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Texas Legislature

Texas Governor

Texas Bureaucracy

Texas Courts

Local Governments
cities, counties, special districts

Policy Making

Texas Finances

Issues in Texas Politics
water resources, prisons, public education,
religion and politics, demographics

 

 

 

 

 

TX GOVT MARGIN NOTES

 

Overview of Texas' Government Structure

Overview of the Texas Government Structure

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TX GOVT MARGIN NOTES

 

The Texas Legislature

 

I. Size and Partisanship

                                                                                COMPARING THE HOUSE AND THE SENATE

 2015

House

Senate

Term

2 years

4 years

Constituents

avg 167,637 each

avg 811,147 each

Members

150

31

Republicans

98

19

Democrats

52

12

Over 70

3

0

Under 30

2

0

Average age

?

58.6

Men

122

23

Women

28

8

Incumbents

126

22

Avg years legislative experience

?

13.4

Bills filed in 83rd regular session (2013)

3950

1918

Bills passed in 83rd regular session (2013)

732

705

Bills vetoes in 83rd regular session (2013)

15

11

 

http://www.lrl.state.tx.us/sessions/memberStatistics.cfm

A. methods of election

1. single-member district

more representative

protects minorities

2. multimember district

majority dominates

less representative

3. Texas

both House and Senate single-member district

multimember districts phased out in 1970s

B. drawing legislative districts

1. reapportionment

2. redistricting

3. malapportionment — rural areas overrepresented in legislature

4. Legislative Redistricting Board (LRB)

5. Baker vs. Carr — one man, one vote

6. Reynolds vs. Sims — applies Baker decision to both houses of legislatureGerrymandering Cartoon

7. majority-minority districts

8. gerrymander

a. party-based — easier to do

b. race-based — more difficult constitutionally

9. 2003 fiasco (Oklahoma and New Mexico trips)

 

Texas Congressional Districts

Texas Laws, Past and Present

Gammel's The Laws of Texas -- Early Texas laws digitized and made available from UNT Libraries

Legislative History and Intent Research -- guide to the history and intent of Texas legislation

Virtual Tour of the Senate

 

Government by the Few

Legislature

Video broadcasts of

House and Senate

legislative activity

video camera

Click on the icon to see the Texas Legislature at work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

II. Qualifications for Office

  1. formal/constitutional

 

House

Senate

Age

at least 21

at least 26

Live in state

2 years

5 years

Live in district

1 year

1 year

  1. informal
  1. race similar to majority in district

  2. better educated than constituents

  3. higher income than constituents

  1. typical legislator
  1. white

  2. male

  3. upper-class

  4. well educated

  5. business or law

 

 

III. Elections

  1. fund-raising

  1. PAC money

  2. most from outside district

  1. most incumbents face no oppositionIllustration of three states of Texas each populated by the same groups of people with differently drawn representative districts.

  1. gerrymandering: few competitive districts, many safe seats

  1. safe Democratic

  2. safe Republican

  3. competitive

  1. safe seats: general patterns

  1. safe Democratic: Rio Grande, inner city metro areas

  2. safe Republican: panhandle, suburbs of metro areas

  1. turnover: quite high despite lack of competition

  1. low pay

  2. demanding job

  3. high turnover hurts quality of representation and service

  4. Texas does not have term limits, probably not needed

  5. high turnover allows a few long-serving members (old timers) to dominate

 

 

IV. Legislative Sessions

  1. biennial regular session (traditional culture, limited government)

  1. 140 days long

  2. January through May in odd-numbered years

  1. special sessions

  1. maximum 30 days long

  2. called only by governor — uses special sessions as leverage

  3. governor picks topics to be addressed

  4. governor can call unlimited number of special sessions (see 2003 fiasco)

  5. legislature cannot call themselves into special session

 

 

V. Pay (traditional culture, limited government)

  1. $7200 per year

  2. $124 per diem when legislature is in session

  3. retirement linked to salaries of state judges (Give those judges a raise!)

  4. Low pay contributes to high turnover, quality of service.

 

 

VI. Comparing and Rating State Legislatures

  1. criteria

    1. pay

    2. professional staffing

    3. time in session

    4. turnover and continuity

  2. types

    1. professional: high pay, large staff, annual sessions, low turnover

    2. citizen: low pay, small staff, short or biennial sessions, high turnover

    3. hybrid: somewhere between citizen and professional

         This is what Texas is.

Read your text carefully to get a good idea of the general characteristics of the Texas legislature. Our legislature is a bicameral one – meaning it has two houses. The House of Representatives has 150 members who serve two-year terms. The Texas Senate has 31 members who serve four-year terms. Our legislature has one regular session that is 140 days long and occurs in odd-numbered years. The governor – and only the governor – can call special sessions of the legislature in between the regular sessions. These special sessions will be discussed in more detail when we discuss the governor.

Legislators make $7,200 per year. Remember that our current constitution was written as a reaction to reconstruction and the writers were determined to make it impossible for the government to gain power. You see, therefore, low salaries, limited sessions and specific mandates of power. These things were attempts to rein in the power of state government. Individually, legislators are surprisingly homogeneous. They are predominately Roman Catholic and Southern Baptist. They are, by and large, conservative. Most of them are attorneys or real estate agents. Many of them have inherited money. And the majority is Democrat, although that is changing. In order to run for the legislature, the constitution requires only that you be a US citizen, a qualified voter, and have lived one year in your district. Do you know who your representative or senator is? Do you know how they vote on the issues? How well do they represent you? Why or why not?

 

 

Texas House

VII. Leadership and Procedures

  1. House — Speaker

    1. Powers of the Speaker of the House

    2. House Rules

    3. appoints committee chairs

    4. appoints committee members

    5. appoints calendars and conference committees

    6. presides and sets agenda

    7. refers bills to committeeTexas Senate

  2. Senate — Lieutenant Governor

    1. Senate Rules

    2. Senate Research Center publications

    3. appoints committee chairs

    4. appoints committee members

    5. appoints conference committees

    6. presides and sets agenda

    7. refers bills to committee

  3. Centralized power structure — partly due to short sessions

  4. Legislative Budget Board — speaker and lieutenant governor are co-chairs

    TEXAS LEGISLATIVE PROCESS

E. highlights of legislative process

1. three readings of each bill

2. committee stage and second reading most important

3. during committee considerations of a bill citizens can give testimony

4. first and third readings less important

5. rule in Senate -- of Senators must agree to debate a bill, empowers minority

6. House Calendars Committee — can speed up, slow down, or kill a bill

7. riders — obscure amendments to benefit a member’s home district

F. legislative calendars

1. emergency

2. major — bills that require a lot of debate

3. minor — bills that are uncontroversial

G. logjams — most bills passed at end of session

H. Links:

1. How a Bill Becomes a Law

2. Legislative Glossary

3. Texas Legislature Online

4. House Committees

5. Senate Committees

6. Citizen Handbook

7. How to Read a Texas Legislative Bill

 

 

VIII. Informal Rules

A. norms of behavior

1. do not conceal real purpose of bill

2. avoid personalities during debate

3. do not block unanimous consent

4. no publicity hounds

5. avoid public disclosure of private decisions

B. leadership style

1. consensus builders — decentralized decision-making process

2. hard driving — more centralized decision-making process

 

The primary function of the legislature is to pass legislation. Let’s take a few moments to look at how a bill becomes a law. The first step is the Introduction. The bill may start in either chamber and is introduced only by a member of that chamber. The bill is given a name and number and goes through the First Reading, at which time the bill is read by name and number only to the entire chamber.

