State Capital Highlights

New mix of lawmakers, officially heading for Austin



When the 84th Texas Legislature convenes on Jan. 13 and oaths of office are administered, the political party split will be 21 Republicans to 10 Democrats in the 31-member Senate, and 98 Republicans to 52 Democrats in the 150-member House.

The composition and leadership of committees, the flow of legislation through those committees and control of floor debate will be according to the wishes of new Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick of Houston and House Speaker Joe Straus of San Antonio. Straus is subject to reelection by his peers. He is expected to retain the rostrum and gavel for a fourth consecutive term, even if challenged by a subgroup within the Republican party.

Fort Worth attorney George P. Bush was sworn in as Texas land commissioner on Jan. 2. He succeeds Jerry Patterson at the post. Son of former Florida governor and possible 2016 presidential candidate Jeb Bush, nephew of former president and Texas governor George W. Bush and grandson of former president George H.W. Bush, George P. Bush is 38 years old and enters an elected office for the first time.

Texans’ attention now refocuses on Austin as new leadership in state government takes shape in the coming days and weeks. To review, general election voters in November picked a broad slate of Republicans to replace Republicans, ostensibly to keep the philosophy about the same at the Capitol. At the top, 12-year attorney general Greg Abbott of Houston succeeds 14-year governor Rick Perry as the state’s chief executive. Abbott’s successor as attorney general will be former state Sen. Ken Paxton of McKinney.

After 11 years as lieutenant governor, David Dewhurst, a former Texas land commissioner, CIA member and Air Force officer — and continuing businessman and cutting horse rider — will be succeeded by Dan Patrick, a state senator since 2007 and a radio talk show host.

Rice farmer and former state senator Glenn Hegar of Katy succeeds rancherauthor former state representative Susan Combs as state comptroller. Hegar took the oath on office in a Jan. 2 Senate Chamber ceremony.

Ryan Sitton of Pasadena was elected to the three-seat state agency that regulates the oil and gas industry, the Texas Railroad Commission. Commissioner-elect Sitton last week stepped down as president and chief executive officer of his own oil and gas company, he said, to make sure citizens “are confident as I go to work for them.”

Farmer-rancher and former state representative Sid Miller of Stephenville takes up the post of agriculture commissioner, assuming the position formerly held by farmerrancher and former state senator Todd Staples.

In special elections set for Jan. 6, state Reps. Trey Martinez-Fischer and Jose Menendez, both San Antonio Democrats, face off for the Senate District 26 seat vacated by Leticia Van de Putte, who ran against Patrick for lieutenant governor and is now running for mayor of San Antonio. Six candidates are vying for San Antonio’s House District 123 seat long held by Rep. Mike Villarreal, who also is running for mayor of San Antonio. And, there is a five-way race for the central Texas House District 17 seat vacated by Tim Kleinschmidt, who resigned from office in November to become general counsel for the Texas Department of Agriculture.

Schools certify compliance

Texas Education Agency on Dec. 18 announced that a majority of the state’s school districts and charters certified compliance with a state law requiring fingerprinting and criminal background checks.

Under a law passed in 2007, employees — certified, non-certified and substitute teachers — must be fingerprinted before their first day of employment.

In October, Texas Education Agency notified school superintendents asking them to certify that their district or charter school has complied with the state fingerprinting law and warned that failure to certify “may be subject to an investigation of the superintendent or chief operating officer who has violated state law by failing to complete the certification.”

Wardens get helicopter

Texas Game Wardens, a division of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department with more than 500 employees, on Dec. 23 announced the acquisition of a new Airbus AS350 B3e helicopter.

The aircraft, according to the announcement, is outfitted with the latest law enforcement technology and emergency response equipment including a rescue hoist, thermal imager, searchlight, public address system, satellite communication and night vision. Some $5 million in funding for the helicopter came through an appropriation made during the 83rd Texas Legislative session in 2013.

ED STERLING is the Director of Member Services at Texas Press Association.

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