Bureaucratic Accountability

There are several mechanisms through which bureaucratic accountability is promoted by various actors, such as through the appointment and removal process, the direct election of various executive officials, the governor’s recent attempt to play a more active role in agency rule-making, citizen participation in rule-making, etc.  Four such mechanisms are examined more closely below: rules (also known as “red tape”); the budgeting process; sunset laws; and sunshine laws.

Rules / “Red Tape”

Clearly defined and well-publicized rules serve as a mechanism to ensure bureaucratic accountability.  Indeed, if someone is uncertain as to why their application for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) was rejected, they can examine the eligibility requirements (which are clearly defined and well-publicized rules) to see which criteria they did not meet.  Rules promote fairness and accountability.  There is a trade-off, however: rules are not necessarily efficient, which is why they are often referred to as “red tape.”

“Once established, rules, regulations, and norms of behavior are regarded as ends in themselves, with faint attention paid to their broader purposes. Goals of an organization are often displaced by procedures which are merely presumed to facilitate the goals. The broad goals of an organization can be subsumed by the instrumental procedural goals of members to play safe and follow the rules unquestioningly.” (Curry, 1990, p. 59)


The Texas legislature exercises can promote bureaucratic accountability through the budgeting process.  State agencies are required to submit budget proposals and performance evaluations to the Legislative Budget Board (LBB) for review.  The LBB will hold hearings with each agency; during these hearings, they will use the budgeting process as an opportunity to ask detailed questions about an agency’s activities.  If the LBB believes an agency is mismanaging funds, operating inefficiently, etc., they can exert influence through appropriations (i.e., spending) by making changes to that agency’s budget for the upcoming biennium.

Sunset Laws

In 1977, the Texas Sunset Act became law; this law provides for the automatic termination of state bureaucratic agencies unless the legislature expressly renews them.  To administer the Texas Sunset Act, the Texas legislature created the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission (SAC).  When the SAC is conducting a sunset review for an agency, it evaluates several factors, including “the perceived need for the agency, its efficiency, and whether it adheres to basic standards such as those involving conflict of interests or open meetings . . . Sunset review requires an agency to receive positive validation of its mission rather than merely requiring an agency to defeat attempts to revise its mission” (Curry, 1990, pp. 59, 62).  Based on the SAC’s recommendation, the legislature will decide whether to introduce a bill to reauthorize the agency, revise the agency’s purpose or functions, or reorganize the agency, or allow the agency to terminate following a one-year winding down period.  The majority of the time, the legislature will follow the SAC’s recommendation.

While sunset laws have resulted in the termination of several agencies, the reorganization of several other agencies, and other revisions designed to promote the efficiency and effectiveness of the agencies reviewed, there is no guarantee that the recommendations will bring about the desired result.  For example, the PUC went through a sunset review following the blackouts during the hard winter freeze in 2011; the SAC provided several recommendations that were incorporated into a bill in the Texas House of Representatives, including “provisions to strengthen PUC’s oversight of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT)” (Sunset Advisory Commission, 2013).  Unfortunately, it appears what changes were enacted ultimately were not as comprehensive as they needed to be, as the state experienced rolling blackouts again during the hard winter freeze in 2021.

Sunshine Laws

Sunshine laws are designed to open the process of bureaucratic policymaking to the public, based on the assumption that “sunshine [transparency] is the best form of disinfectant.”  Two important Texas sunshine laws that allow citizens an opportunity to promote bureaucratic accountability are:

  • the Public Information Act, which grants the public access to information held by the state government as long as that information does not fall under an exempted category; this law is essentially our state’s version of the U.S. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)
  • the Texas Open Meetings Act, which requires governmental bodies to hold open meetings unless there is an authorized reason for an executive session (which is closed to the public); this law requires governmental bodies to give public notice of the time, date, place, and subject of the upcoming meeting at least 72 hours before the meeting is scheduled to begin

Lieutenant Governor: The Basics

The lieutenant governor is chosen via statewide election (independently from the governor, unlike the president and vice president, who run on the same ticket) and serves four-year terms with no term limits.  Because the lieutenant governor is first in the line of succession for the governorship, the constitutional qualifications for the lieutenant governor are identical to those for the governor: 30 years of age, U.S. citizen, resident of Texas for 5 years.