The Speaker or Lt. Governor, depending on the chamber, then refers the bill to committee. Committees have life and death power over a bill and the power of the presiding officers to refer bills to the committee of their choice can determine the future of the bill. In committee, a bill may be pigeonholed – meaning it is filed away and never considered – in which case it is dead. The committee may conduct hearings, investigations, etc. This is the point in the legislative process at which citizens have an opportunity to provide testimony regarding a bill. The committee may amend or change the bill. If, however, the bill is not pigeonholed, the committee votes on whether or not to send it to the entire chamber. If a majority of the committee vote against the bill, it is dead. If a majority vote for the bill, it continues to the second reading. Perhaps because there are so many bills to be considered in a 140-day session, most bills die in committee.

The Second Reading is the only time the entire bill is read to the entire chamber. The chamber may debate, amend or change the bill. At the end of this process, the chamber votes to engross (print) the bill. If a majority of the chamber vote against the bill, it is dead. If a majority vote for the bill, it continues to the third reading. Prior to the Third Reading, the bill is printed and members are given a few days to read it. The third reading before the entire chamber is by name and number only. At this time, the chamber votes to pass the bill. If a majority vote against the bill, it is dead. If a majority vote for the bill, it goes to next chamber. In the second chamber, the bill must go through all of the above steps and be passed in identical form in both chambers.

If the bills that came out of the two chambers are not identical, a Conference Committee is set up to resolve the differences. A conference committee is a joint committee – half of its members are appointed from the House by the Speaker and half from the Senate by the Lt. Governor. A conference committee must agree to accept either the House version of the bill or the Senate version of the bill or a third compromise version. If the committee cannot agree on a bill acceptable to both chambers, the bill is dead.

Enrollment is the final step in the legislature. If both chambers approve a bill (with or without the help of a conference committee), it is enrolled. At this time, all of the necessary legislative signatures are put on the final printed version of the bill and it is sent to the Governor. The governor may sign a bill into law. He may ignore the bill and it will become law without his signature. The governor may veto a bill, in which case both chambers must vote by a ⅔ vote to override his veto or the bill is dead.

 

 

How to Follow a Bill

How Texas Laws are Made

Below are the basic steps involved in passing a bill into law. Links to information available on the Texas Legislature Online are provided to aid in following these steps.

  1. Idea

The process for creating a new law starts when a legislator first begins to formulate an idea. An idea for a new law may be suggested by anyone: concerned citizens, special interest groups, state agencies or the governor, for example. If you have an idea you would like to suggest to your legislator, use the Who Represents Me website to determine your senator or representative and to find his or her contact information.

  1. Introduction

During a legislative session, members may introduce new legislation until filing deadlines identified on the legislative dates calendar. When the legislature is in session, the Texas Legislature Online home page will include the time that the House and Senate are scheduled to convene each day. Methods to view introduced legislation include:

Legislative Reports -- View a list of bills that have been filed in the House or Senate.

Bill Status -- View the current status and legislative history for a bill.

Text Search -- Find bills with specific content.

Subject Search -- Find bills on a specific subject using the bill search or the subject index.

You can create a personal bill list and receive e-mail notification as the status changes on bills you chose to watch.

  1. Referral to House/Senate Committee

Bills that have been referred to committee may be viewed using:

Legislative Reports

Bill Search

  1. Considered in House/Senate Committee

When a bill is scheduled to be heard by a House or Senate committee, public notice is made to allow public participation in the committee process. View House meeting notices and Senate meeting notices to see which bills are scheduled to be considered at a particular committee meeting.

Minutes are created by committee clerks after each public hearing. Use this website to view House meeting minutes and Senate meeting minutes.

Most committee meetings are available for viewing over the Internet on the House and Senate websites.

You can receive notice of upcoming House and Senate committee meetings through e-mail.

  1. Placed on House/Senate Calendar

After a bill has been reported favorably by a committee and the committee report has been printed, the bill is available for placement on a calendar. A calendar is a list of bills and resolutions that are scheduled to be considered by the full House or Senate. Use this website to view House calendars and Senate calendars.

  1. Considered on House/Senate Floor

View the amendments website to search for amendments based on chamber, author, bill, reading and date.

Proceedings on the House and Senate chamber floor may be viewed over the Internet at the House and Senate websites.

  1. Signed/Vetoed by Governor

If a bill passes both the House and Senate, it may be signed or vetoed by the governor or pass without signature. View the Legislative Reports to see a list of all bills passed or vetoed.

  1. Laws of Texas

Once legislation becomes law, it becomes codified as a statute. Statutes may be viewed and searched on the Texas Statutes website.

 

As you can see, there are a number of forces influencing legislation. The presiding officers (Speaker and Lt. Governor) greatly influence the legislative process through appointing committees and referring bills to committee. Their enforcement of the rules of their chambers can also affect the legislative process. Remember that the Lt. Governor is primarily a legislative officer. If legislators oppose their presiding officer too often, they will not be able to pass their own bills. It is in everyone’s interest to go along.

As we will see in more detail in the next section, the governor has influence over the course of legislation through his veto and through his ability to call special sessions. The governor can also send messages to the legislature urging them to certain courses of action. Too, through his appointments the governor can have some influence over how vigorously legislation is enforced. As we saw previously, interest groups can greatly influence legislation. They are perhaps the number one factor affecting legislation in Texas today. And coming up, we will see how the courts play a role in influencing legislation as well.

There are a number of problems with the Texas legislature. Because most legislators have little experience, there is usually a lack of legislative experience as well as a lack of expertise in the various issue areas. Too, beyond the presiding officers, there has traditionally been a lack of leadership. The normal hierarchy found in most legislatures is missing in Austin. Since the legislature meets biennially, there is always an enormous amount of proposed legislation. Usually, thousands of bills are considered in one 140-day session. Add to this the excessive number of special and local laws that the state legislature must deal with because of the nature of the state constitution. The amount of proposed legislation is beyond the possible. Finally, there are a number of constitutional limitations on the legislature. Your text goes into more detail on those.

A number of possible solutions to the problems of the legislature have been suggested over the years. Among those are to change to a unicameral legislature, create a joint committee system within the bicameral legislature, impose a limit on the number of special and local laws, change the constitution to give more power to localities, use more bracket bills, increase salaries to attract more diverse legislators and move to annual sessions.

BUDGET HERO

Budget Hero was launched in May 2008,

re-launched in September 2012 and retired

in August 2014 by Public Insight Network.

I’m keeping the link ready (and my fingers crossed!)

for the next re-launch.

 

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TX GOVT MARGIN NOTES

 

The Texas Governor

 

I. Roles of the Governor

  1. policy maker

  2. legislator

  3. party leader

  4. ceremonial leader — often used for political purposes

  5. intergovernmental relations with federal government

 

 

II. Qualifications

  1. formal/constitutional

    1. age 30

    2. 5-year resident

    3. US citizen

  2. informal

    1. most held previous office

    2. WASP, male, well-educated, wealthy

  3. salary higher than average -- $116,000

  4. Virtual Tour of the Governor's Mansion (4:41)   DANCING STAR TO DENOTE GOOD SITE

  5. succession

    1. lieutenant governor — in event of death of governor

    2. acting governor when governor is out of state

  6. removal

    1. Texas House — files impeachment charges

    2. Texas Senate — impeachment trial

    3. a political process (e.g., James “Pa” Ferguson)

 

 

III. Powers of the Governor

The term weak executive refers to the fact that the governor of Texas has no direct control over most of the agencies in the state government.

