The Texas Constitution divides state government into three separate but equal branches: the executive branch, headed by the governor; the judicial branch, which consists of the Texas Supreme Court and all state courts; and the legislative branch, headed by the Texas Legislature, which includes the 150 members of the house of representatives and the 31 members of the state senate.
Members of the house of representatives are elected to two-year terms and represent districts of about 167,500 people each. Senators serve four-year terms and serve about 811,000 people each.
The legislature meets every odd-numbered year to write new laws and to find solutions to the problems facing the state. This meeting time, which begins on the second Tuesday in January and lasts 140 days, is called the regular session. The governor can direct the legislature to meet at other times also. These meetings, called special sessions, can last no more than 30 days and deal only with issues chosen by the governor.
On the first day of each regular session, the 150 members of the house of representatives choose one of their members to be the speaker of the house. The speaker is the presiding officer of the house. He or she maintains order, recognizes members to speak during debate, and rules on procedural matters.
The speaker also appoints the chairs and vice chairs of the committees that study legislation and decides which other representatives will serve on those committees, subject to seniority rules. There are 31 committees, each of which deals with a different subject area, and five committees that deal with procedural or administrative matters for the house. Most members serve on two or three different committees.
In the senate, the presiding officer is the lieutenant governor, who is not actually a member of the senate. The lieutenant governor is the second-highest ranking officer of the executive branch of government and, like the governor, is chosen for a four-year term by popular vote in a statewide election.
The first thing that the speaker of the house and the lieutenant governor ask their respective houses of the legislature to do is to decide on the rules that the legislators will follow during the session. Some legislative procedures are provided for in the state constitution, but additional rules can be adopted by a house of the legislature if approved by a majority vote of its members. Once rules have been adopted, the legislature begins to consider bills.
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