Legislative Sessions

Regular Sessions

Regular sessions are the regular gatherings of state legislators as required by the state constitution.

Texas is one of four states that do not have annual regular sessions.  In Texas, our regular session is a biennial 140-day session that begins the second Tuesday in January in odd-numbered years (for example, the regular session for the 87th Texas Legislature met from January 12, 2021, through May 31, 2021).  During a regular session, the state budget and several thousand other bills must be considered.

Special Sessions

Special sessions are legislative sessions called between regular sessions to consider specific policy items or complete certain actions (such as redistricting).

In Texas, the governor has the power to call a special session for up to 30 days.  The governor sets the agenda for these special sessions, which limits the legislature when it comes to what topics can be discussed and what types of actions can be taken.

While the Texas Constitution of 1876 limits the length of special sessions to 30 days, it does not place any limits on the number of special sessions that can be called or the amount of time the governor must wait to call another one.  This means that the governor can call back-to-back special sessions if the Texas Legislature fails to take action in response to the agenda.  Calling multiple special sessions back-to-back, however, is not a common occurrence, in large part because special sessions are expensive (special sessions cost approximately $57,000/day, or $1.7 million/month), which makes them unpopular in a state that generally favors limited government (which includes limiting government spending).  Special sessions are also unpopular with legislators, who lose personal income: they have to take away time from their regular profession to meet at the state capitol and are not compensated their per diem like they are during a regular session.

There have been 123 special sessions since 1850; the most recent was called by Governor Abbott in 2021.  More information about past special sessions can be found on the Legislative Research Library of Texas’s website.

Legislative Districts

Members of the Texas House of Representatives and Texas Senate are represent specific legislative districts corresponding to various regions within our state.

Each of the 150 Texas House districts should contain roughly the same number of voters, and each of the 31 Texas Senate districts should contain roughly the same number of voters.  We ensure that districts have a roughly equal population by engaging in redistricting every ten years, following the U.S. Census.

Article III, Section 28 of the Texas Constitution of 1876 requires our Texas House of Representatives and Texas Senate legislative districts to be redrawn during the first regular session following the publication of U.S. census data.  Redistricting is also required by the federal government.  In the 1964 case Reynolds v. Sims, the U.S. Supreme Court applied the principle of “one person, one vote” to states by ruling that state legislative districts had to be roughly equal in population.

The Texas Constitution of 1876 set “Senate membership fixed at thirty-one . . . [whereas] The size of the House was permitted to rise to a maximum of 150” (May, n.d.).  Because we have reached the maximum size in both chambers, each member of our Texas House and Texas Senate represents a large (and growing) population.  According to the 2020 Census, Texas’s population is 29,145,505, which means each Texas House district represents approximately 194,000 people, and each Texas Senate district represents approximately 940,000 people.

How Redistricting Works

The "Gerrymander" Political CartoonThe Texas Legislature draws its own districts for the Texas House of Representatives, the Texas Senate in addition to the districts for U.S. House of Representatives.  Defining legislative districts is a political process, and state legislatures  employ a variety of techniques to draw district lines in such a way that they benefit or harm a particular group.  This is known as gerrymandering (named after the Gerrymander political cartoon, which depicts an oddly-shaped legislative district).  Gerrymandering generally relies on two tactics: packing and cracking.

Racial gerrymandering, or redistricting to enhance or reduce the chances that a racial or ethnic group will elect members to the legislature, is legal so long as it involves the creation of majority-minority districts designed to enhance a minority racial or ethnic group’s ability to elect members to the legislature (in 2015, Texas had 18 majority-minority state legislative districts); however, diluting the ability of a minority racial or ethnic group from being able to elect members to the legislature violates the U.S. Voting Rights Act of 1965 (it’s illegal).  Suits challenging adopted redistricting plans on the basis of racial discrimination resulting in diluting the vote of certain racial or ethnic minorities may be brought at any time under the U.S. Constitution, the Texas Constitution of 1876, and the U.S. Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Partisan gerrymandering, or redistricting to maximize the number of seats a political party can win, is legal . . . and it happens a lot, regardless of what political party is in control of a state’s legislature.

When Legislative Redistricting Initially Fails

If the Texas Legislature fails to redraw its legislative districts when meeting during regular session, either

  • the governor can call a special session for redistricting,
  • the Legislative Redistricting Board can take over the process and redraw the district maps (which occurred when the Texas House of Representatives and Texas Senate failed to adopt new legislative districts during the 2001 regular session), or
  • a state or federal court can issue court-ordered redistricting plans

Texas Legislature: The Basics

The Texas legislature is a bicameral legislature consisting of an upper chamber (the Texas Senate) and a lower chamber (the Texas House of Representatives).  The Texas Senate consists of 31 members who serve 4-year, staggered terms (meaning half of the chamber is up for re-election every two years).  The Texas House of Representatives consists of 150 members who serve 2-year terms.  Texas legislators represent single-member election districts.

To serve in the Texas legislature, you must be a U.S. citizen, registered to vote, and meet the additional qualifications included in the table below.

Chamber Age Residency
Texas House of Representatives 21 years of age 1 year in the district

2 years in the state

Texas Senate 26 years of age 1 year in the district

5 years in the state

Even though our legislature is considered the most powerful part of our state government, its structure and powers reflect the belief in limited government, and it continues to function in a similar manner to the way that it did in the 1800s, based on the citizen legislature model that was popular at the time.

Citizen Legislatures

A citizen legislature is a legislature primarily made up of citizens who have full-time occupations besides serving in government.  “The benefit of a citizen legislature, at least in theory, is that lawmakers bring a variety of career and life experiences to the lawmaking process; unlike career politicians, they must live with the laws they create when they return” (Messerly and Rindels, 2019 ).  Common characteristics associated with citizen legislatures include

  • meeting part-time (i.e., for a certain number of months every year/every other year)
  • low compensation (with the goal of preventing the emergence of career politicians and ensuring only those who want to “give back to society” will run for office)
  • small legislative staff sizes / no legislative staff

The Texas Legislature has all of these characteristics!  it meets for approximately six months every two years; Texas state legislators are among the lowest-paid in the nation, receiving $600/month ($7,200/year) and $190 per diem (to cover lodging, food, and transportation) during regular sessions; and Texas state legislators have limited staff.