LIMITS ON GOVERNOR'S APPOINTMENT POWER

A. executive power

1. tenure

a. 4 years, no limit on terms

b. no lame ducks, more influence on legislature

2. oversees, to some extent, state agencies

3. appointment

a. Appointment is probably the most important executive power of the governor.

b. plural executive limits power, many offices elected separately

c. Texas Senate approval for most appointments

d. can fill state court and US Senate vacancies only until next election

e. some appointees serve at pleasure of governor, most do not

f. needs Senate approval to fire board/commission member

  1. most boards/commissions have staggered 6-year terms

  2. senatorial courtesy

  1. mobilize National Guard

  2. budgetary power

  1. limited power

  2. responsible for federal grants-in-aid

  3. Legislative Budget Board (LBB) gets all agency requests, not governor

  4. some power in case of fiscal crisis

  5. line item veto on spending bills

  1. legislative power
    1. veto Texas Governor's Agenda and Special Sessions

      1. if legislature is in session, 10 days to act

      2. if legislature is out of session, 20 days to act

    2. veto threats: pressure legislature to alter legislation

    3. line item veto: only on spending bills

    4. no pocket veto

    5. override: Texas House plus Texas Senate

    6. call unlimited special sessions covering agendas of his choice

    7. set legislative priorities

    8. recommend legislation

  2. judicial power
    1. state's chief law enforcement officer

    2. grants and requests interstate rendition

    3. commutations and pardons

    4. appoints pardon board

    5. board must recommend action to governor before governor can act

    6. governor may issue one 30-day reprieve/delay

  3. political power
    1. informal power: bully pulpit, personal popularity

    2. head of party: influence fellow party members in legislature

  4. comparison to other governors
    1. tenure — stronger

    2. budget — weaker

    3. appointment/removal/executive — weaker

    4. veto — stronger

 

Powers of the Governor

 

POLICY POWERS OF GOVERNORS & THE US PRESIDENT

As with the legislature, the status of the Texas governor created by the Constitution is a reaction to Reconstruction. The governorship was not meant to be a powerful position. The governor is only the nominal head of the executive branch. Texas has a plural executive in which other executive branch officials have more power than the governor in certain areas. The Lieutenant Governor, for example, is considered to be the single most powerful person in Texas government. The Attorney General is the most powerful official in law enforcement, although the governor is considered the state’s chief law enforcement officer. Both the Commissioner of the General Land Office and the Commissioner of Agriculture have more power over their respective areas than the governor. And, in his ability to certify the state budget, the Comptroller of Public Accounts, the principal collector of state revenue, has arguably more power over the budget than the governor. The Texas governor is not without some power, though.

Although a member of the executive branch, some of the governor’s most important powers are legislative in nature. The governor’s power to veto legislation is his most direct legislative power. Gubernatorial vetoes have rarely been overridden since the 1940s. The governor may impose a general veto on an entire bill. He may impose a line-item veto on specific items in appropriations bills. He lacks a pocket veto, meaning legislation becomes law without his signature. Due to the unique nature of the legislature, however, the governor can impose his vetoes after adjournment. These "post adjournment" vetoes cannot be overridden by the legislature once they have adjourned.

As we saw previously, only the governor has the power to call special sessions. Special sessions last for thirty days and may be called as often as the governor wishes. Too, only the governor may set the agenda for the session. The Texas constitution requires that the governor set legislative priorities in a state of the state speech at the opening of each regular session. Although the legislature is not required to listen to these priorities, often they do use the governor’s priorities as a starting point in the session. The governor is also required to recommend legislation for these priorities. Usually, but not always, the legislature ignores the governor’s legislation.

As a member of the executive branch, the governor also has a number of executive powers. His power to make appointments is his most important executive power. It is limited in a number of ways, though. For most appointments senate confirmation and senatorial courtesy are required. Too, many of the appointed positions in most states are elective positions in Texas. The Secretary of State, our principal election officer, is one of the few top-level appointments the governor makes. The governor’s power to remove is severely limited in Texas. The governor cannot even remove his own appointments without Senate approval.

Although the governor is considered to be the state’s chief law enforcement officer, he has very few powers in that area. Check your text for details. Too, the governor’s powers in the area of clemency are limited. It is the governor who grants and requests interstate rendition – but that is only because the federal government made it the governor’s responsibility. The governor’s budgeting powers are limited, as we shall see in our discussion on budgeting in Texas. As with interstate rendition, the federal government has made the governor responsible for federal grants-in-aid. Finally, the governor oversees, to some extent, the state agencies. The ombudsman, an official in the governor’s office, handles complaints by citizens against state agencies. The governor is, however, referred to as a "weak executive" because he has no direct control over most of the agencies in state government. Texans seems to like the idea that our governor only has limited power. Do you agree/disagree?

 

Governor's Site

 

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TX GOVT MARGIN NOTES

 

The Texas Bureaucracy

 

I. The State Bureaucracy

Single Executive

Plural Executive

for example, US President

for example, Texas Governor

top of hierarchy

1 of several elected positions

centralized

decentralized

more control over bureaucracy

less control over bureaucracy

  1. elected agency heads
    1. Lieutenant GovernorPOWERS OF THE NO. 2 (LIEUTENANT GOVERNORS & VICE PRESIDENTS)

    2. Attorney General

      1. civil office mostly

      2. issues binding opinions on state law and state constitution

      3. child support collections

    3. Comptroller of Public Accounts

      1. tax collections

      2. invests state funds

      3. revenue forecast for legislature — cannot be exceeded by legislature

    4. Commissioner of General Land Office

      1. veterans programs

      2. oil and gas fees from state-owned lands

      3. fees go into state education funds

    5. Agriculture Commissioner 

      1. promotes and markets agriculture in Texas

      2. weights and measures

    6. Railroad Commission

      1. 3-member board

      2. regulates oil and gas industry

    7. State Board of Education

      1. 15-member board

      2. teacher certification

      3. textbooks

        State Review Panels Give OK To Failing Health Textbooks In Texas Adoption

        Ten Outrageous Changes Publishers Agreed to Make to Texas Social Studies Textbooks in 2002

        What a Politicized Texas History Textbook Looks Like

        Right-Wing Texas State School Board To Approve Textbooks

  2. appointed agency heads
    1. serve at pleasure of governor

    2. Secretary of State — chief election officer

    3. Commissioner for Health and Human Services

  3. boards and commissions
    1. oversight of most state bureaucratic agencies

    2. ⅔ Texas Senate approval to appoint or remove

    3. 2500 positions

    4. general categories

      1. higher education boards

      2. licensing boards for various professions

      3. natural resources

      4. health, welfare, public safety

  4. legislative agencies
    1. another limitation on governor’s budget and legislative power

    2. Legislative Budget Board (LBB)

      1. takes all agency budget requests

    3. Texas Legislative Council

      1. research, draft legislation

 

 

II. Democracy and the Bureaucracy

Accountable to the voters?