The lieutenant governor is unique: while it is technically part of the plural executive, this office’s powers are primarily legislative in nature.  The lieutenant governor presides over the Texas Senate; co-chairs the Legislative Budget Board and appoints senators to the board; and serves on the Legislative Redistricting Board, when applicable.  The lieutenant governor’s compensation is even benchmarked to legislators’ compensation: “while he acts as president of the senate, [the lieutenant governor shall] receive for his services the same compensation and mileage which shall be allowed to the members of the senate, and no more” (Texas Constitution of 1876, Article IV, Section 17).

The lieutenant governor has traditionally been regarded as the most powerful office in Texas state government, in large part because of its role in the legislature.  As Barry McBee mentioned in the video above, however, those dynamics appear to be changing.

Texas Legislature: Consequences of Low Pay, Part-Time Nature, & Other Characteristics

States with part-time legislatures that have low pay and few legislative staff, like Texas, spend less than those with full-time, well-paid, professional legislatures supported by large staff sizes and professional or hybrid legislatures, which meet more frequently than part-time legislatures, has better pay (but still not enough to be a legislator’s only source of income).  However, low levels of state spending in Texas have contributed to increases in spending and debt amongst local governments.

The Texas Legislature manages to pass a lot of bills during its short regular session:

In 2015, it sent 1,322 bills to Governor Abbott’s desk. California, by comparison, passed 807 bills all year. In Roll Call’s state-by-state comparison of bills and resolutions passed during the 2013–14 Congress, Texas was far and away the numerical leader. (Cassidy, 2016)

However, many of these laws are trivial, in large part due to the balanced budget requirement and other constitutional limitations placed on the Texas Legislature.  On the one hand, this limits government failure and is largely responsible for Texas’s economic success.  On the other hand, this may negatively affect the Texas Legislature’s ability to address increasingly complex problems, such as rising pension debts.

Low pay and the part-time nature of the Texas Legislature may also lead to electing officials who may not necessarily understand the needs of the majority of their constituents.  “Serving in the Texas legislature isn’t a realistic job option for most working professionals . . . it’s too time-consuming to be a side job” (Cassidy, 2016).  The lack of sociodemographic similarity between state legislators and the people they represent can be an area of concern to the extent that descriptive representation influences lawmaking in Texas.  For certain policy issues, legislators may not know what constituent needs, interests, and preferences are — there may not be a clear consensus among constituents, or we may not have a good way to measure these needs, interests, and preferences.

Given that several thousand bills must be introduced and considered within 140 days, state legislators often rely on external, readily available information — and, in most cases, that information comes from lobbyists and special interests, not the public (who have low levels of civic engagement and are unlikely to contact their elected representatives).  The close relationship between the Texas Legislature and lobbyists is reflected in various characteristics, including the robust revolving door phenomenon in Texas, in which legislators leave public service and become full-time lobbyists, and the pervasiveness of cronyism.

Turnover in the Texas Legislature is high; around 20 percent of state legislators do not seek reelection during the following term.  For many, the Texas Legislature is a stepping stone on the way to the Texas plural executive or the U.S. Congress.  This results in a legislative body with less specialized knowledge and expertise, which in turn reinforces the need to rely on outside sources for important information.

Majority-Minority Districts: A Closer Look

Today, government (federal, state, and local) are more diverse than in the past, but not as diverse as the populations represented.  This increase in descriptive representation is largely due to the creation of majority-minority legislative districts.

“In most majority-minority districts [in Texas], i.e., majority black and/or Latino, blacks and Latinos were able to achieve descriptive representation” in the Texas legislature (Lavariega Monforti, Orey, and Conroy 2009).

