Ed Sterling

AUSTIN - State Rep. Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, pulled together 88 vote pledges in the first week of 2009 - more than enough to earn his election as speaker of the Texas House.

Incumbent Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland, dropped his bid for a fourth term when it became clear Straus would prevail. Shortly thereafter, Rep. John Smithee, R-Amarillo had gained the support of many long-term Craddick allies and other House members, but he ended his quest, seeing that the projected vote count for Straus would be insurmountable.

First elected in 2004, Straus is recognized by fellow members as a Republican who works well with Democrats. He represents District 121, which includes the communities of Alamo Heights, Olmos Park, Terrell Hills, Windcrest and northeast San Antonio.

Secretary of State Hope Andrade will preside over the House in its ceremonial and routine order of business, including the vote for speaker. She will turn the gavel over to the new speaker.

Background on

speaker’s role

The Texas Constitution requires the House, each time a new legislature convenes, to choose one of its own members to serve as speaker.

The 150 members of the House will elect the new speaker on the afternoon of Jan. 13, opening day of the biennial 140-day regular session of the 81st Texas Legislature.

It is the speaker’s job to maintain order during floor debate, to recognize legislators who wish to speak and to rule on parliamentary matters.

Members determine the speaker’s duties by adopting rules by a majority vote at the beginning of the session.

The speaker:

• Signs all bills and joint resolutions, and as a member of the House may vote on all questions before the body;

• Appoints members of each standing committee and designates the chair and vice chair for each committee;

• Refers proposed legislation to committee; and

• Appoints conference committees, creates select committees and directs committees to conduct interim studies when the Legislature is not in session.

AGs file First Amendment brief

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott and a bipartisan coalition of attorneys general representing all 50 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands on Jan. 8 took legal action to defend the constitutionality of prayer during the inauguration of Barack Obama as president on Jan. 20.

In a friend of the court brief written by Abbott and filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the state attorneys general defended the president-elect’s right to say the words “so help me God” while reciting the presidential oath of office.

Abbott’s office said the brief was filed in an effort to defeat a legal challenge filed on Dec. 30 by parties claiming that the traditions of an inaugural prayer and an oath of office that includes the words “so help me God” violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

Legislative bill filing


Texas House and Senate members have been able to pre-file legislation since early November. Here are a few more bills recently filed by House members:

• Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, D-San Antonio, filed House Concurrent

Resolution 14, a measure that would allow the Texas House and Senate

to stand adjourned from Jan. 16 to Jan. 26. If passed, members would be free to travel to Washington, D.C., for the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama.

• Rep. Veronica Gonzales, D-McAllen, filed HB 484, legislation that would require each school district to report to the Texas Education Agency on an annual basis, information regarding each incident of bullying that occurred during the preceding school year in the district on school property, in a school vehicle, or at a school-sponsored or school-related activity, including at a school bus stop.

• Rep. Rob Orr, R-Burleson, filed HB 499, a bill that proposes to change the name of the Railroad Commission of Texas to the Texas Energy Commission, effective Jan. 1, 2010.

• Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, filed HB 508, ordering a study of the effect on this state’s economy of replacing all state and school district ad valorem tax revenue with revenue from a tiny tax placed on every financial transaction that occurs in the state.