  1. Agencies are often captured by the interest groups served by those agencies.

    1. decentralized structure

    2. limited control by governor

      1. staggered terms (6 years)

      2. governor cannot fire people very easily

  2. sunset review

    1. eliminate or reorganize outdated agencies

    2. minor ones get the ax, major agencies survive

  3. state employees

    1. 140,000

    2. can be a strong political force, hard to cut agencies

 

Texas State Agencies

Sunset Advisory Commission

Texas Administrative Code - regulations created by Texas state agencies

Texas Register - information on rulemaking by state agencies. Includes Governor's appointments, Attorney General opinions and documents such as RFPs

Young workers are disappearing from state government workforce at rapid rate

 

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TX GOVT MARGIN NOTES

 

The Texas Courts

 

I. Judicial Decision Making

  1. courts settle disputes, not policy matters

  2. must have standing (be a party to the case and suffer damages)

  3. must follow precedent or previous court decisions

  4. courts are passive, not active like legislators or executives

 

 

II. Judicial Federalism

Comparing National and State Court SystemsDANCING STAR TO DENOTE GOOD SITE

  1. Jurisdiction: the types of cases a court is competent to hear and decide

  2. federal vs. state jurisdiction

    1. federal — interstate commerce, immigration, terrorism, diversity of citizenship

    2. state — murder, armed robbery, theft, intrastate commerce, state disputes

  3. trial vs. appellate jurisdiction

    1. trial court

      1. questions of fact (guilt/innocence)

      2. citizen participation (jury, witnesses) -- Although, as a citizen, you are most likely to participate in the judicial process through voting for a judicial candidate.

      3. local matters

    2. appellate/appeals court

      1. questions of law and procedure

      2. regional and national matters

      3. set precedents for lower courts

 Texas State Court System

 

 

III. Types of Texas Courts

  1. magistrate or minor courts
    1. justice of the peace (JP)

    2. municipal — urban areas

    3.  jurisdiction and functions

      1. mostly traffic

      2. minor criminal matters

      3. magistrate (issue warrants, conduct preliminary hearings)

      4. small claims (JP)

  2. county
    1. constitutional county courts

      1. 1 for each county in Texas

    2. county courts at law

      1. created by legislature as needed

    3. functions

      1. misdemeanors, DWI, probate, family law, de novo trials from magistrate courts

      2. administrative duties

  3. district courts
    1. the chief trial courts in Texas

    2. felonies

    3. larger civil cases

  4. courts of appeal
    1. 14 regional courts

    2. hear appeals from county and district

    3. civil and criminal cases

Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and Supreme Court

E.   high courts

1.   Court of Criminal Appeals  

a.   except in death penalty cases, has discretionary jurisdiction (The power of appellate courts that permits them to decide which cases they will review. Appellate courts beyond the first level, most commonly courts of last resort, typically have discretionary jurisdiction. The procedures used by appellate courts with discretionary jurisdiction to screen cases varies by law and by volume of cases.)

2.   Supreme Court

a.   civil and juvenile cases

b.   discretionary jurisdiction

 

 

IV. Judicial Selection

  1. methods of selection
    1. appointment by governor

    2. selection by legislature

    3. merit system (Missouri plan)

Judicial Merit Retention Cartoon

4. nonpartisan elections

5. partisan elections (used in Texas, except for municipal judges)

B.  problems with partisan judicial elections

1. voting by name recognition

2. party line/straight ticket voting

3. campaign money

a. from lawyers and corporations who appear before the courts

b. conflict of interest for judge

4. minority representation

a. county and district-at-large elections hurt minority candidates

  1. JP selected by districts, so more minority representation among JPs

  1. appointive/elective system
    1. many vacancies

      1. appellate, district-filled by governor

      2. JP, county-filled by county commissioners court

    2. nearly of judges are actually appointed

      1. appointed judges then seek reelection as incumbents

  2. Texas judges are highly responsive but not very independent.
  3. reforms
    1. merit system

      1. nomination commission screens applicants to fill judicial vacancy

      2. send 1–2 finalists to governor

      3. governor appoints judge to 4- or 6-year term

      4. judge then faces retention election   

      5. no opponent, no fund-raising, no campaigns, yet still accountable

    2. nonpartisan elections

      1. run without party label

      2. reduces influence of parties, yet still accountable to voters

  4. removal of Texas judges
    1. Supreme Court

    2. Judicial Conduct Commission

    3. impeachment by legislature

    4. election

 

Look at the structure of the state court system shown above. The lowest court is the justice of the peace court and, in some cities, the municipal court. This court has only original jurisdiction in lesser cases. Municipal courts, for example, are often called traffic court because they deal mainly with traffic violations. County courts at law and specialized county courts, such as family or probate courts, have original jurisdiction in cases too serious for justice of the peace courts and have appellate jurisdiction in cases appealed from the justice of the peace courts. Check your textbook for the specific types of cases heard in each of these two levels.

If a defendant wishes to appeal the decision of a county court, he or she must appeal to the Texas courts of appeal since the next level, the district court, has only original jurisdiction. The district courts are often called the chief trial courts of Texas since this is where the most serious of our cases begin.  Murder, rape, aggravated robbery – felonies are heard for the first time in the district courts.

The Texas courts of appeals hear appeals from both the county courts and the district courts. If a defendant wishes to appeal beyond this level, civil cases are appealed to the Texas Supreme Court and criminal cases are appealed to the Court of Criminal Appeals. Texas has two high courts.

To get a different look at the structure of our state courts, click on the icon below.

Link to State Courts

In Texas, judges are elected by partisan elections.  In fact, as a citizen, you are most likely to participate in the judicial process through voting for a judicial candidate. In recent years, however, there has been a concerted effort to reform the method by which judges are elected. The term merit selection of judges refers to the provisional gubernatorial selection based on recommendations of a nominating commission, followed by a nonpartisan referendum for permanent selection. An alternative plan involves gubernatorial selection with uncontested, recall elections on a regular basis.  As judicial selection now stands, few citizens have any idea who is running or whether they are qualified. This allows judges in most cases to act unsupervised and, while most Texas judges are honest, qualified people, some are not. Knowing that most people don't vote and that many of the ones who do are voting in ignorance, do you like the idea of electing judges? Why or why not?

The most important role in disciplining judges is now played by the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct. This involves a long and secret process that seldom results in meaningful action. The final stage in the judicial removal process involves a court of review – something that will rarely happen.

 

 

V. The Role of Juries

  1. grand jury
    1. investigate

    2. file charges

    3. a check on the power of the district attorney

  2. petit jury
    1. jury trial

    2. bench trial: defendant can waive right to jury trial

    3. many plea bargains, few trials

 

 

VI. Crime and Punishment

  1. recently declining crime ratesSugarland prison

  2. Texas crime rate still higher than nation’s.

    1. many urban areas

    2. more poverty

    3. higher minority population

    4. young males most likely to commit crimes

  3. longer sentences in Texas than rest of nation

  4. higher incarceration rates

  5. death penalty

    1. highest in Texas, south (traditional culture)

    2. only 5 states beat Harris County for death sentences

 

Texas Statutes -- Texas laws, the codes and statutes, online

Texas Rules of Civil Procedure

Courts of Appeals -- Find out about the fourteen courts of appeals in Texas, sign up to receive updates on cases that interest you and conduct research on cases and opinions

Court of Criminal Appeals -- Information about the highest state court for appeals resulting from criminal cases is provided including links to procedures, rules and submission schedules.

Court Structure in Texas -- Ever confused by the number of Texas courts and their jurisdictions? Click here to learn more about how the court system in Texas is organized.

State Office of Administrative Hearings -- The SOAH conducts fair, objective, prompt and efficient hearings and alternative dispute resolution proceedings and provides fair, logical and timely decisions.

State Supreme Court -- The Texas Supreme Court offers search capabilities on Case and Attorney information, and full text information on Orders and Opinions.