Some have raised concerns about whether the increase in descriptive representation due to majority-minority districts has translated into substantive representation — in other words, whether more diverse legislature (when said diversity is attained through creating homogenous voting districts) produces substantive changes in legislative outcomes (i.e., types of laws passed).   When we look at the U.S. Congress, we find that Congress as a whole has become less enthusiastic about minority issues, due in part to the paradox of majority-minority districts:

“. . . by creating districts with high percentages of minority constituents, strategists have made the other districts less diverse. The representatives in those districts are under very little pressure to consider the interests of minority groups. As a result, they typically do not.”  (Openstax: American Government)

Lavariega Monforti et al. (2009) examined this whether descriptive representation translated to substantive representation within the Texas Legislature by looking at bill sponsorship (bills introduced) during the 77th Legislature (2001-2002).  They found that:

  • black female Democrats, black male Democrats, Latino male Democrats, white female Democrats, and white male Democrats were more likely to introduce progressive bills than white female Republicans, white male Republicans, Latina female Republicans, and Latina female Democrats
  • legislators’ race, gender, and party played a role in what kinds of progressive bills they sponsored (i.e., education, health, welfare, children, women’s issues, racial issues)

Additional Reading

Lavariega Monforti, J. L., Orey, B. D, & Conroy, A. J. (2009, May). The Politics of Race, Gender, Ethnicity, and Representation in the Texas Legislature. Journal of Race & Policy, 5(35). https://www.researchgate.net/publication/264159238_The_Politics_of_Race_Gender_Ethnicity_and_Representation_in_the_Texas_Legislature


Representation refers to an elected leader’s looking out for his or her constituents while carrying out the duties of the office.  Four different models seek to explain how elected officials should represent their constituents or why elected officials make the decisions that they do:

  • trustee model, which posits that representatives feel at liberty to act in the way they believe is best for their constituents (i.e., they make decisions based on their own best judgment)
  • delegate model, which posits that representatives feel compelled to act on the specifically stated wishes of their constituents (i.e., they make decisions based on constituent preferences)
  • politico model, which posits that representatives act as either trustee or delegate, based on rational political calculations about who is best served, the constituency or the nation; and
  • partisan model, which posits that representatives make decisions following the preferences of the political parties, which are often in a unique position to exert influence over elected officials due in part to the provision of campaign resources (including money, volunteers, and party identification on the ballot)

Direct Link: Representatives as delegates, trustees, and politicos

How Do We Promote Good Representation?

According to substantive representation, representatives are accountable to constituents through elections.  Elections are viewed as a mechanism of correspondence between representatives’ opinions and those of their constituents through which good representation and governance are promoted.  For substantive representation to be effective, various factors need to be present:

  • reasonably sized constituencies
  • high voter turnout
  • effective mechanisms for identifying constituent beliefs and preferences
  • electoral districts that are drawn fairly

According to descriptive representation, the extent to which representatives share the racial, ethnic, religious, and educational backgrounds of their constituents affects how well they represent those constituents.  In other words, sociological similarity matters.  The concept of descriptive representation did not emerge until the 1900s, in large part because only a small portion of the U.S. population was granted suffrage, or the right to vote.

There are several reasons that descriptive representation has improved in national government:

  • Suffrage has been expanded through the passage of constitutional amendments and the removal of barriers that prevented eligible voters from being able to exercise their right to vote (we’ll learn more about these when we discuss civil rights later this semester)
  • Various groups seeking to promote the descriptive representation of specific minority groups in government have emerged
  • Many states have created majority-minority districts, or gerrymandered electoral districts organized around the goal of enhancing the votes of minority groups

Texas House: Ghost Voting

Members of the Texas House of Representatives vote electronically, which has led to a phenomenon referred to as ghost voting, where members of the Texas House cast votes “on behalf of” other Texas House members who are not in attendance on the day of the floor vote.  Technically, ghost voting violates chamber rules; in reality, however, it continues to occur.

Lawmaking in the Lone Star State

Quorum Requirement

quorum is the minimum number of members of a legislative chamber (or another assembly) that must be present at a meeting for the proceedings of that meeting to be considered valid.

