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Texas Politics - The Legislative Branch
 
 
  Key Words and Phrases

ad hoc committee
Also called 'special' committees. A committee created by the House or Senate as occasion demands to study a specific problem or policy area for a specified period of time before disbanding.
appropriations bill
A bill that authorizes the expenditure of money for a public purpose. In most instances, money cannot be withdrawn from the state treasury except through a specific appropriation. The governor's line item veto power applies only to appropriations bills.
bicameralism
From the Latin word camera meaning 'chamber,' legislatures having two chambers are described as bicameral
bracket bills
Legislation or proposed legislation intended to benefit a relatively narrow class of beneficiaries without naming them. Such bills identify characteristics of a class of beneficiaries which only the intended beneficiaries display. The concept of a bracket bill includes both local and special bills. Though all three terms are often used interchangeably, in precise terms a local bill is one that applies to a limited area while a special bill applies to a single person or class. Since the Texas constitution attempts to restrict the over-narrow application of the law in the form of local and special bills, bracket bills must be broad enough to include a substantial class or geographic area defined using legitimate characteristics. Legitimate characteristics must (a) reasonably relate to the purpose of the law and (b) allow the defined class or area to expand or contract with changing circumstances.
Calendars Committee
A House committee that is charged with scheduling when bills or resolutions will be taken up for consideration by the members of that chamber. Since legislative time is tight, decisions by the Calendars Committee directly affect a bill's chances of passage.
communities of interest
Groupings of people, such as in a cities or neighborhoods, that have common political, social, or economic interests.
compactness
The degree to which the territory assigned to a district is close together. There are several mathematical ways to measure the elements of compactness.
conference committee
A joint committee composed of five members from each chamber appointed by the respective presiding officers to resolve the differences between the House and Senate versions of a measure when the originating chamber refuses to concur in the changes made by the opposite chamber. Upon reaching an agreement, the conferees issue a report that is then considered for approval by both houses.
E.J. Davis
This controversial Reconstruction governor of Texas was, born in Florida in 1827 and arrived in Texas as a young man in 1848. Davis studied law and served as a state judge in Texas until 1861. A Whig until the mid-1850s, he joined the Democratic party in 1855 and remained a Democrat until after the Civil War despite his opposition to secession. After secession Davis refused the oath of loyalty to the Confederacy, was removed from his judgeship, and fled the state, eventually to Washington where Lincoln authorized Davis and several others to recruit and arm Union troops from Texas. He fought in Texas and elsewhere west of the Mississippi, rising through the officer ranks to brigadier general. After the war Davis entered state politics as a Unionist and Republican serving in two state constitutional conventions, the second (1868-69) as convention president. During the Reconstruction period he consistently supported a program of restricting secessionists' political rights, expanding rights for blacks, and dividing the state. In 1869 he defeated a fellow Republican in a close and disputed race for governor. His administration was marked by great controversy surrounding his program which was attacked by both Democrats and Republicans: law and order enforced by a state police force, a restored militia, protection of the frontier, creation of public schools, internal improvements, and establishment of executive departments regulating immigration and geology. Davis was defeated for reelection in 1873 by Democrat Richard Coke but resisted handing over power until forced from office by a virtual Democratic coup. From 1875 until his death in 1883 Davis headed the state Republican party. In his last years he also ran unsuccessfully for governor and for Congress.
filibuster
A tactic sometimes used in the Senate to try to kill a bill. A senator or group of senators may effective block a vote on a bill by holding the floor for as long as they can speak.
gerrymandering
Drawing a district or set of districts with unusual boundaries so that the resulting map favors one or more interest groups over others.
immunities
During legislative sessions and other official legislative business, legislators are not subject to certain public laws which might impede legislative business. Most notably, legislators cannot be charged with or sued for slander for statements made during legislative proceedings. Also, except for treason, felony, or breaking the peace, legislators are privileged from arrest during a legislative session or while journeying to or returning from a session.
impeachment
A component of the legal method of removing high government officials prior to the next election. Impeachment is the accusation or indictment the Texas House of Representatives lodges against an official. This is followed by a trial in the state Senate.
incumbency
The current holder of an elective office is called the incumbent. In most cases, the incumbent has an advantage in reelection contests. Compared with challengers, incumbents generally are better known with a clear record of public service and greater access to financial and organizational resources. Because of their advantages, many incumbents often face no opposition for reelection.
initiative
A procedure that allows a legally specified number of voters to propose a law by signing a petition to require submission of the proposal to the electorate or the legislature for approval.
interim committee
A standing committee consisting of a group of legislators (or a commission including some nonlegislative members) appointed by the presiding officer of the House or Senate when the legislature is not in session to study a particular issue or group of issues for the purpose of making recommendations to the next legislature.
iron triangles
The concept of 'iron triangles' -- sometimes referred to as 'subgovernments' -- implies that government policy is largely made by well-defined networks of legislators, government bureaucrats, and private sector interests internally tied together by specific policy matters with which they are all concerned and externally insulated to a significant degree from other subgovernments and from oversight by other parts of government or other groups. For example, key players involved in setting prison policy in Texas include the Senate Criminal Justice committee, the House Corrections committee, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, and private interests such as private prison corporations. For the most part, the public knows or seems to care little about the detail or broad outlines of policy in this area leaving the relatively few government and private sector representatives involved with policy making considerable discretion.