Texas Board of Pardons and Parole -- The primary role of the Texas BPP is the discretionary release of eligible inmates sentenced to the Institutional Division to a plan of parole supervision.

Texas Department of Criminal Justice State Counsel for Offenders -- The SCO provides attorneys independent of the confinement divisions of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to help offenders with legal problems.

Texas Judicial Directory -- Search by court type or name or by last name. Also link to the Supreme Court, Court of Criminal Appeals, Courts of Appeals or district-level Courts.

Texas Office of Court Administration -- The OCA provides administrative and technical support to all Texas courts. It operates under the direction of the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Texas.

Texas Law Timeline

State Court Opinions

Browse Texas Courts

 

I would like to define some terms which are essential to any discussion of the courts but with which you may have some difficulty. Jurisdiction refers to the types of cases a court is competent to hear. Some courts have only original jurisdiction, meaning that court may only hear a case the first time it is tried. Don’t let the idea of ‘first time’ confuse you. If a case ends in any way other than a verdict, if for example it ends in a mistrial or hung jury, it still hasn’t been heard the first time. If you are on trial for murder your first trial is an original case. If the trial ends in a hung jury – they cannot decide your guilt or innocence – and the district attorney decides to retry the case, the next case will still be an original case and must be heard by a court that has jurisdiction over original cases. Once a verdict has been reached, however, you may appeal the decision to a court that has appellate jurisdiction, meaning that court hears cases on appeal. Some courts have only original jurisdiction. Some have only appellate jurisdiction. Some courts have both original and appellate jurisdiction.

We also need to differentiate between criminal law and civil law. Criminal law is considered to be crimes against the state. Crimes in Texas are divided into misdemeanors and felonies. Check your textbook for the graded offenses system we have in Texas. Pay attention, as well, to the newest type of offense – the state jail felony. Civil law, on the other hand, deals with relations between two private parties – for example, a business contract that has been violated. Because criminal law deals with crimes against the state, a person accused of violating the criminal code is tried by the state. The state pays for the trial, provides the defendant with an attorney if necessary, and pays for the punishment if the defendant is punished (e.g., prison time). In a civil action, though, the people involved must pay. The person who sues you must pay for his or her attorney and court costs. You must hire an attorney to defend you. The defendant pays for any punishment – a cash settlement, for example. In any given act, there may be grounds for both a criminal trial and a civil trial. The two are very different things, however, with different rules and what occurs in one has no bearing on what may occur in the other.

 

Video: Stages of a Criminal Case

 

 

VII. Civil Liberties and Civil Rights

In contrast to the US Constitution which included its Bill of Rights only as an addendum in the first ten amendments, the Texas Constitution puts the Bill of Rights at the beginning in Article I. Freedom of speech and the press is protected in section 8. Peaceful public assembly, the last of the US 1st Amendment rights, appears in section 27. Protection against unwarranted searches and seizures is assured in section 9. The rights of the accused in criminal prosecutions are specified in sections 10 through 21, including:

  • the right to a speedy trial

  • not having to provide evidence against oneself

  • the right to bail

  • the obligation of the state to provide its own evidence to support charges

  • protection against double jeopardy (being tried a second time for an offense for which one has been acquitted)

  • the right to a trial by jury

  • no ex post facto laws

  • no imprisonment for debts

  • requirement of due process of law

 

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TX GOVT MARGIN NOTES

 

Local Governments

 

I. Local Governments

  1. “creatures of the state”

    1. all authority granted by state legislature or state constitution

  2. types

    1. general-purpose: city

    2. limited purpose: county, school district

 

 

II. City Governmentcity hall

  1. charters
    1. general law city: less than 5000

    2. home rule city: more than 5000

  2. forms of city government
    1. mayor-council

    2. council-manager

  3. roles of mayor
    1. strong mayor

      1. separation of powers

      2. appoint city department heads

    2. weak mayor

      1. presides over council

      2. no separation of powers

      3. sets agenda

      4. appointments approved by council

  4. city manager
    1. hired by city council

    2. handles day-to-day operations of city

    3. selects department heads

    4. prepares city budget

    5. council acts in oversight role

  5. commission system
    1. voters directly elect each department headView of flooded streets in Galveston Texas after the 1900 storm

    2. lack of leadership

    3. rarely used

  6. city government elections
    1. at-large

    2. single-member district (protects minorities)

    3. hybrid: combines single member districts with at-large positions, Houston for example

    4. mayor: elected at-large

    5. officially nonpartisan, although partisanship growing

  7. low voter turnout
    1. off-year elections

    2. lack of media attention

    3. many uncontested elections

    4. allows upper-class voters to dominate

  8. Tax sources for Texas cities include property, sales and mixed drinks

 

Texas is 80% urban. That means that most Texans live in or near an urban area. Texas cities may be general law (governed by the state constitution) or, if over 5,000 in population, they may vote to become home rule cities. Home rule cities have more local control over the city charter, so that there is greater flexibility in determining their form of city government. This is the principal advantage to home rule status. There are three basic types of city government.

A mayor-council city government is composed of a mayor and a council. The mayor may be considered a strong mayor if he is elected and has the power to veto, write the budget, make appointments and so on. Mayors may be considered weak if they are appointed by the council and have little or no powers. These mayors may be nothing more than figureheads. Often, however, the power of the mayor depends more on the personality of the official himself than on any formal institutional arrangement. City councils vary widely from city to city. Some are elected from single-member districts. This usually leads to a council that is representative of their constituents, but not very cohesive. A council that is elected at large will be much more cohesive, but not as representative. Council members elected at large tend to all come from the same neighborhood in the city. Too, minority groups are usually represented only on district elected councils. The strong mayor-council is the most popular form of city government in America’s ten largest cities.

A commission city government is composed of the elected heads of the various city departments – police, water, fire, streets, etc. - rather than representatives of geographic areas. The commissioners, who may also have an elected or appointed mayor, collectively act as a city council and individually as the heads of their departments. The commission form of city government was supposed to take politics out of city government. It didn’t. There are problems associated with the commission form. Those elected to head departments are often inexperienced. Even if experienced, commissioners still have reelection concerns so they may not make the hard decisions. Often commissioners are more concerned with the success of their department than with the success of the city. The people, then, are not represented at all.

With the council-manager form the city government may look like any of the forms of city government but, in addition, the city hires a person who is an expert in all areas of city government. This is the city manager. The city manager was supposed to take politics out of city government. The rest of the government – the mayor, council, whoever – could play politics if they wished but the professional city manager would be the expert who made the hard decision. This is the most popular form of city government in home rule cities in Texas. It does have its problems, though. The manager may really be an expert, but people with political concerns hire him. Often city managers either protect their jobs by doing what is politically popular, or the politicians fire them in order to protect the politicians' elected positions.

Almost all cities have problems with city finance. The state mandates that cities perform more and more types of services for larger and larger groups of people without raising taxes. Traditional city services include such things as police and fire protection, water and sewer services, and street maintenance. Increasingly, though, cities are required to also provide new services such as cable, health care and recycling. The major sources of city revenue have been and remain the property tax, the sales tax, and the mixed-drink tax. Increasingly, cities are turning to non-tax revenues, such as grants, to make up their deficits. However, the major problem facing cities today is citizen apathy. Less than 10% of all voters participate in local elections. Even fewer are aware of who their local officials are and what issues are facing their city. Do you know who your local officials are and where they stand on the issues? Do they truly represent you? Why or why not?

