88th Texas legislative session gets underway with incumbent house speaker reelected to role

Tom Abrahams Image
Wednesday, January 11, 2023
Reelected House Speaker Dade Phelan gavels in 88th legislative session
The 88th legislative session is underway in Texas Capitol as lawmakers begin debating a new two-year budget and vote on various legislation.

AUSTIN, Texas (KTRK) -- The 88th legislative session is underway in Texas Capitol. For the next four and a half months, lawmakers will debate a new two-year budget and vote on a sweeping variety of legislation.

Thousands of bills pass through the halls of the Capitol every session, and there are always a few that get a lot of attention. Those are social or cultural issues as opposed to those dealing with infrastructure or the budget.

Both chambers are decidedly Republican, but both sides suggest, in Austin, they look past the party and focus on the important issues to get that work done.

"The only divide is enhanced by the media," State Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, who also chairs the Senate Education Committee, said. "We have tough issues and tough decisions to make, but the narrative is never created that our center aisle doesn't separate us by party and that we don't have a working environment here."

But among the 7,000 bills that might be filed during the long session, most of which are substantive in nature, there are also the hot-button issues: those that fall more sharply along cultural or ideological lines. Abortion, critical race theory, and transgender rights might face votes under bright lights.

"You can see it in the bills that are being filed," State Rep. Armando Walle, D-Houston, told ABC13."Anti-CRT. Anti-LGBT. Anti-transgender. Some of us are on these social issues. I think most Texans, average Texans, don't like to attack vulnerable communities."

For the next four and a half months, lawmakers will debate on a new two-year budget and vote on a sweeping variety of legislations.

Though some lawmakers told ABC13 those issues are not the bulk of their work, nor should they be. And the less controversial policy they pass with bipartisan help does not get the attention it deserves.

"I think it's human nature to get more enthused about the things that are controversial, where there can be significant emotion, where people can get really angry about it," State Rep. Tom Oliverson, R-Cypress, said.

He pointed to legislation he sponsored last session, which he passed, that made it law for 911 operators to learn how to teach emergency callers CPR while on the phone. Oliverson said that it got little attention compared to more emotional issues.

"There is always going to be controversy on the social issue," State Rep. Shawn Thierry, D-Houston, said. "But I try to remain positive and optimistic. I've been reaching out across the aisles, hearing good feedback from my colleagues."

The start of the session always promises bipartisanship. Like an opening day in baseball, everybody is undefeated. And in a show of bipartisan unity on day one, State Rep. Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, was reelected as House Speaker. Garnering 147 of 150 votes among his colleagues in the lower chamber, all but three Republicans and every single Democrat.

The session runs 140 days through the end of May.

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