Lieutenant Governor

The office of the President of the Senate is occupied by the Lieutenant Governor, an executive branch position that is elected independently of the Governor. The most powerful legislator in Texas, ironically, is the Lieutenant Governor - a member of the executive branch.

Even more ironically, the executive branch duties of the Lieutenant Governor are almost non-existent, except in the case of the Governor's death, resignation, removal from office, or absence from the state. In such circumstances, the Lieutenant Governor exercises the powers and duties of the office of the Governor.

The Lieutenant Governor's legislative duties, however, are much more robust. The Lieutenant Governor appoints the committees of the Senate: a considerable power, since committees generally control specific policy areas.

Ben Barnes and Preston Smith
Ben Barnes, then Lieutenant Governor.

Furthermore, the Lieutenant Governor has authority in the Senate to assign bills to specific committees. Generally, the various committees have responsibility over specific areas of public policy. A bill dealing with jails would normally be assigned to the Senate Criminal Justice committee, and so on. But the rules for assignment to committee are weak enough that they give the Lieutenant Governor considerable discretion in assigning bills to committee. Because bills often touch on several policy areas, "ownership" of a bill is uncertain, and the Lieutenant Governor may prefer one committee over another. The Lieutenant Governor thus can choose to reward or punish a committee and its members, or interest groups, by selecting the committee to which to assign a specific bill.

In addition to these considerable institutional powers, the Lieutenant Governor serves on several important boards and may also cast the deciding vote on the Senate floor in case of a tie. The Lieutenant Governor serves as chairman of the Legislative Budget Board and the Legislative Council, and is vice-chairman of the Legislative Audit Committee and the Legislative Education Board.

Also, when the Legislative Redistricting Board convenes (only when the Legislature is unable to approve a redistricting plan for both houses) the Lieutenant Governor serves as one of the five members.

According to the Handbook of Texas Online, the Lieutenant Governor has exerted growing influence in lawmaking and in administration and public policy since World War II. This may result partly from two changes to the office over the course of the twentieth century.

First, the length of the term of office for the Lieutenant Governor was constitutionally extended from two to four years beginning with the election of 1974. Second, lieutenant governors have served ever more numerous terms since the 1890s. Until then, it was customary for lieutenant governors not to seek reelection to a second term. Over the next few decades, two different lieutenant governors were elected to third terms. And, in the post-World War II period, Ben Ramsey was elected to a record six terms, and Bill Hobby to five terms. Hobby actually served more years than Ramsey because four of his five terms were for four years.

This extended longevity in office can significantly enhance the informal influence and legislative expertise of lieutenant governors, while allowing them to consolidate their control over the committees and individual legislators.

Most recently, the greater intensity of electoral campaigning for the office of Lieutenant Governor between the two major parties could have the potential of reducing the tendency toward reelection. If the office were to be occupied alternately in succession by members of one party then the other, it could be weakened in the long run. This is because the Republican Party's seemingly solid majority status among the Senate membership (especially after the 2001 redistricting) could lead to situations where the president of the Senate is a member of the minority party in that chamber. Such a situation could pose an additional obstacle in the Senate to passing legislation.

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