 

Texas Cities

Special Report from the Dallas Fed - At the Heart of Texas: Cities’ Industry Clusters Drive Growth

 

 

III. County Government

Limited Purpose: Under the Texas Constitution, counties are administrative arms of the state.

  1. functionscounty seat of county government
    1. law enforcement

    2. hold elections

    3. state records: births, deaths, etc

    4. road maintenance

    5. courts

  2. urban vs rural
    1. city government dominates urban counties

    2. county government dominates rural counties

  3. commissioners court
    1. adopts the county’s budget and sets the property tax rate

    2. four commissioners elected by single member district

    3. one county judge elected at-large

    4. county judge performs administrative and judicial functions in rural counties

    5. county judge performs mostly administrative functions in urban counties

  4. other county-elected positions (at-large)
    County Government Infographic from the Texas Association of Counties

    1.  sheriff

    2.  tax assessor-collector

    3.  district attorney (felonies)

    4.  county attorney (misdemeanors)

    5.  clerk

    6.  treasurer

    7.  constables (elected by district)

  1. problems with county government
    1. plural executive: shared power not efficient

    2. unable to provide services in urban counties

    3. commissioners tend to be parochial and territorial

    4. too reliant on property tax for revenue

    5. weak county judge

    6. no home rule

COUNTY SIN RANKINGS

 

County governments hold a unique position in Texas. Under the Texas constitution, our 254 counties are administrative arms of the state and, as such, are governed by the state government and constitution. This means that all county governments look and operate the same regardless of their differences. The structure and operation of county government in Texas is oriented to serving a rural population – a holdover from the culture of the 1800s. County governments all have a county judge, commissioners court, county sheriff, county clerk and county tax assessor-collector. Many have a county treasurer, county attorney, county auditor, county surveyor, and a county budget officer. All officials are elected to a four-year term of office. Each official is given very specific duties. Check out your text for these.

Like cities, finances remain a problem for county governments. County expenditures are state-mandated. This means that counties are required to maintain a jail, provide indigent health care, hold elections, keep records, and so on. Expenditures, then, increase at the whim of state government. Revenue does not. Counties are restricted by the state in their revenue sources. The primary source of revenue for counties is the property tax. The commissioners court, within state guidelines, sets the property tax rate and adopts the county budget. A countywide tax appraisal district evaluates property. There are certain approved fees and bonds for capital improvement, but the property owners of the county are the major source of revenue.

County government remains plagued by problems. Counties lack ordinance-making power. They are allowed to do certain specific things, such as police junkyards, but they may not pass zoning or other laws. Counties lack a true chief executive officer. The county judge is the nominal head of the commissioners court, but few county judges have any power over the rest of county government. For most citizens, the county road system remains a problem. The main function of each of the four county commissioners is to maintain the roads in their precinct. Counties may adopt a unified system so that they turn this duty over to a road engineer, but few counties have, and even then there are problems with unified quality, cost and corruption. The inflexible structure of county government remains a problem for those counties that do not fit the mold of the 1800s. Lack of money is a continuing, and often worsening, problem. Property owners can only pay so much. Most counties have to live with poor salaries for county personnel (not the elected officials), substandard jails, poorly equipped and poorly trained law enforcement, and so on. What counties often wind up with, then, are poor quality personnel. Personnel who are able to move on to better paying jobs usually do so. As with city government, the underlying problem and the cause of most of the others is citizen apathy. The levels of government that affect us the most are the ones about which we know and care the least.

 

Texas Counties

 

 

IV. Special Districts

  1. Special Districts
    1. a unit of local government performing a single function involving a particular group of people in a designated geographic area

    2. usually for a single purpose

    3. service not provided by other local governments

    4. can cross city and county lines for regional problems

  2. examples
    1. MUD: water and sewer

    2. regional transportation: DART or METRO

    3. control of a problem such as flood, mosquitoes, etc

    4. sports authority to build stadiums

  3. selection process
    1. appointment by city/county officials

    2. elected boards

  4. school districts
    1. the most visible special district in Texas

    2. independent governing authority

    3. elected board (at-large or single-member district)

    4. nonpartisan elections

    5. assess property taxes

  5. school finance issues
    1. Robin Hood Plan -- wealthy vs. poor districts

    2. unequal tax bases -- wealthy vs. poor districts

    3. $1.50 cap

    4. no pass, no play

 

Special districts are units of local government that perform a single function for a particular group of people in a designated geographic area. There are as many types of special districts as there are problems people wish to solve. Among them are water and soil conservation districts, utility districts, hospital districts, fire districts, mosquito control districts, junior or community college districts, and public school districts. Voters within an area establish special districts for the purpose of performing a specific function more cheaply and efficiently than could be done by the individuals within that area. Public school districts are the most visible and common special districts. Special districts are usually financed through taxes established in an original vote and administered by some type of board for the specific function established in the original vote. The major source of revenue is, again, property taxes.

Finally, councils of government are voluntary associations of local governmental units that come together to aid in regional planning and coordination. Your text has a much more detailed look at these regional organizations.

 

Texas State and Local Government

Forms of Municipal Government

Cities 101

National League of Cities

Overview of Texas County Government (PDF)

Invisible Government: Special Purpose Districts in Texas (PDF)

SPD Sales and Use Tax

Special Districts, Special Favors

Texas Association of Regional Councils (TARC)

National Association of Regional Councils (NARC)

Texas State Directory: Councils of Governments

 

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TX GOVT MARGIN NOTES

 

Policy Making

 

Public policy is the response, or lack of response, of government decision makers to an issue.

 

 

I. Stages of the Policymaking ProcessPOLICYMAKING PROCESS

  1. Agenda Building

Agenda building is the process through which issues become matters of public concern and government action. It is the process through which issues become part of the official policy agenda. Agenda building not only identifies problems for government action but also defines the nature of those problems and the eventual thrust of a policy solution. In recent years the official policy agendas for Texas state government have included such items as educational finance, property tax reform, medical malpractice reform and welfare reform.

  1. Policy Formulation

Policy formulation is the development of strategies for dealing with the problems on the official policy agenda.

There are two models of policy formulation.

The rational comprehensive model of policy formulation is an approach to policy formulation that assumes that policymakers establish goals, identify policy alternatives, estimate the cost and benefits of the alternatives and then select the policy alternative that produces the greatest benefit.

The incremental model of policy formulation is an approach to policy formulation that assumes that policymakers, working with imperfect information, continually adjust policies in pursuit of policy goals that are subject to periodic readjustment.

Most political scientists believe that the rational comprehensive model is an unrealistic approach to policy formulation, whereas the incremental model of policy formulation more closely reflects the real world of public policymaking.

  1. Policy Adoption

Policy adoption is the official decision of a government body to accept a particular policy and put it into effect.

  1. Policy Implementation

Policy implementation is the stage of the policy process in which policies are carried out. Implementation involves both government officials and individuals, as well as groups outside the government.

  1. Policy Evaluation

Policy evaluation is the assessment of policy. It involves questions of equity, efficiency, effectiveness, and political feasibility.

Types of Policy Evaluations

    Empirical analysis is a method of study that relies on experience and scientific observation.

    Normative analysis is a method of study that is based on certain values.

Policy evaluations sometimes highlight the distinction between policy outputs and policy outcomes.

Policy outputs refer to actual government policies.

Policy outcomes are the situations that arise as a result of the impact of policy in operation.

