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Hot List: Day 1 of the Legislature

by Published on
Texas State Capitol through the trees.
Patrick Michels
Dreary weather welcomed legislators back to the State Capitol Tuesday.

The Lead:

It’s opening day. After 18 months away, the Texas Legislature returns today—the second Tuesday in January of an odd numbered year—when the 83rd edition convenes at noon, well, noon-ish anyway. All 150 House members and 31 Senators will be sworn in. Most of the real work will wait for the following 139 days, though there may be some fights over the details of House and Senate rules, which each chamber will adopt. But opening day at the Capitol is mostly about pomp and ceremony, promise and hope, and parties, lots of parties. It’s a day when everyone is still sober (at least at the beginning) and excited to be there (mostly).

As the Lege returns, so does our daily Hot List, which we’ll post each morning the Legislature meets to recap the day that was and preview the day that will be. The Observer will have eight reporters scouring the Capitol in search of the most interesting, newsworthy, hilarious, outrageous and revealing stories we can find.

There will be plenty of storylines. Lawmakers will have more money to play with this time, though they may not spend it; the school districts are mad as hell; Medicaid is underfunded and so is the state water plan; the tea party has infiltrated the Senate, and in the House, tea party activists still despise Speaker Joe Straus. Should be a fun session.

Yesterday’s Headlines:

1. Comptroller Susan Combs unveiled the much-anticipated revenue estimate, and the news was undeniably good. The Statesman’s Kate Alexander writes that lawmakers will have $101 billion at their disposal and a projected $11.8 billion in the Rainy Day Fund. Yet some key state leaders are urging spending restraint and others are pushing for tax cuts. The more things change…

2. State Sen. Joan Huffman, a former prosecutor from the Houston suburbs entering just her third session, was elected to lead the Senate Republican Caucus yesterday, the Houston Chronicle reports. It’s a caucus that’s shifting markedly rightward.

3. On the Observer site, we examine the 12 critical issues the Legislature really should address, but we’re not holding our breath.

Line of the Day:

“With this surplus, I can tell you, yes, we’re going to have meaningful, substantial tax relief.” —Rep. Harvey Hilderbran, chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, as quoted in the Statesman.

What We’re Watching Today:

1. The speaker’s race. The House will pick its speaker today, and the election may well be anticlimactic. Straus is heavily favored to fend off a challenge from tea party Republican David Simpson. Even if Straus wins, it’s safe to assume tea party efforts to depose him won’t end any time soon.

2. The scene. The first day of session is always a trip—from the parties, to the protests, to the people in pig outfits.  Enjoy the show.

3. The weather. We’d be remiss if we didn’t observe that the same day the Legislature convenes, a large storm front is expected dump up to six inches of rain on the Austin area (metaphor alert!). Given the grim budget cutting of the 2011 session, the storm clouds seem appropriate.

Dave Mann has been with the Observer since 2003. Before that, he worked as a reporter in Fort Worth and Washington, D.C. He was born and raised in Philadelphia. He thinks border collies are the world’s greatest dogs, and believes in the nourishing powers of pickup basketball.