joint committee
A committee composed of members from each house appointed by the respective presiding officers. Joint committees are normally created by special proclamation issued by the speaker and lieutenant governor for the purpose of studying a particular issue or group of issues when the legislature is not in session. Joint committees are rarely, if ever, created during a session, and House and Senate rules do not permit bills and resolutions to be referred to a joint committee. Examples include the Legislative Budget Board, the Legislative Council, and the Legislative Reference Library Board.
legislative caucus
Groups of legislators organized around and united by shared legislative interests constitute a legislative caucus. Party caucuses join all legislators in a chamber who are members of a party. They are a direct outgrowth of the principle of majority rule in the organization and operation of each chamber of the legislature. Non-party caucuses, while they may have ties to one party, attempt to distinguish themselves from party caucuses by characteristics or legislative interests their members share. Leading non-party caucuses, for example, are organized by liberal or conservative ideology, race, ethnicity, gender, and region.
line-item veto
The Governor's constitutional power to veto specific items in the legislature's budget bill rather than the whole bill.
mark up
The process of making substantive changes and editorial corrections to a bill. Much of this work is carried out in committee and subcommittee meetings.
median
In a rank ordering of values, the median is the middle value in the list. If there are an even number of values, the median is the average of the two middle values. For example, given a list of the incomes of every household in Texas ordered from highest to lowest, the middle value in the list would be the median household income in Texas.
minority vote concentration
Creating a district with a very high concentration of a particular group of voters, such as a racial or political group, tending to result in the election of the group's candidate of choice in any election in that district and the dilution of the group's voting strength in neighboring districts.
minority vote dilution
The creation of districts that either (1) divide members of a racial or ethnic minority group among several districts, artificially reducing the group's opportunity to influence elections or (2) place extraordinarily high percentages of members of a racial or ethnic minority group in one or more districts, so that minority voting strength is artificially limited to those districts and is minimized in neighboring districts
pigeonhole
A tactic designed to stall or kill a legislative proposal by placing it at the bottom of a committee's agenda.
poll taxes
A tax of a fixed amount per person levied as a condition of voting. Poll taxes generally were not intended to raise revenue so much as to restrict the size of the electorate by making voting more costly. Amendment Twenty-Four added to the U.S. Constitution in 1964 outlawed the use of a poll tax as a pre-condition for voting in any election for federal office. The U.S. Supreme Court extended the ban to all state and local elections in 1966.
pro tempore
A Latin phrase meaning 'for the time being' which in legislative parlance designates certain temporary leadership positions. For example, the Senate selects one of its members as president pro tempore to act in place of the lieutenant governor when he or she is absent or the office is temporarily vacant. In the House, the Speaker may appoint his or her own substitute, the speaker pro tempore.
procedural committee
A committee that makes decisions chiefly about legislative process, calendars, or legislative administration in the House or Senate.
Reconstruction
The Civil War was followed by a decade-long period attempting to reverse its physical and political ravages. Between 1865 and 1877 the nation ratified the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments ending slavery and extended citizenship and voting rights to former slaves. Former Confederate states, occupied by Union troops, rewrote their constitutions and were re-admitted to the Union. By 1876, the fever of Reconstruction had run its course and, in settlement of the disputed presidential election of that year, remaining occupying troops were withdrawn, southern politics was given over to southerners (and Democrats) once again, and the regional and racial divisions of war were institutionalized politically for a century.
referendum
A procedure for submitting to a popular vote for approval or revocation a measure passed or proposed by a legislature or by popular initiative.
regular session
A required meeting of the legislature mandated by the constitution and state law. The Texas legislature meets every other year for 140 days beginning in January of odd numbered years.
resolution
A formal expression of opinion or decision, other than a proposed law, that may be offered for approval to one or both houses of the legislature by a member of the House or Senate. Examples include a decision by the House to adopt the rules by which it operates or a statement memorializing or honoring a citizen.
select committee
A committee created by the speaker or the lieutenant governor to study specific issues, problems, or questions. Depending on its membership and its permanency a select committee may take the form of an interim, an ad hoc, or a joint committee.
special session
A session of the legislature called by the Governor to address issues of the his or her choosing. Special sessions are separate from the regular legislative sessions and may last a maximum of thirty days.
standing committee
Also called 'permanent' committees. A committee created in the rules of either house that meets throughout a legislative session or during a legislative interim to consider and report on measures referred or tasks assigned to it by the respective presiding officers.
substantive committee
A committee in the House or Senate that considers legislation as its primary duty rather than rules of legislative process, calendars, or legislative administration. Most substantive committees are also standing committees.
temporary committee
A committee created for a limited time to carry out a specific purpose, for example reconciling differences between House and Senate versions of a bill (conference committees) or studying a specific problem or policy area (ad hoc committees).
Voting Rights Act of 1965
An act of the U.S. Congress intended to reduce discrimination in the exercise of voting rights, particularly discrimination against black Americans in the South. The Act gave the U.S. attorney general broad powers to replace local election officials with federal officials, abolish discriminatory voter tests such as literacy tests, and provide for voter registration using simplified federal procedures in response to evidence of voter discrimination. Congress has since 1965 repeatedly voted to extend this highly effective legislation

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