 

 

II. Dynamics of the Policy Process

Policy Cycles: refers to the passage of an issue through the policy process from agenda building through policy evaluation. No clear lines of demarcation can be drawn among the five stages of the policy process. Not every issue completes the policy cycle.

Issue Networks: The policymaking process involves a broad range of political actors, including government officials, the institutions of government, individual policy activists, political parties, the news media and interest groups. The term is used to describe a group of political actors concerned with some aspect of public policy.

 

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TX GOVT MARGIN NOTES

 

Texas Finances

 

Fiscal policy: the area of governmental policy that deals with taxation and spending

Fiscal year: September 1 through August 31

The state budget period is for two years.

The traditional Texas fiscal policy is the achievement of a balanced budget through low taxes and low levels of public spending.

 

 

I. Measuring State Taxes

STATE TAX SOURCES

A. tax capacity: ability to tax and raise revenue based on a population's wealth (or lack of it)

B. tax effort: How much does a state utilize its tax capacity?THE STATE OF STATE TAXES GRAPHIC, 2012

C. per capita: taxes per person

D. tax burden

1. progressive: based on the ability to pay (federal income tax)

2. regressive: not based on the ability to pay (sales tax)

E. Texas tax system

1. average tax capacity

2. below average tax effort

3. below average per capita

4. very regressive

5. symptomatic of the Texas traditional/individual political culture

 

 

STATE REVENUE BY SOURCEII. State Revenue Sources

  1. sales tax (fuel, vehicles, consumer goods)
    1. 6.25% to state

    2. 0–2% for local government

      1. local sales taxes must be approved by local voters

    3. 8.25% cap on sales tax

  2. property tax
    1. local governments only

    2. city, county, schools, special districts

    3. based on assessed value of property after exemptions

    4. state shifts education cost burden to local school districts

  3. nontax revenue
    1. lottery

    2. fees

    3. licenses

  4. federal grantsTEXAS PROPERTY TAX GRAPHIC
    1. health and welfare

    2. education

    3. roads

  5. the budget “fix”
    1. 82% of state budget is earmarked for certain purposes

    2. only 18% of state budget is discretionary

    3. legislature has little control over how state funds are spent

 

 

III. State Spending

Spending directives by the legislature are the most important factors in determining the level of state services available to Texans.

  1. health and human services, 31%State and Local Spoending for Texas - FY 2017
    1. federal grants with mandates

    2. state has limited control of federal funds

  2. education, 34%
    1. 40% of education costs picked up by state

    2. 60% of education costs picked up by property taxes (tax shifting)

  3. transportation, 8%
    1. state gas taxes are earmarked for highway maintenance and etc

  4. public safety and corrections, 7%
  5. general government, 3%

  6. other, 16%
  7. state tax issues
    1. State revenue is income-elastic.

      1. too dependent on sales taxes

      2. Economic downturn leads to revenue shortfalls.

      3. boom-bust revenue cycles

      4. Move from surplus to deficit to surplus quickly.

    2. no state income tax, unlikely to happen

    3. Texas is a low-tax, low-spending state.

      1. traditional/individual political culture

    4. Sales tax base is limited.

      1. Including business services (eg, law and medicine) would help.

    5. franchise fee on business easy to evade

    6. Most states rely on income, sales, and property.

      1. more stable revenue sources, easier to budget

      2. Texas is too dependent on sales and property taxes, harder to budget.

 

Comptroller’s Weekly Economic Outlook

EconoME

Fiscal Notes

Overview of the Texas Economy

Where the Money Comes From

Where the Money Goes

Budget 101: A Guide to the Budget Process in Texas

 

LINK TO COMPTROLLER'S WINDOW ON STATE GOVERNMENT

 

LINK TO THE TEXAS ECONOMY.ORG

 

STATE OF THE TEXAS ECONOMY

Texas operates under a balanced budget policy. The state constitution requires that budgets not exceed the estimated revenue for the budget period. The Comptroller must certify that the state will bring in enough money to cover the proposed budget. Our fiscal year is September 1 though August 31 for a two-year period (odd year to odd year).

We also have a dual budget process, which includes the Legislative Budget Board (controlled by Speaker and the Lt. Governor) and the Executive Budget Office (controlled by the governor). The Legislative Budget Board, a more recent creation, usually gets more attention from the legislature than the Executive Budget Office – for obvious reasons. In recent years, governors have often not even bothered to propose a budget.

        Legislative Budget Board

The area of governmental policy that deals with taxation and spending is fiscal policy. The traditional Texas fiscal policy is the achievement of a balanced budget through a low tax policy and a low spending policy. Our tax policy calls for low, regressive taxes – lower, in fact, than all but three or four other states. Refer to your text for a complete discussion on regressive vs. progressive taxation. Keep in mind, though, that regressive taxes tend to hit the hardest the people who can least afford to pay. Progressive taxes tend to hit the hardest the people who can most afford to pay. The sales tax, for example, is our single most important tax and our most productive tax, but it is highly regressive. Other taxes (property, gross receipts, etc.) bring in little revenue. Texas’s total tax revenue is 60% of all revenue, most of which is from the sales tax. Our nontax revenues (federal grants, land revenues, etc) account for 40% of state revenues.

Our spending policy calls for low spending for public programs. Spending directives by the legislature are the most important factor in determining the level of state services in Texas. Historically, those spending levels have been low. State spending for public assistance, for example, ranks Texas near the bottom of the fifty states in public assistance available to indigent people. Public education is our largest single  expenditure. In order, our remaining expenditures are public higher education, public welfare, public transportation, public health programs, public safety programs and administrative costs.

In recent years, taxes have remained relatively low because of the growth in the Texas economy. The economic growth of Texas in the 1990s rested substantially on growth in the service industry. If Texas is going to maintain the same tax base it must depend on economic growth. If the economy goes through bad times in the future, as it has in the past, our lower and middle income tax payers will be hard hit by the structure of the Texas tax system.

 

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TX GOVT MARGIN NOTES

 

Issues in Texas Politics

 

Texas Drought 2012I. Issue: Water Resources

The lack of water is costly. Each of the several one- or two-year droughts in Texas in the past decade has cost agricultural producers and businesses impacted by them between $1 billion and $4 billion annually.1 The infamous eight-year drought in the 1950s, the drought of record against which all droughts in Texas are measured, is estimated to have cost the Texas economy about $3.5 billion in 2008 dollars each year from 1950 to 1957.2

Texans face the same challenges as the global community. The state’s population is expected to nearly double by 2060 and will also become more urban.5 Total statewide demand for water in Texas is projected to grow 27 percent, from nearly 17 million acre-feet in 2000 to 21.6 million acre-feet in 2060. From 2010 through 2060, water supplies from existing sources are expected to decrease by 18 percent, from 17.9 million acre-feet to 14.6 million acre-feet.6

Without a significant, persistent climate change that brings increased moisture, this growth is likely to mean that more people will live with less water. Ensuring reliable water supplies for the future, and balancing those supplies appropriately between rural and urban areas, and among agricultural, municipal, industrial and electricity-generating users is the challenge. (Click on the images below for more resources.)