The Texas Constitution of 1876 established a high quorum requirement for the Texas legislature: at least two-thirds (2/3) of the membership of the Texas House of Representatives (100 out of 150 members) or the Texas Senate (21 out of 31 members) must be present in order for the chamber to conduct business.  Because of our high quorum requirement, the absence of a minority of members in one or both chambers can bring the legislative process to a grinding halt.  During the 12th Legislature, which met from 1870-1871 (Radical Reconstruction era), several Democratic state senators left Texas to prevent a quorum in the Republican-controlled legislature.  This ultimately led to “the arrest of senators by the Senate and the forcible return of enough to make a quorum” (May, n.d.).

How a Bill Becomes a Law in Texas

Introduction & Referral

“Only a legislator may introduce a bill into the legislative process, although the idea for a bill may originate from a source other than the legislator, such as an interested outside party or the findings of a committee study” (Texas Legislative Council, 2021).  Bills that are introduced in the first 60 days of a regular session are subject to the two-thirds quorum described above; after 60 days, a four-fifths quorum is required to introduce a bill.  When being introduced, the bill is read aloud.  It is then assigned a number (ex: HB1) and referred to a committee by the presiding officer.

Committee Action

After a bill has been referred to a committee, the committee will hold meetings and hearings on the bill.  During this process, the bill may go through mark up, or the process of revising, amending, or rewriting a proposed law.  After considering a bill, the committee can:

  • take no action
  • issue an unfavorable report
  • issue a favorable report recommending passage as is, recommending amendments, or providing a substitute bill

Committee chairs can significantly influence the outcome of a bill through their control of the committee’s agenda, schedule of hearings, witnesses to be called, and voting schedule.

Sometimes, a committee will pigeonhole a bill by choosing not to consider it.  When this occurs, a legislator can bring forth a discharge petition to force the committee chairperson to bring the bill up to a vote in the committee (and, if it receives a majority vote, it will proceed to the floor).  A discharge petition requires signatures of two-thirds of the members of the Texas House of Representatives (100) or Senate (21) within the first 76 days of the regular session; after 76 days, only a majority of signatures are needed (76 in the Texas House; 16 in the Senate).

Senate rules allow “any member of the Senate a right to request at least 48 hours written notice of the time and place set for a public hearing on a specific bill” (Rodriguez, 2017), which in effect allows a single state senator to delay a bill’s consideration or even halt a bill from moving further through the legislative process.

Floor Action

The process by which a bill moves from a committee to the floor differs in the Texas House of Representatives and the Texas Senate:

In the Texas House, measures recommended favorably by committee go to the House Calendars Committee for assignment to one of the House calendars, which sets the order of priority for consideration on the floor.  In the Texas Senate, measures recommended favorably go to the Senate Calendar of Bills, which sets the order of priority for consideration on the floor; senate rules require bills and resolutions be considered in the order in which committee reports on the measures are submitted to the Senate.

Because our Texas legislature’s regular session only lasts for 140 days, many of the bills that end up on calendars will not be considered by the full chamber; the higher the bill’s priority for consideration, the sooner it is scheduled to be brought to the floor — and the more likely it will actually make it to the floor.

In order to bring up a bill or resolution prior to its scheduled order in the Texas Senate, a senator may give notice of intent, which places the measure on the Intent Calendar.  The Texas Senate routinely considers only a portion of the items listed on the Intent Calendar; if not considered, a senator must give notice of intent every day they wish for the bill or resolution to remain on the Intent Calendar.  State senators are limited when it comes to notices of intent: they can give notice of intent on no more than three items before April 15 and no more than five items on or after April 15.

Once a bill has made it to the floor, it is read for the second time.  The bill is then debated on its merits.  In the Texas House of Representatives, the debate is limited by House rules.  Debates in the Senate vary greatly due to the filibuster, which differs slightly from the filibuster used in the U.S. Senate: in the Texas Senate, unlike in the U.S. Senate, no more than one senator may filibuster any given bill, and a cloture motion to force a vote is not an option.  During the debate, the bill may be amended to facilitate passage or to incorporate items from other bills that likely will not reach the floor.

Once the debate has ended, the chamber will take a floor vote.  At least one day after floor passage, the bill is read aloud for the third time.

