Bad Bill: Could Texas Survive Annual Legislative Sessions?


House Bill 136
Rep. Richard Peña Raymond (D-Laredo)

There’s a long-running joke around the Texas Capitol: The Legislature meets for 140 days every two years, but wouldn’t it be better if the Lege met for two days every 140 years?

Rep. Raymond doesn’t think so. Instead, Raymond wants to let lawmakers loose on Texas even more than every odd-numbered year. He wants them to meet every even-numbered year as well. His HB 136 would amend the government code to require the Legislature to reconvene in late April of even numbered years for a short session focused solely on the state budget. Raymond contends that budgeting in two-year cycles no longer makes sense for a state the size of Texas and that lawmakers should address state spending annually.

“We’re too big a state. We’re too diverse an economy not to have a yearly budget,” Raymond said. “You can’t really figure out things 24 months at a time. It puts the bureaucracy in a better position as decision-makers.”

Texas is one of just four states—along with Montana, Nevada and North Dakota—with legislatures that don’t meet yearly. Lawmakers in some states meet year-round. Raymond’s proposal has already failed twice in Texas. Raymond filed a similar bill first in 2009, while acting vice chair of the House Appropriation Committee, and again in 2011. Both bills didn’t make it through the House Committee on State Affairs. That’s probably to be expected in a state in which small government—and a part-time legislature—remain popular notions.

“I’m not naive,” he said. “I know that there are conservative political groups that will just start saying ‘Oh, we don’t need it.'”

Twelve-year legislative veteran Sen. John Carona (R-Dallas) said that’s about right; the current system works well enough and an annual session would just require more government expense. Even if the length of the sessions were restricted, which Raymond is proposing, Carona said “it would simply mean more time during the longer session for creative thinking relative to even more government, even more laws.”

In other words, the Legislature has often done more harm than good. With the Texas Legislature, less is better.