Saturday, March 30, 2013

Texas State Politics 101

How do state and city politics interact? This is a major issue when it comes to jurisdictional questions about oil and gas drilling as several proposed bills at the state level could enhance, diminish, or otherwise alter city authority. To answer this question, some basic information about the Texas State Legislature might be helpful. So here is a brief run down on some salient points.

1.      Article one of the Bill of Rights of the Texas Constitution proclaims that the right of local self-government is essential to freedom. That is something to ponder with all these bills that attempt to rob cities of their right of local self-government.

2.      The Texas Legislature Online has tons of information about the current 83rd legislative session. You can learn everything from how a bill becomes a law to the various committees. One nice feature of this website is that you can sign up for alerts. I, for example, have signed up to get e-mail alerts anytime something happens to HB 2828 (an enemy of local self-government now with the Energy Resources Committee) in the legislative process.

3.      What influence does the oil and gas industry have on Texas State politics? Check out the National Institute on Money in State Politics. One way to track this question is through campaign contributions. The oil and gas industry gave roughly $7 million to all candidates and committees in 2012 (almost all of that to Republicans). That is about 33% of all the money given by the oil and gas industry in campaigns across all 50 states, which was about $21 million. But it is only about 5% of all campaign contributions in Texas, which was roughly $138 million. Another way to track industry influence is by lobbyist expenditures – but I can’t find good figures for the oil and gas lobby in Texas. Let me know if you have them.

4.      The state legislature is different in many ways from city government. Perhaps most importantly, there is no 72 hour notice for hearings about bills. Notice can be given late at night for a hearing early the next morning. You might travel to Austin to testify in support or opposition to a bill only to be stuck waiting for hours or even days as the legislators pop in and out of committee and pick and choose randomly from the bills on the agenda (just because yours is listed second does not mean it will be discussed second). There is also much more that can happen substantively behind closed doors at the state level.

5.      The legislature only meets for 140 days every odd-numbered year. Lots of bills are considered each legislative session (something like 7,000 last session) but few become law (around 200 last session). (Check out the wiki page for more basics.)

6.      Most bills that would impact cities would be bad for cities. And Denton has lots of legislative exposure, because it does so many things – water treatment, solid waste and recycling pick-up and handling, and its own electric utility (DME).

7.      As a result, Denton has a small intergovernmental relations team and hires lobbyists to advance its interests in Austin during legislative season.

8.      In addition, almost all cities in Texas are part of the Texas Municipal League (TML). This organization discusses how various bills impact the interests of cities, obtains intelligence about the legislative process, and formulates strategies for advancing city interests. Denton was one of the founding 13 cities to form TML.

9.      There are various strategies for opposing bills. Official resolutions by a City Council are one tool that can be used. But cities typically use this tool sparingly, because it likely will make an enemy of the legislator who is sponsoring the bill and the city may need the assistance of that legislator on other issues. Yet sometimes a bill would be so damaging to a city’s interests that it will spend its political capital in this way.

10.  Just because a bill dies in committee does not mean it can’t be resurrected. Legislators in the House and the Senate can bring their bill forward as an amendment or a rider to another bill being considered on the floor later in the legislative session. Or their bill could be added during conference committee deliberations. This can be a risky time, because by the end of the session so much is happening so quickly that legislators do not have the time to read the full text of every bill.

11.  Finally, here is the information for Denton County’s delegation. Now you have no excuse not to get involved:

Representative Myra Crownover, District 64


Representative Tan Parker, District 63

(512) 463-0688

Representative Pat Fallon, District 106

(512) 463-0694

Representative Ron Simmons, District 65


Senator Jane Nelson, District 12


Senator Craig Estes, District 30


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