Conference Committee

For a bill to be sent to the governor for action, it must be passed in identical form by both chambers of the Texas Legislature; however, bills passed by the Texas House and Texas Senate often contain differences, even if they were identical when introduced, due to changes being made while in committee and/or on the floor.  This is where conference committees come into play.  Conference committees, which are composed of five members of each chamber (who are appointed by the presiding officers of that chamber) negotiate differences between bills passed by the Texas House of Representatives and the Texas Senate.

Governor Action

Once a bill reaches the Governor’s Office, the governor may:

  • sign the bill into law
  • exercise the line-item veto to strike out specific sections or items on an appropriations (i.e., spending) bill while signing the rest of the bill into law
  • veto the bill, which prevents the bill from becoming law unless the veto is overridden by a two-thirds vote in both chambers (very rarely is a veto successfully overridden)
  • take no action, in which case the bill becomes law:
    • after 10 days, if the legislature is still in session
    • after 20 days, if the bill is given to the governor during the last 10 days of the regular session

Legislative Process: Other Key Players

There are several actors involved in the legislative process that were not referenced in preceding discussion, including:

  • the Comptroller of Public Accounts, which is an office in the plural executive that is responsible for, among other things, certifying revenue projections (and, according to our state’s balanced budget requirement, the state government cannot appropriate more money than it makes in revenue through taxes and fees)
  • the media, which can engage in legislative agenda-setting by drawing the public’s attention to particular bills
  • courts, which can declare state laws unconstitutional
  • lobbyists and special interests, which gain influence by donating campaign funds and providing information to legislators during the legislative process
  • the public, who elect state legislators to represent their interests (and have the ability to hold state legislators accountable for their actions through elections) and can provide input by contacting their legislators’ offices

Texas Legislature: Organization


Both chambers of the Texas Legislature have several committees, where most legislative work takes place.

There are five different types of committees in the Texas Legislature:

  • Standing committees (also known as substantive committees) are permanent committees established to handle legislation in a certain field.  Standing committees range in size from 5 to 29 members in the Texas House of Representatives and 5 to 15 members in the Texas Senate.  Rules limit legislators to serving on no more than three standing committees during one session.
  • Interim committees are established to study a particular policy issue between regular sessions; their findings are reported to the chamber during the next legislative session.
  • Select committees are ad hoc committees established for a limited period of time to address a specific problem.
  • Procedural committees are committees that deal with internal operations (like scheduling legislation to go to the floor).
  • Conference committees are temporary committees that are formed to negotiate differences on similar pieces of legislation passed by the Texas House of Representatives and the Texas Senate.

Each committee is overseen by a committee chair and committee vice-chair, which are appointed by the chamber’s presiding officers (thereby strengthening the positions of the presiding officers).

Some initial committee appointments are based on expertise that comes from a legislator’s occupational background; this may create a conflict of interest.  Once appointed to a committee, state legislators usually return to the same committee positions each session they serve in the Texas Legislature; this enables them to become well informed on a given subject.


Each chamber of the Texas Legislature has a presiding officer that oversees operations within that chamber.  The presiding officers have several powers that cause them to be influential actors in the legislative process, including:

  • appointing all committee chairs and vice-chairs
  • appointing half of the members of substantive committees
  • appointing all members of conference committees
  • recognizing (or choosing not to recognize) members who wish to speak on the floor

Speaker of the House

Seal of the Texas House of RepresentativesThe presiding officer of the Texas House of Representatives is the Speaker of the House.  The Speaker of the House is a member of the Texas House of Representatives (elected by a single-member district) who is chosen to preside over the chamber via majority vote within the Texas House of Representatives at the beginning of a regular session.  As a member of the Texas House of Representatives, the Speaker of the House exercises powers associated with serving as presiding officer and votes on bills.

Lieutenant Governor

Seal of the Texas Senate

The presiding officer of the Texas Senate is the Lieutenant Governor.  Unlike the Speaker of the House, which is a member of the Texas Legislature and chosen by the chamber’s membership, the Lieutenant Governor is not a member of the Texas Senate; it is part of our plural executive.  As such, the Lieutenant Governor is chosen by majority vote in a statewide election every four years (not the Senate membership), and the Lieutenant Governor cannot vote on bills except in the case of a tie.  The Lieutenant Governor is considered the most powerful Texas state office and is regarded as a major force in state politics and a dominant figure during legislative sessions.

