The Texas Legislature gaveled in just a few short weeks ago. And, while lawmakers typically wait until the waning weeks of the session to get anything done, we're answering some of your questions about what goes on under the granite dome for our TXDecides project.
Today's question comes from Sammi Curless:
What powers to govern are assigned to the governor versus the lieutenant governor versus the Texas Legislature?
Jennifer Stayton: It's Morning Edition on KUT 90.5. I'm Jennifer Stayton. The Texas legislative session is underway. But, as we've heard from KUT's Senior Editor Ben Philpott, these first few weeks and couple of months of the legislative session are pretty quiet, as work doesn't really gear up until the latter part of the session. So during this earlier, quieter time, we're going to check in with Ben from time to time and answer some of the questions that have been coming in as part of our TXDecides project. Thanks for coming in, Ben.
Ben Philpott: Good morning.
JS: We've been asking listeners all across the state to send in their questions about the Legislature – how it works, why it does what it does, sort of any questions that people have about the session.
BP: Right. And of course people can go to KUT.org and you can find a TXDecides button, they're on the front page, and that will let you put in your question and maybe, hey maybe, it'll be just like today I'll answer it.
JS: Well the ones we have this morning are really juicy ones. I will say so here's the first question for this morning. What powers to govern are assigned to the governor versus the lieutenant governor versus the Texas Legislature? So that's kind of who holds the real power in Texas question.
BP: And we actually got a second question kind of along the same lines saying, "Hey, you know, look I came here from another state the lieutenant governor here in Texas seems to be really out in front on a lot of things that are going on – not so much the governor. Is there a weird power thing going on there?" So, I guess the first way to answer that is no, there's not a weird power thing; there's a constitutional power thing going on. The Texas Constitution does not give a whole lot of power to the governor's office. It does give power to the lieutenant governor to the speaker of the House and to the lawmakers. The quickest way to kind of explain it is, the governor cannot write a bill. The governor can sign bills and he does have the power of the bully pulpit, telling lawmakers what he thinks should and should not pass. But it is the lieutenant governor, especially in the Senate, who really has a lot of power in dictating what bills get out, where they go. Similar power in the Texas House with the speaker of the House, although, the speaker of the House is not a statewide elected official. They're just a regular representative in this case Joe Straus from Northern Bexar County. So, he has similar powers, but as a statewide official like the lieutenant governor, a little bit stronger there.
JS: Now the speaker of the House though is elected by fellow House members.
BP: Yes. To become speaker of the House you do have to get, you know, the majority of the votes from the Texas House members.
JS: And the lieutenant governor essentially presides over the Senate, right? And can say what they're going to attend to and what they're not. And doesn't the lieutenant governor make committee assignments, too?
BP: Yes, and that's where they're both similar to the House and the Senate. They pick who will be in the different committees. They select which bills go to what committees. They essentially can select when a bill will come up for a vote on the House or the Senate floor. And that's where all the power is. You can be a regular old lawmaker and you file your big bill that you just know is going to be really important. And, if you can't get that committee chair to give you a hearing, then nothing's going to happen. That committee chair selected by either the speaker of the House or the lieutenant governor