The Texas Senate is one arm of the Legislature of the State of Texas (the other being the Texas House of Representatives), which the Texas Constitution (Article III, Section 1) vests with all legislative power of the state. The primary legislative power is enacting laws, and the most visible function of the legislature is to make public policy through drafting, considering and passing bills and resolutions. By virtue of office, the lieutenant governor is president of the senate, with the right to debate and vote on questions in committee of the whole and the right to cast the deciding vote when the chamber is equally divided. The senate elects one of its members president pro tempore to perform the duties of the lieutenant governor during his or her absence or disability, or when the office is vacant. The 1876 Constitution fixes the number of senators at 31, elected from senatorial districts according to state constitutional guidelines to serve overlapping four-year terms. A senator must be at least 26 years old, a qualified voter, and a resident of Texas for at least five years and of the district represented for at least one year immediately preceding election.
In addition to legislative powers, the legislature exercises other types of authority. Constituent powers include the ability to alter the state constitution, and the members’ authority to exercise powers of attorney in behalf of their constituents. Directory and supervisory powers allow the legislature to regulate the state’s administrative machinery, made up of boards, commissions, and departments that conduct the affairs of state. The legislature establishes and funds these bodies and defines their functions. Executive powers of each house include selection of legislative officers, employees, and chairs and members of committees. Investigative powers are exercised through the formation of standing, special, interim, and joint committees to study an issue. Senate committees are usually charged with a particular purpose by the lieutenant governor, although this may also be accomplished by a resolution adopted by the senate. Each legislative house holds judicial powers over its members, including punishing or expelling members for cause.
The legislature meets in regular session on the second Tuesday in January of odd-numbered years and in special sessions when convened by the governor. The length of the regular session is limited to 140 days. Special sessions are limited to 30 days, but the number of special sessions that may be called is not limited. Only legislative matters submitted by the governor may be considered in special session. All legislative sessions, except for the senate’s executive session, are open. Neither house may, without the consent of the other, adjourn for more than three days or move to a place other than where the legislature is sitting. Two-thirds of each house constitutes a quorum, the number of members required to conduct business. If a quorum is not present, a smaller number may vote to adjourn and compel absent members to attend. The senate is required to keep and publish a journal of its proceedings and to record the vote on any question on which three members who are present demand an actual count of yeas and nays.
The senate functions through committees set up under its own rules. By custom the president of the senate appoints standing, special, and conference committees, although the senate is free to designate its own method of selection. Under the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1961, the committee system was expanded, and provisions were made whereby standing, special, and general investigating committees created by each body could function whether or not the legislature was in session. The senate has 16 standing committees: Administration; Business and Commerce; Criminal Justice; Education; Finance; Government Organization; Health and Human Services; Intergovernmental Relations; International Relations and Trade; Jurisprudence; Natural Resources; Nominations; Redistricting; State Affairs; Transportation and Homeland Security; and Veterans Affairs and Military Installations.
(Sources include: Guide to Texas State Agencies, 11th (2001) ed.; and the Texas Senate Committees web page http://www.senate.state.tx.us/75r/Senate/Commit.htm, accessed March 12, 2007.)
NOTE: The Senate recordings database is on TSLAC’s main website, not in the Texas Digital Archive. Following this link will take you out of the Texas Digital Archive.
Office of the Lieutenant Governor – the Lieutenant Governor serves as the president of the senate