“No-Party” System

Throughout most of our state’s history, Texas has been a one-party state.  The Democratic Party held the majority in both chambers of the Texas Legislature and controlled most executive positions through the second half of the 1800s until the late 1900s (with the exception of Radical Reconstruction, when the Republican Party briefly took control of state government), at which point in time control shifted to the Republican Party.

Nevertheless, when it comes to the Texas Legislature, each chamber has traditionally been organized largely on the basis of ideology, not party affiliation.  Although the Texas Legislature is becoming increasingly partisan, ideology continues to be of more significance, which is reflected by the organization of our legislative chambers (presiding officers routinely select committee chairs and vice-chairs from both parties, not just their own party) and in the way our legislative process works.

Texas Legislature: Powers

Our Texas legislature is one “of granted rather than plenary powers” (May, n.d.).  This means that the Texas Constitution of 1876 specifically outlines the powers of the Texas Legislature — and the Texas Legislature only has those powers that are specifically granted to it.  The powers of the Texas Legislature fall into two categories: legislative and non-legislative.

Legislative Powers

The Texas Legislature is given the authority to propose and vote on:

  • bills (proposed laws)
  • resolutions (statements of opinion on a matter), and and
  • joint resolutions (legislative documents that either propose an amendment to the Texas Constitution that voters may choose to ratify at the ballot box or ratify amendments to the U.S. Constitution)

NOTE:  Joint resolutions require approval in the form of a 2/3 vote in favor of them in both legislative chambers.  This applies to both joint resolutions that are proposing amendments to the Texas Constitution and those ratifying amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

Non-Legislative Powers

The Texas Legislature has constituent (or amendment) powers: it ratifies amendments to the U.S. Constitution on behalf of our state and proposes amendments to the Texas Constitution.

The Texas Legislature also has electoral powers.  The Texas House of Representatives makes the official declaration of a winner in state executive elections.  The Texas Legislature was also given authority to settle election disputes, when necessary.

The Texas Legislature has investigative powers: there are legislative committees (such as the House General Investigating Committee and, at times, interim or select committees) that have jurisdiction over state bureaucratic agencies.

As we will discuss more when we look at the state plural executive and bureaucracy, the Texas Legislature has administrative powers – in particular, it has the responsibility to engage in legislative oversight of the bureaucratic agencies that it creates to implement and administer state laws.  Committees can hold hearings to see whether bureaucrats are carrying out public policy as intended.  There are several factors, however, that make it difficult for the Texas Legislature to fully exercise these administrative powers, including the short regular session, the movement of members from one committee to another, and the shorter term of legislators compared to that of executive officials.

The Texas Legislature is also granted the judicial power of impeachment (similar to the U.S. Congress).  The Texas House of Representatives can bring articles of impeachment against state judicial and executive officials.  Once the Texas House of Representatives passes articles of impeachment, the Texas Senate holds the trial and determines whether to convict and remove a state executive or judicial official from office.

Texas Legislature: “Pale, Male, and Stale”

The Texas Legislature has been described as “pale, male, and stale.”  When we look at the 87th Legislature (2021-2022):

  • 61% of state legislators are white
  • 73% of state legislators are male

“Representation is more lopsided when broken down by political party.  Almost all Republicans in the Legislature are white” (Ura and Astudillo, 2021) – and the Republican party holds the majority of seats in both chambers.

Party affiliation of members within the Texas Legislature
Party affiliation of members within the 87th Texas Legislature

Membership in the Texas Legislature tends to overrepresent middle and upper-income groups.  The most common profession of our state legislators is a lawyer; business executives are also well represented.  People from these professions are generally those most likely to be able to adapt to the “full time, part of the time” nature of our state legislature.  They also seek to gain name recognition, prestige, and contacts from their time in the Texas Legislature, which benefits them in their primary roles.  Because these people do not officially leave their jobs (remember, part of the citizen legislature concept is having a legislature staffed with people who have full-time occupations outside of government), there’s always the opportunity that a special interest can “buy a legislator” by hiring their law firm or company.