Laws are Like Sausages. Better Not to See Them Being Made.”
That 19th-century saying is attributed to Otto von Bismarck, or John Godfrey Saxe, or maybe someone else. But lots of stuff goes into making sausage, and laws, and watching either process too closely might provoke nausea.
The Texas Legislature meets just 140 days every two years, during the first five months of odd-numbered years, in its biennial regular legislative session.
Everything has to happen during the 140 days – this year Jan. 13 to June 1. Otherwise, the Legislature convenes only if the governor calls a special session, to consider subjects he or she decrees.
So there’s a lot of work that goes on in the interim, between the adjournment in late May or early June of odd-numbered years, and the next regular session 19 months later.
Veteran legislators know to file their bills early, to get them through committee hearings, the House and Senate, and to the governor as soon as possible.
They know from experience that otherwise measures they consider important may get lost in the crowd of other bills.
The resulting scramble is not unlike the Oklahoma Land Rush of more than a century ago, where settlers raced wagons to the final gate to get free land. The dignity of the process often resembled mud wrestling.
During the interim, the Legislative Budget Board meets periodically. The LBB is made up of the lieutenant governor and four senators he appoints, and the House speaker and four Representatives he chooses.
In the 19 months between regular sessions, the LBB, and especially its staff, analyze the state’s spending and needs. It draws up a rough-draft budget to provide a starting point for the Legislature’s relatively brief regular session.
Some legislators say the budget is the only bill that the Legislature has to pass. But that doesn’t keep another 5,000 or so bills and resolutions being introduced every two years.
During the regular session, the process starts out like a slow freight train pulling several hundred cars.
In the early months, the train might be going 40 miles an hour. Bills have time to be analyzed – by legislative committees, lobbyists, the media, and others.
By late April into May, the train is moving about 200 miles an hour. Bills flash by. Proposals that got a 750-word story in February are lucky to get 50 or 100 words in a news round-up in May.
To try to make the process more orderly, and avoid errors, the Texas House in 1993 under thennew Speaker Pete Laney, a Democrat, re-wrote the rules. The changes put in deadlines – like by when a Senate bill must clear the House — that gradually raised the hurdles a bill must have cleared by certain points during the session.
The goal was to prevent hasty last-minute actions, which often produced legislative mistakes that had to be corrected in special session.
(To Laney’s credit, during the 10 years he was speaker, there were no special sessions. During the six-year tenure of his successor, Republican Tom Craddick, there were seven.)
There’s a new presiding officer of the Texas Senate, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and nine new senators, most of them Tea Party Republicans.
There’s a new governor, Republican Greg Abbott, who has no experience as a legislator.
The only veteran leader is House Speaker Joe Straus, a Republican beginning his seventh year in the job. He has chosen for committee chairs get-it-done lawmakers, who have produced large bi-partisan majorities on major issues like appropriations, taxes (and tax cuts), and more money for schools.
Wrangling is already underway between the Senate and House over when and how much to cut which taxes, how much to spend on education, transportation, state infrastructure, health care, water, and so on.
The regular legislative session ends in about seven weeks. At least some seasoned watchers of the Legislature are already predicting that there’s enough stuff in there – enough sausage – that it may take one or more special sessions to get it done.
So if you’re watching closely, wear your fulllength apron. It could get messy.
Pete Gallego Comeback?. . . . Well, that didn’t take long.
Former U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego, the Alpine Democrat who represented much of West Texas for 22 years in the Texas House, has already announced he’ll run in 2016 for the 23rd Congressional District.
Gallego won the seat in 2012, beating Republican Francisco “Quico” Canseco of San Antonio by 9,129 votes.
He was one of just nine Democrats who won House districts carried by Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
But in 2014, when the off-year turnout was 40 percent lower than during the presidential election, Gallego lost to Republican Will Hurd, by 2,422 votes.
Gallego obviously hopes that in 2016, a presidential year, the higher turnout will help him reclaim the seat.
DAVE MCNEELY is a political columnist. You may contact him at davemcneely111@ gmail or (512)458 2963.