MAJOR TEXAS RIVER      THE 19 MAJOR AQUIFERS

    BASINS, TPWD                 OF TEXAS, TWDB

Blanco River     MAJOR TEXAS RIVER BASINS MAP, TPWD     THE 19 MAJOR AQUIFERS OF TEXAS, TWDB     Drought Impact on Texas Surface Water

 

 

Walls prison unitII. Issue: Prisons

Confinement in a prison or jail is meant to punish criminals, stop criminals from committing more crimes, and remove criminals from society. Once the court system is finished with an offender, he comes under the jurisdiction of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. The state purposes for which Texas imprisons felons are to punish and rehabilitate offenders, isolate them from society, and deter others from committing crimes. Texas has a history, however, of simply punishing offenders. In rulings held in the 1980s, Judge William Wayne Justice criticized the state for its treatment of prison inmates.

Texas has the highest prison population among the American states. As of 1997, the population of the Texas prison system was about 136,000 inmates. The state’s response to prison overcrowding has been to build new prisons. However, critics of large-scale incarceration of convicted criminals credit the net reduction in crime rates through the 1990s to the drop in numbers of the male 13-24 age cohort. In other words, they say as the population in this age group drops (the age group most likely to commit crimes), the crime rate drops. According to statistics compiled by the TDCJ, illiteracy and drug or alcohol use are two characteristics shared by half or more of the inmates in state prisons.   Given that, what would you do to reduce the prison population in Texas?

Texas has a graded penalty system that uses the concept of enhancement to address the problem of recidivism, repeat offenders. Enhancement means a person punished for a second offense similar to the first can be given a greater penalty. Texas also has capital punishment for specific crimes, called "capital felonies." In determining punishment for a capital felony defendant, jurors consider whether the defendant would constitute a continuing threat to society. A defendant convicted of a capital felony and sentenced to life imprisonment must serve at least forty years with no good conduct credit. A defendant convicted of a capital felony and sentenced to death will spend at least seven years from arrest to execution. These inmates are given an automatic appeal unless they convince a judge to waive that appeal. Normally, a capital felony for which the death sentence was imposed is appealed directly to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. All in all, imprisonment is cheaper than execution. Texas leads the nation in the number of convicted felons who are executed. (Click on the images below for more resources.)

TDCJ        TEXAS TOUGH: THE RISE OF AMERICA’S PRISON EMPIRE        PRIVATE PRISONS        REINTEGRATION

 

 

TEXAS PUBLIC EDUCATIONIII. Issue: Public Education

Poll after poll shows that the public is dissatisfied with the performance of the nation's 85,000 public schools -- education tops all other issues of voter concern. States are responding with a variety of initiatives, but only five -- Texas, North Carolina, New Mexico, Maryland and Oklahoma -- have high standards of accountability, a recent Education Week survey showed. Texans have longed complained about the quality of public education. And yet, is public education in Texas as bad as we think? The Texas Association of School Boards offers a competing viewpoint.  Click on the icon, read their side, and tell me what you think. (Click on the images below for more resources.)

STUDENT RIGHT TO RELIGIOUS EXPRESSION        Texas Association of School Boards        TEA LOGO        NO FIREWORKS AT TEXAS SBOE - QUIET EROSION OF SCIENCE?        Texas Hires Intelligent Design Supporters to Review Science Texts  SBOE

 

 

RELIGION & POLITICSIV. Issue: Religion and Politics

Our society makes special efforts to separate two fundamental human experiences: religion and politics. Such separation, however, has proven impossible, as is demonstrated by the debates over abortion policy, public school curricula, and the family.   Especially in Texas, a very traditional and moralistic culture, it is impossible to talk about one without the other.  When politicians begin talking about values and ethics, voters should listen with a skeptical ear.  It's possible that their comments are rooted in deeply held beliefs.  But they may also have purely strategic goals in mind.  Sometimes, it's hard to tell the difference. You might enjoy some of the links on the following pages. Let me know what you think. (Click on the images below for more resources.)

FEDERAL JUDGE FORBIDS PRAYER AT GRADUATION        Total Religious Adherents        RELIGION IN THE 2012 ELECTIONS        Link to Religion and Politics        LINK TO PEW RESEARCH CENTER        ASSOCIATION OF RELIGION DATA ARCHIVES

 

 

TEXAS POPULATIONV. Issue: DemographicsCHART SHOWING HOW ONE BECOMES A US CITIZEN

There is a myriad of small ethnic groups from all over the world in Texas.   Native Americans were never a large part of the Texas population. An original group that was forced to migrate or was killed was comprised of the Caddo, Wichita, Kyowa, Karankawa, Tonkawa, Apache, and Comanche. A second group, forced into Texas from the eastern US, were also forced to migrate or killed. They were the Cherokee, Delaware, Kickapoo, Seminole, Shawnee, Alabama, and Coushatta. Currently there are approximately 400 Alabama-Coushatta on a Polk County reservation. A small group of Tigua lives near El Paso. A small group of Kickapoo migrates in and out of the Eagle Pass area.

UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANT FACTSHispanics make up a sizable portion of the Texas population. The Spanish conquest of Mexico and the southwest began the amalgamation of the American Indian and the European. The Mestizo race initiated the creation of the Mexican people that settled and colonized the frontier. In the early 1800s there were approximately 10,000 Hispanics in Texas. By 1830, there were approximately 30,000 Anglos and Blacks and approximately 6,000 Hispanics, with the disparity increasing. Hispanic Texans took an equal part in the war with Mexico as a just cause against the centralization of political power by Santa Anna. At the Alamo, the only native Texan who died was Hispanic. At San Jacinto, Captain Sequin led the charge of the Texans. The first Vice President of the Republic of Texas was Lorenzo de Zavala. Hispanics played a critical role in the first constitutional convention.

As Anglo numbers increased, Hispanics lost political standing completely. Hispanics resisted the trend, but were overwhelmed by Texas Rangers, government institutions, discrimination and racism. By 1845, Hispanics were unwelcome in Texas. In the 1920s-1930s, approximately 700,000 Hispanics legally immigrated to Texas due to the Mexican Revolution. From 1940 to the present, a steady stream of immigrants (legal and illegal) came to Texas due to economic conditions. Currently, approximately 39% of the Texas population is Hispanic, with 70% of those born in Texas. Hispanics comprise the segment of the Texas population growing most rapidly.

Arizona Immigration Law Raises an Old Question: What is "Reasonable Suspicion"?

Pew Report: 5 facts about race in America

African Americans have a rich history in Texas. The first Black in Texas was a Spanish slave, Estevanico, who came with Cabeza de Vaca in 1528. During 1800-1850, southern settlers brought black slaves into Texas from which comes the bulk of the present black population. Currently, approximately 13% of the Texas population is African American. During Reconstruction, blacks were politically active, holding legislative and other offices. By 1900, no black office holders existed as they had been effectively disenfranchised.Low Income Spending

The modern population of Texas has changed drastically. In 2011 the white population became the minority population.

Economically, Texas is among the states with the highest income inequality, ranking 5th in the country. Its richest residents - the top 5% of households - have average incomes 15 times as large as the bottom 20% of households and 5 times as large as the middle 20% of households. The top 5% of Texas households receive 20% of the state’s income. Income gains over the last 30 years have gone largely to the richest households, while middle- and lower-income Americans haven’t shared in the state’s growing prosperity. The share of jobs that have historically paid middle-class wages has been declining. This has reduced opportunities for Texas families striving to get ahead and weakened our overall economy. Texas also ranks among the worst states for poverty, minimum-wage jobs and the uninsured.

Population per square mile        Texas State Data Center        OFFICE OF THE STATE DEMOGRAPHER        CENSUS PROJECTIONS        Texas Population by Race

 

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Copyright 1996 Amy S Glenn
Last updated:   09/13/2017   0130

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